For 29 years I was a meat-eating, cheese-nibbling, mayonnaise-loving omnivore. It was how I was brought up and it was normal. Ironically, as a child, I despised dairy, but as I grew older I became fond of cheese and yoghurt. I never questioned what I ate, never saw anything wrong with the products I was consuming, and literally had no idea about the by-products of the dairy industry.
When Andy first told me he wanted to trial a vegetarian diet my first reaction was one of frustration and annoyance. I was in no way supportive and grumbled about having to cook separately. I was concerned how it would impact our lifestyle. But I knew that if this was something that Andy wanted to do then it was something he would follow through with. He’s nothing if not stubborn…or should I say determined.
So, Andy began the process of cutting out meat from his diet. It started off gradually and initially we would do things like have a vegetarian sausage on the same BBQ as a piece of steak or I’d make gravy out of chicken stock, but soon Andy’s vegetarianism became stricter and we had to start checking cheese for rennet. At this time I had no idea what rennet was and I couldn’t understand how it was possible that cheese couldn’t be vegetarian.
Andy’s switch to vegetarianism was nowhere near as hard as I’d imagined it would be. For a time I would buy myself a piece of salmon (you know, for the protein) or treat myself to a roast chicken when Andy was away for work, but for the most part I found myself eating the same vegetarian meals at home. It was easy and felt normal for us to become a vegetarian household even though I would still eat meat at lunchtime or when we went out for meals.
We lived for about 2 years or so with Andy being a strict vegetarian and me continuing to eat meat outside of the house. I never in a million years considered that I would make the switch to vegetarianism, let alone veganism. I accepted Andy’s decision but I don’t think I’d understood his reasons for making that choice.
Andy attended the Animal Activist Forum in Sydney in 2014 and came home and announced that he had made the decision to switch to veganism. Cue more grumbling from the world’s most supportive girlfriend. I was honestly gutted. We were already restricted by his vegetarian diet and now he wanted to cut out dairy too? How would we ever enjoy going out for dinner again? What would we cook at home? Wouldn’t he be unhealthy and miss out on essential vitamins and nutrients? The thoughts I was having – and I voiced some of them – were selfish, ill informed and once again entirely unsupportive.
I remember feeling strangely threatened by Andy’s lifestyle choices. I felt alienated and left out, like he’d joined some kind of exclusive secret society. I felt like I wasn’t good enough because of my choice to eat meat.
After the 2 years of Andy being a vegetarian it only took me 2 days to start to question my own choices. Andy came back from the forum with a newly invigorated passion for animal welfare. He also came armed with facts. As I mentioned, I’d never really understood Andy’s decision to stop eating meat, but this time things were different.
He started watching documentaries that showed the harsh reality of a slaughterhouse, the impact animal agriculture has on our environment and the truth behind dairy by-products. But I always tried to buy free-range. Had that been wrong? Had the animals not actually wanted to die? Were the animals not on this planet solely for my enjoyment?
If I start thinking about something like this I tend to do it quietly. I immediately wanted more facts and so I spent nearly every lunchtime googling facts and figures and reading debates on the pros and cons of veganism. I wanted cold, hard proof that veganism was right or that veganism was wrong. Of course that was the one thing I couldn’t find.
About a week or so later I was queueing for lunch in the cafe next to work and I started scanning my options. I chose the vegetarian wrap (woo hoo!) And in quite an unspectacular and unnoticed moment I never ate meat again.
I don’t know if I’d made the decision to be vegetarian at that point but I definitely stopped eating meat. It was about a week later that I decided to tell Andy that I was planning to try a vegetarian diet. After that I decided I was definitely a vegetarian and I remember waking up with this strange feeling that I’d made a big change in my life but knowing that it was a change that I couldn’t go back on.
Working up the courage to tell people that I was a vegetarian was stupidly hard. I don’t know what kind of reaction I was expecting but I felt sure it wasn’t going to be good. I was terrified of telling my parents. People’s responses were varied but on the whole encouraging. I think some people thought Andy was a bad influence, and he was a huge influence but not in the way people thought.
I realised that my choice to become vegetarian was for both ethical and environmental reasons, and that meant that it didn’t take me long to understand that my reasons for being vegetarian meant that I had to become a vegan. There was absolutely no question about it, and so less than 2 months after switching to a vegetarian diet I decided to lead a vegan lifestyle. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ve now been vegan for nearly 11 months and as many people say, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I’ve learnt so much in 11 months and discovered that veganism isn’t just about what you eat but what you consume in terms of clothing, make-up and household products. It’s a way of life that’s about compassion and the decisions you make on a day to day basis.
I’m extremely lucky to have such a strong-willed and insightful man in my life. Andy made his choices without any support from me and in an environment where he’s expected to be a steak-munching, beer-swilling, beardy. Only two of those are now true. Andy helped me join the dots and understand the extent of the cruelty that goes on in our world. I was ignorant of the facts, brain-washed by a society where meat eating is the norm and animals are commodities, not sentient beings.
If someone like me (the old me) can make the connection then I think there are thousands of others out there who could be persuaded to re-evaluate their choices. I just think it’s important to remember that not everyone has a helpful bearded man in their life to assist them in turning away from the things they’ve been brought up to believe is right. It’s not always easy to go against the grain but the number of vegans around the globe is steadily rising so perhaps we can all help others to peek behind the curtain and see the truth about the cruel practices that go on every day. Together we can spread the word and help create a cruelty-free world.