Journalist Caroline Moody explains how she made the connection and went vegan at the age of 54, after a life-altering five months in Asia in 2018. Her powerful story illustrates how it’s never too late to change eating habits.
I had a penny-dropping moment in 2018. Normally I scroll past YouTube videos on animal rights but for some reason I clicked on ‘The Food Matrix - 101 Reasons to go Vegan’. The speaker was saying that in the United States 300 farm animals die every second. Every second. So in the time it takes you to read this sentence, that’s about another 1,500 animals slaughtered. (And that’s just the US.) Personally, I find it unacceptable. And it’s not just the killing of sentient beings that bothers me. It is the unimaginable suffering that comes with factory-farming.
This time last year I was telling my sister (she has been vegan for more than 25 years) that I could never be vegan. So what has changed? Early last year my husband David and I started shifting towards being vegetarian, partly for health reasons as we head towards our mid-50s. But it was also because we were about to embark on a six-month adventure around south-east Asia and we thought it would be prudent to avoid meat.
We set off for Bangkok on 1 July and continued through Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and finished with three months in India. We sat in restaurants where there was tortoise on the menu (we have tortoises at home - unimaginable!). We saw bodies of small to medium-sized dogs which had been spit-roasted whole. (Horror on Facebook when mentioning such things.) On a street early in the morning, we saw dozens of freshly removed animal heads in a skip, trotters in another. We saw half a dozen chickens hanging upside down and tied by their legs to a parked motorbike. I looked away when I saw a chicken about to have its neck wrung in the street as I walked past.
I wonder, what is the difference between that dog on the stall in the back streets of old Hanoi and the hog eaten at a summer barbeque? What is the difference between a tortoise and a lobster thermidor or a crab salad? Why do we wince when we see chickens heading for slaughter but happily eat it when it is cut up and presented in a packet?
It was in Udaipur in India where the shift in my thinking embedded itself in my heart. Here, we spent more than two weeks at the Animal Aid Unlimited animal sanctuary. I thought I was there for the injured dogs. What I wasn't prepared for was how I felt about the other rescued animals - the cows, water buffalo, sheep and donkeys.
Animals are sentient beings, they are full of character, they are social, they have their own needs in their daily habits and interactions. When you then read about what happens every single day around the world in animal farming, you can’t help but be horrified. At first, we allowed ourselves prawns. And then we read about eyestalk ablation (many farmed prawns are blinded to make them ovulate).
And so it continued.
But I know plenty of vegetarians who have not made the transition to vegan, and several people have said to me that ‘no one gets hurt’ producing milk and eggs. Documentaries like Dominion and Land of Hope and Glory corrected that.
It has never been easier to be a vegan - fake meats, dairy alternatives, clearly labelled products. And there are so many excellent alternatives to cows’ milk these days, so many different exciting flavours of non-dairy milk in mainstream supermarkets, and soya milk is certainly better than it was 25 years ago.
And why now?
When I look back at my year, I like to think of a snow-globe. At the start of the year (and probably the last 30 years too) it was all shaken up, with the busy-ness of full-time work, an extended family and all the pressures of normal family life. Thanks to a career break and travel away from the Island, all that distracting fake snow has settled and my mind is clear. I have time and the emotional energy to read and think.
I have never thought of myself as an activist but I now know why vegans get angry, and sad, and frustrated. Because they have learned what is going on. Because animals can’t speak for themselves. Because, actually, we don’t need to eat animals any more.
Everyone cares about the planet these days. Or at least they say they do. On Facebook, everyone shares a David Attenborough post about climate change or the state of our oceans. But they fail to see the link to what they are doing in their own homes - for example, the fish that they are eating for dinner. Some scientists claim that, at current rates of decline, the oceans could be devoid of fish by 2048. And, as I see it, every meal is part of the problem, however their fish was sourced, caught and killed.
Hopefully, more people are starting to question what they put on their plate. More than anything, Veganuary, this year particularly, has got people talking. And that can only be a good thing. A couple of articles about Veganuary in my local newspaper have stirred up several column inches of debate. And at least that opens the discussion. (Hell, even Piers Morgan is into creating the discussion.) As we know, there are many good reasons for going vegan.
I have entered a world of reading labels, insisting I have vegan options at restaurants, learning how to cook new things. There is so much to eat, all of it so much more exciting than what I used to cook, that I don’t feel that I am missing out on anything.
I know I am only at the start of it. I will make mistakes, yes, I know that there will be animal products hidden in all sorts of things like medication, cosmetics, toiletries. I am still educating myself on those matters. And I know there will be other burning questions, like what do I feed my dog?
For me, veganism is not just a fad, a new year resolution which will peter out by mid-February. It is a whole lifestyle change, and it’s for life.
Mine and theirs.
P.S. Just in the time it has taken to read this article, that’s approximately another 360,000 animals slaughtered - and that’s just in the United States. Click on to vegancalculator.com to see how many thousands of animals are being slaughtered worldwide right now. You can also find out how many animals lives you will spare by going vegan today using the Veganalyser.
*Our blog (kidswontleavehome.blog) features our experience at Animal Aid Unlimited.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.