Mention you’re a vegetarian to a meat eater and you’ll get one of three responses: an eye roll, a quip about getting enough protein, or the burning question everyone wants to know: “Why?”. To mark National Vegetarian Week (May 16-22), we asked a group of people who don’t eat meat to recall the moment they decided that animals aren’t food.
Here’s what they had to say.
Viran Rajaratnam, Database Assistant:
“A turning point for me came as a teenager when I bit into a chicken nugget and it was full of blue veins and other nasties. It put me right off meat – who wants to eat veins and eyeballs? Not me.”
Kane Chattey, podcaster and creative director:
“After reading the quote ‘How can we expect to feel alive when everything we consume is dead?’ I sat and thought for a long time on it.
“That then prompted me to research ethics and stuff. The most common counter-argument was ‘humans have been eating animals since time’ so, then I had to ask myself that simple question ‘Could I kill an animal?’ The answer was no. I couldn’t feel comfortable as a coward, so I never looked back.”
Anne Hubble, parent carer support worker:
“In 1978 I was a newly-qualified nurse and worked in a little hospital in Holloway that served a population with a lot of rough sleepers. It was a very cold year and there was a nasty flu going around, so sadly a lot of the homeless were being admitted to hospital and then dropping like flies.
“Having laid out one or two dead bodies a shift, I was walking home past a halal butchers where they were carrying whole sides of cows inside. The white flesh looked exactly the same as those poor dead bodies. No more meat for me after that!”
Claire Hubble, journalist:
“As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with animals and I’d beg my parents to take me to Bocketts Farm in Surrey at every opportunity. If you’ve never been, I thoroughly recommend you go.
“You can feed little lambs, cuddle donkeys and play with pigs. It’s great. My personal favourite part was holding the fluffy newborn chicks – that was until someone pointed out to me that those chicks would grow up to be the same animal as my chicken dinner.
“I cried and refused to eat another mouthful. I was only four years old but I’m yet to be tempted back to the dark side.”
Hatti Rex, writer and illustrator:
“I was in school and my friend Grace said the hotdog I was eating was made out of Babe the Pig. Never again.”
Fran Bowden, journalist:
“My stepmother shoved a gammon steak, with a tinned pineapple slice, across the table at me. The sweaty pink flesh stared back at me and I said, ‘I’m not eating that, I’m a vegetarian.’ My dad said I would eat what I was given.
“I put one forkful of met in my mouth and as it touched my tongue it felt vaguely human. That horrible lardy smell filled my nostrils and I ran to the loo, where I was violently sick. I have never eaten meat since.”
Lewis Stickley, photographer:
“Seeing a whole skinned pig hanging in the back of a van making a delivery to the butchers at the end of my road, when I was 11. That did it for me.”
Nick Ansell, photographer:
“As a young press photographer I was dispatched to photograph a bullock which had somehow escaped from the abattoir’s lorry on its way to slaughter.
“It ran into a park and was cornered, the police were called and a van load of their finest marksmen arrived but they brought high velocity sniper rifles with them, not really good for game hunting.
“They shot the animal six times but each time it got up and bowed its head and scuffed the ground with its hooves.
“It was on the sixth shot that the chap from the abattoir’s ran across with a huge cleaver and started to hack the poor things head off, right there in the park, blood was gushing everywhere and I decided there and then that if that’s how they treat animals then I was going to stop eating meat and fish too.
Natalie Nanda, receptionist:
“My friends got me a few fish for my birthday and prompted me to do research into how fish are caught for food. I found it incredibly inhumane, as they plunge a giant net down to the bottom of the ocean to catch as many as they can, but due to the high pressure levels, many fish explode before they even reach the surface. With my two pet fish swimming around at home, I felt really hypocritical eating a tuna sandwich.
“It made me think about all the other animals that suffer for our enjoyment. Two weeks later I was eating a steak and just couldn’t finish it. I decided I couldn’t be a part of it any more. It was my one year vegetarian anniversary recently.”
Jennifer White, press assistant:
“For me the ‘aha’ moment came shortly after I rescued my dog. It made me question why we protect certain species, to take them into our homes and make them part of our families, while we eat others. After all, all animals are someone, not something to put on a plate.”
This was originally published on the Irish Examiner.