My journey into veganism began back in the 1960’s when I was a very small child living on the edge of Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
I was surrounded by glory, woodland, country lanes, farm land, and fields of silk like grass that blew in the wind like waves on an ocean. The wildlife was glorious. We had our own natural large pond in our garden and next to our cottage was an even bigger pond, where Swans, Coots and Moorhens glided and dabbled elegantly across the water. I passed the hours watching Water Voles nibbling at fresh shoots and Kingfishers darting here and there, and watching huge Pike fish who hidden from view, would stork his prey hidden in the murky depths of the pond, but I and I alone knew his patch and that was my special secret.
Every winter the skies at dusk would be black with Starling murmerations, a wondrous sight to behold, shape shifters of the sky, until after their beguiling sky dance performance they would drop in their thousands into the reed beds around the pond. The ploughed fields would teem with peewit’s (lapwings). In bored moments on wet winter days I would try counting them, I’d fail miserably, too many to count; now, you’d be lucky to see any.
Summers were a glittering haze of bumblebees, dragon flies, butterflies and moths; so here I played as a child amongst the wildlife; jam jar and fishing net in hand made out of mother’s old tights, a cane stolen from the vegetable plot and an old wire coat hanger catching all sorts of invertebrates, caterpillars, sticklebacks and tadpoles, of course I let them go after a period of study.
It was an idyllic childhood in many ways I grew up feeling part of the countryside, the seasons came and went and I loved it all. However at a very tender age I witnessed something which would have a profound effect on me, in many ways my innocence and sense of harmony was stolen.
I remember it being a summer’s day, likely to be a school holiday, I was playing out in our garden when a heard male voices and the sound of a vehicle make its way along the green lane that ran along the boundary of our garden. This lane was generally only used by the farmer but this was not a farm vehicle. I was puzzled and curious as to the intrusion. A few minutes later I could hear men digging and dogs yapping excitedly followed by excited shouts and dogs making frantic noises....it was a distressing and alarming sound, but what was going on? Half hour later my question was answered as I peered over our garden fence to see the truck making its way back down the green lane, in the back of the open truck men sat waving the tails of two foxes, blood still dripping from dismembered bodies. It was a shocking sight for one so young and I was utterly heartbroken. My precious haven had been violated my secret woodland friends murdered. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to harm the foxes at the bottom of our garden. We kept hens, ducks and a goat; the foxes had never harmed any of them; this was my introduction to the cruelty of humankind and it left its mark. I began to ask questions; questions about the food on my plate! Questions about farming methods, about sheep and cattle, about the old farm across the road where, at certain times of the year, the cattle seemed utterly distressed and their cries could be heard throughout the night. And..... why do people hunt and kill for pleasure?
The more information I gleaned about the food on my plate, the more I felt disgusted at the thought of eating flesh. For instance, Sunday lunch was dreaded, as it was historically the day of the week when families got together and enjoyed family time around the table tucking into a roast dinner. My father occasionally slaughtered a duck or hen “for the table”. I never saw him kill the poultry but I remember them being hung on a hook in the outhouse twitching as the last signs of life vanished from their bodies.
My mother would spend Sunday morning preparing the feast and I was meant to appreciate it and enjoy it. But I simply couldn’t, those birds had been my friends and part of my everyday life; I didn’t want to eat them. I would sit with my head bent forward over my meal crying salty tears into my food; I would push the meat around the plate trying to hide it under the vegetables or sneak the meat into a hanky under the table and deposit it in the bin when the coast was clear.
To make matters worse this seemingly ungratefulness angered my parents and was told I was selfish and spoilt! They guilt-tripped me with tales about starving children less fortunate than myself in some foreign land that I’d never heard of. At times, they force fed me the meat with angry shouts and the fork being pushed between tightened lips. Sundays were not so much a day of rest but more like my ‘Day of Stress’! By the age of fifteen, my parents had given up on me, I was more or less self-sufficient and a Vegetarian!
Years later in my early twenties, I found myself living in Lymington in the New Forest; a glorious part of the UK surrounded again by glorious wildlife. I joined various animal orientated groups, including The New Forest Animal Protection Group, who monitored hunting there. Three hunt packs out to kill foxes, hares and fallow bucks; a hunt for nearly every day of the week as each pack went out twice weekly during the season.
I recorded the’ bloody’ truth about hunting with my camera and campaigned tirelessly for its end. The members of the group, like me, cared about the planet, Climate Change and Global warming, the welfare of our farmed and wild animals, they cared about the demise of our wild-flower meadows and consequently the demise of all our wild creatures. I learned from them the awful truth behind the Dairy Industry and was horrified... I became Vegan!
Back then in the 80’s, Veganism was almost frowned upon; it was classed as food for ‘hippy types’ or those ‘dangerous animal rights activist crankies’. There certainly wasn’t the choice of convenience foods as now. Soya milk was not very palatable and would curdle when added to your beverage. But I persevered; one day found that I was pregnant with my first child.....my doctor was not amused. Pregnant and Vegan - I was going to kill my baby! He forced me back into being Vegetarian with various horror stories because of my irresponsibility!!!!! Now, I would not let anyone guilt trip me like that but this was the early in 1990’s and general ignorance prevailed. I flicked between being Vegetarian and Vegan in the years that followed whilst I had my three children.
Over the years it has become much easier to be a Vegan. Supermarkets have risen to the challenge and I now find shelves stacked with food labelled ‘Free From’ (check carefully as not all ‘free from’ food is vegan). So, here I am, fully Vegan aged 55 years old, still in love with all living creatures and still horrified at man’s persistence to destroy.
I’m so happy NOT to support an industry that creates so much suffering and pain which prevents animals from having their instinctive and natural fulfilment. My hope is that, with continued exposure and better education, people will turn away from our current methodology of farming. After all, being Vegan isn’t about going ‘without’; it’s about change and seeing the future with clarity.
There is a wonderful bounty and a wealth of gorgeous, cruelty-free and plant-based, healthy foods to be found. Being Vegan is no longer associated with animal rights ‘cranks’ like myself (Ha-ha !) it’s about so much more..... There are health benefits and global benefits and I truly believe that the way forward, for the survival of the planet, survival for all, is a Vegan diet.