I’ve spent a lot of time this year, and the year before, pondering and writing about the problems which humans, and South African humans, in particular, face. I’ve written about race and child sexual abuse and women’s rights and prostitutes and I’ve celebrated great people and I’ve been on healing journeys and I’ve been on intense physical journeys. While I’ve been trying to scratch below the surface of how and why humans are so unkind to each other, I’ve also been sidestepping the biggest and pinkest elephant in the proverbial room.
As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
– Leo Tolstoy
To say I’ve been putting off this post, despite no lack of encouragement, is an understatement. For some reason, in this world of ours, compassion to animals, compassion to our planet and compassion to our children’s future seems to not be of popular concern. It’s almost considered weak and undesirable. Vegetarianism is a dirty word and Veganism is a crazy cult. I have never been met with so much resistance and opposition to what I thought would be a rather simple, not to mention personal, decision to not put animal products into my body. It seems everyone is taking my little dietary choice rather personally – which is something to think about all on its own. And what’s worse is that when I explain that it’s not actually because of any allergies or ill-health, but because I simply don’t want to be a part of the senseless slaughter of animals anymore, I’m looked upon like I’ve done gone and lost my marbles.
Let’s get real. I’m a farm girl. I grew up around headless chickens running around the garden as they were slaughtered for dinner; I’ve hugged piglets, I’ve bottle-fed calves and lambs and I’ve seen my parents raise and fatten two oxen every year (usually named “Deep” and “Freeze”) for our consumption. I’ve collected eggs, I’ve watched cows and horses mate and give birth since I was a little girl (most farm kids figure out the birds and the bees pretty early on in life); I’ve had pet cats and dogs and hamsters and rabbits and birds and snakes. I understood where our meat came from and I knew that animals were put through pain for me to eat. I’ve seen that pain. You see, growing up on a farm also makes you realise that animals do actually have a comprehension of pain; animals do feel suffering. You can see fear and sadness in their eyes, just like you can with any human being. And you can hear them scream or cry or whinny when they are hurt. Their sense of smell and their instincts are far more intense than ours – just yesterday morning Andrew weaned ten calves and we arrived home in the afternoon to find that their mothers had broken through FOUR sets of fences and run across the entire farm to get back to their crying babies. I don’t know about you, but that signals to me some sort of emotional and mental presence similar to humans. The thought of slaughterhouses and killing farm animals for food never really sat well with me if I let myself think about it too much – but like we all do, I just didn’t. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind, reminded myself that animals were dumb and humans were better than them, and continued eating steak and burgers and wors rolls and roast chickens and salmon and cheese and eggs and milk and everything under the sun. I’m married to a chef – let’s just say Meatless Monday was never a thing in our house.
Last year, we reared a little black Brahman calf whose mother had died when he was a couple of days old. He was so tiny that you could pick him up in your arms and carry him. From the beginning, Marmite was doomed because he was male – and we already have four bulls on the farm. We bottle-fed him and he lived in a spare stable with the horses as his neighbours and with the red-light on for warmth. When he was strong enough, he wandered around the stable yard, chased the dogs, sniffed Abby Cat and followed Victor the tractor-driver around like he was his mom. He also obsessively licked a drain pipe for hours on end (probably a sign of stress – cows are herd animals and not only had he lost his mom but he had also been separated from the herd and made to socialise with a bunch of beings who didn’t speak his own language – can you just imagine how frustrating that must be?) and I remember saying to a friend how stupid he was. YES, I SAID THAT. Bearing in mind that Marmite used to run to you when you called him. Quite smart for a cow to recognise his own name, right? Almost dog-like.
As soon as Marmite was strong enough, he was put into the weaner herd with calves his own age. For a couple of weeks, he’d still turn his head when we called his name, but soon he integrated completely. It was nice to know he was on the farm and happy with his mates. Fast forward to two weeks ago and we were out for dinner with my dad when Andrew casually slipped into the conversation that he had sold a bunch of weaners to the feedlot, including Marmite.
