My ancestors left Russia with a full-term pregnancy and a work permit for an abattoir. There are two generations between us. My family’s past dependency on the slaughter of animals provides a bit of irony to my decision to go vegan, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t taken employment. However, I can’t help but feel that any other work would have taken fewer psychological tolls on them. I feel horror when I think of them paid to kill animals and then go home to the people who raised me. I’ve heard about what a problem alcoholism was in my family, but never about the conditions which may have instigated the desire to drink. Can we just decide that the slaughter of animals is bad for animals and people?
But back to me. I’d wanted to stop eating meat from the time I first learned that Lent=no meat season. This was when I was around 7, and I was vaguely aware of its virtuous connotations. Saints were vegetarian, and I was all about the virtuous abstention. Also, it sounded appealing to me from an animal-loving perspective. My mother, however, was against it because I had several food allergies (dairy, wheat, egg, nuts, fish) which meant that my diet was already limited. So my desire was put on hold. Indeed, it went in the opposite direction when I decided that I loved to eat meat.
When I was 14 or so, I gained a bit of independence in my food because I was at a new school close to my home rather than commuting with my mum and brother to another city. So I learned about cooking for myself, and decided to cut out meat entirely. One of my friends went on the Atkins diet and told me the horrors of carbs, but I shrugged it off. My body felt normal for the first time, confirming my choice as the right one.
I went back to eating meat briefly when I was in an abusive relationship and he told me, among other things, that vegetarianism was stupid and didn’t make a difference. In retrospect, the obvious response to this is that we all must follow our own moral compasses, regardless of how much impact we make. I want to ensure that my choices reflect my own ethics.
As I write this, I have been meat-free for several years. The last straw was when I started having nightmares in which the cows or pigs would talk to me or cry or berate me for discarding a bit of gristle. It’s clear that I’m not meant to eat meat, and I’m okay with that – even though cold winter days really make me want a haggis.
Dairy and eggs were never a question – I don’t have the nostalgia for cheese or Cadbury’s, because I’ve never eaten them. In this, my allergies have been rather good for me. (This is the only time I’ll say that.) But the last sticking point has been honey. I love honey. I can eat it straight from the jar. It goes in my tea, it goes on my porridge. My friends and I bring each other raw honey from across the world when we travel. It’s a treat and an antioxidant marvel.
Unfortunately, it also results in the gassing of bees at the end of the season, and the mutilation and artificial insemination of the hive’s queen. I’ve read several arguments on the topic, and have seen both angles. My personal ethics have previously convinced me that eating honey was correct for me. I now have rethought this, because I’m not and never will be perfect. If anything, it’s made me want to keep a hive and not eat the honey. We’ll see on that. When we move, we’ll have the space for it.
But back to me and how this decision affects my own little life. What will I have in my tea?! Green tea with honey and oat milk is my drink. It’s the highlight of my morning. Will blackstrap molasses suffice? Or golden syrup? How about maple syrup? I think I’ll start with maple and work backwards through this very tiny list, then do more research if necessary. In fact, with the weather on the turn, it’s probably the perfect time to try maple syrup in a breakfast context – and not just on fluffy pancakes.