In my late teens I became vegetarian, not entirely through choice but necessity.
At 17 I began to suffer a chronic stomach problem. I simply woke up one day and couldn’t keep food down. I went from what was probably already an unhealthy wait to just under 7 stone in the space of a month. Every day I was vomiting multiple times, as soon as I ate something, it would come straight back up.
It lasted almost 9 months and was excruciating, reaching the point where vomiting became normality for me, I was able to just go to the toilet like anyone would to pee, lean over open wide and carry on with the day. It came to a head whilst on a holiday to Cornwall with a group of friends, camping.
I couldn’t really engage with anything that was happening. Everyone wanted to go surfing, I didn’t have the energy, they wanted to go party – I was drunk within one beer. By the side of my tent I had an ice-cream tub which like clockwork I would vomit into first at 2am then again at 5am. I eventually gave up pretended and made the call to get picked up and taken home.
No amount of trips to the GP surgery came up with solutions; other than diagnosing a drug called spasmatol, designed to relax muscles. Essentially the plan was to just force my stomach to retain its contents and get some form of nutrition in me. That was clearly not working.
When medicine doesn’t work
My stomach was constantly irritated, so I began an experiment to drop things form my diet. The first thing that went was meat, after reading online about how red meat in particular can remain in your body for days, and weeks at times, if you don’t have the enzymes to efficiently break it down.
Within about 4 months I was pretty much back to normal or so I thought, and honestly I can’t necessarily say it was solely down to removing meat from my diet as I had taken out so many other things, alcohol, fizzy drinks, coffee.
Vegetarianism had unexpected drawbacks
First of all I’ll get the obvious out the way – vegetables are expensive and anyone who says otherwise is shopping at Mr Ben’s place, some magical store I’ve yet to find.
That’s insane isn’t it? Meat is inherently cheaper than something that grows in mass in the ground. So my paltry wage from running Athena stores spread thinner with every lunchtime.
I wish I could tell you that today, some 20 years later things are different. But sadly that’s just not true. Go to Tesco and you’ll find that the cost of 2 red peppers is the same as 3 Chick breasts; even if those breasts are 70% water and other things that make it look that way.
The second was that I acquired anaemia, this is quite a common issue for vegetarians, but I didn’t know it was that for quite a few months.
The first indicator of it was I kept getting severe athletes foot, a really painful skin condition. Another trip to the GP and his first question was – have you changed anything in your diet. Explaining that I had stopped eating meat he then requested blood tests.
At this stage you’re given two options, you can take supplements forever, or you can start introducing meat back into your diet for iron and other things (remember this was the 90s, it wasn’t public knowledge there are other sources of iron in the food chain).
Show me Bacon
With no moral motivation to not eat meat I just started eating it again and never really thought about it. A few years later I moved in with my best friend, who at the time was vegetarian and had been for many years. We never had meat in the flat, I was fine with it, I’d still eat out, and at home if we ever cooked together it was a healthy diet of onion rings and beer…
Mindful and Ethical Food in 2017
For some time I’ve been increasingly aware of waste, particularly food waste. I’m angered that supermarkets will trash food rather than give it to food banks and shelters to help those that are struggling; although that story is slowly changing.
I became aware of my own waste and it worried me.
We’d routinely go to a major supermarket to do the weekly shop. Thing is our lives mean we’re rarely around to make meals and because of that come Sunday we were throwing out masses of wasted spoiled food – including meat.
One day I was stood in a supermarket looking around the chiller cabinets and doing math.
There’s 3 breasts per pack of chicken in Tesco – why I don’t know, but I presume it is to force people to by another packet (based on average family being 4) which means there’s a high chance one of those breasts is not getting eaten and tossed.
Looking again, there’s 20+ packs of that one brand on the shelf. that’s 60(ish) chickens died for this shelf for this brand. Now quadruple that for the other brands of that one product. Now do the same for thighs, bites, nuggets and so on and so on. You’re faced with an aisle with 100s of dead animals on it – and we’re still just talking chicken!
Now factor in cows, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, fish of all kinds and so on.
There’s maybe a few thousand dead animals in one small Tesco on my high street. – and a lot of that will be reduced, never bought and disposed of. That’s just one supermarket. How many are there in your town? In your county? In your country? In the world?
Trying to quantify the slaughter of animals
We talk about WWII a lot because it is, thankfully the last devastation of human life that we know of on such a massive scale.
At school we were given statistics to try and get us to think about impact and it’s hard because you cannot visualise it, not really. Millions of jewish people executed in camps, in their homes, by the roadside and we cannot quantify it. You cannot see what that would look like, cannot imagine, but you know that it is wrong.
So why do we not think like this about animals, a resource of nutrition that has been widely commodities, only since the 2nd world war and made widely accessible to all?
We don’t need to eat animals
We have not had a need to eat animals for the past 100 years as a necessity is the truth of it, and there are countless international organisations who are campaigning for sustainable livestock, fisheries, organic fed and hand reared, but nobody is really standing up to say, actually, it just isn’t necessary at all.
Don’t believe me? Look at India, a country which predominately is vegetarian through religion, as well as inaccessibility to meat as an affordable food source.
How about this for a statistic. There are more animals slaughtered every day in the UK alone for food produce (22,000,000) than the entire Russian army and civilian casualty list in WWII (20,000,000).
My experiment in 2017
Without much discussion, other than with my girlfriend, we made a decision to remove meat from our diet. She already doesn’t eat fish, so over Christmas agreed we’d give it a try. Oddly enough my brother and his girlfriend had also decided to not eat meat some time last year and I found a number of my friends have become vegetarians or vegans.
To clarify, although we’ve been trying out numerous vegan recipes (so far not a single duff one) we are not eating meat – but are still eating animal produce, that’s milk, eggs, butter, cheese etc.
It got to Easter and bar maybe a handful of meals have not had meat in my diet. Do I feel any different? I can’t say I do, no. I have not lost weight; most likely because I am still consuming quantities of starch and fat and not exercising like a speed freak.
To see whether there was any tangible difference, I decided to have a week where I would go back to my previous diet of meat in at least one meal a day. This is where things got interesting.
I had the worst shitting experiences I’d had in years almost instantly. Turns out that your body cannot handle the complexities of meat without a fair bit of practice.
I kept going for the week to be able to get a fair picture of what was happening and found that I had become quite bloated, was daily having to go to the toilet every few hours, and that the experience in doing so overall was very unpleasant, for everyone.
So that’s the end of my tale, there’s no real ah-ha moment in this, I just wanted to tell the story, share my experiences and let you think about whether you should try, at the very least to reduce the amount of meat consumption you are responsible for. Don’t be conned into the extreme vegan opinions that you’re helping animals by stopping eating meat, that’s rubbish, you’re insignificant, they’re still going to be slaughtered, packaged, sold or destroyed.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it, for yourself at least.
Also published on Medium.