I KNEW all the rules as a farm child. I knew cows were not supposed to be pets. I knew they were supposed to be dumb. I knew they were bred to be eaten. I knew deep, deep down that Marmite was never going to a prize bull and live out his days in the meadows flirting with heifers. But still, something in me clicked when I imagined him being loaded up onto the cattle truck – scared and alone and uncertain of his doomed future. It was like the line between pet and food had officially been erased out for me. I no longer saw a difference between not eating Lulu and not eating Marmite. I could no longer justify it and I could no longer call myself an animal-lover if I continued to eat them. It was that easy. Black and white, no grey lines. The very next day, I got in touch with my friend, Rose, who sent me an initial reading and viewing list of information about giving up meat (thank you Rosie – eternally grateful). At first, I intended to just cut out red meat. But the more I watched and the more I read, the more I realised that chickens and fish and dairy cows are just as vulnerable as the animals killed in slaughterhouses. I watched Earthlings first (because it was for free on YouTube) and it blew my mind to smithereens. The screams those little pigs made as they were “thumped” (thumping is when small or deformed pigs are held by their legs and their heads are smashed onto a concrete floor, sometimes repeatedly, until they die) were the exact same screams I heard every morning on my daily walk when I made my way past the piggery next door. The way the cows were treated in Earthlings – the way they were branded and their horns cut off without anaesthetic – I have seen farmers do that with my own eyes; I have seen cattle crying out and getting stuck in the crush. I couldn’t fool myself any longer that just because I lived in a farming community in South Africa, that our methods and facilities were any different than the atrocious ones displayed in Earthlings. Guys, when you see stuff in supermarkets marked “free-range” or “organic” or “grass-fed” – this doesn’t mean the animals didn’t experience pain as they were transformed into your food. It in no way should make you feel any better about your food or that it reached your plate cruelty-free. Trust me. Farming livestock is kak. It is brutal and selective and harsh and it takes no prisoners. The kindest farmer will still cause pain and even that prize breeding bull will one day, after fourteen years of mating and supplying you with healthy calves, be sent to slaughter and end up on your plate. Farm animals are commodities and if they’re not making money anymore, they’re got rid of.
If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I often post pastoral pictures of our farmlife – pretty landscapes, dogs swimming in the dam and calves frolicking. Yesterday, for the first time, I posted two videos of the newly weaned calves mentioned above running nervously around the crush as they began to realise they were separated from their mothers. These calves will be sold to feedlots as weanlings and then fattened up for slaughterhouses. It’s the truth and I know I took a big risk posting it – either I would be met with a host of heartbreaking comments like: “wow, that hamburger will look great on my plate” or a mass unfollowing – because people don’t want to see what’s going on. Sure enough, I got a bunch of un-followings and that’s okay. I know people don’t want to think about how their yummy burger at Hudsons was once a little calf separated from its mother or how that Nandos drumstick was once a chicken reared in it own faeces in a shoe-box sized cage. I used to be that person.
There is a massive “foodie” culture about at the moment, and I am a huge part of it. Chefs are celebrities, restaurants have replaced pubs as hangouts, and it’s cool to know your chenin blanc from your pinot noir. Meat errrryday – bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch, steak for dinner and junior cheeseburgers inbetween. We are eating more meat then we ever have. Unfortunately, the greedier we have got with our palates, the more animals are suffering. Everyone’s a Jamie or a Nigella, everyone’s instagramming their fancy pork belly, everyone’s eating, eating, eating. And we forget that we’re consuming sentient beings – we’re eating their fear, their adrenaline, their hormones, their antibiotics and their diseases (did you know that massive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline are flooded into an animal’s body when it is killed – no matter how “humane” the slaughter?). Is it any wonder that we’re the sickest, the fattest and the most stressed we’ve ever been?
Anyway, this is not my place to tell you what to do with your body and your life – this is a place to tell my story. So after watching Earthlings, I immediately cut out all meat – even chicken and fish. I continued to eat cheese and milk as usual until I watched this amazing lecture, where I learnt that dairy cows have it far worse off than beef cattle (if we want to draw comparisons). For ten days now, the only animal protein I have allowed into my body is the odd egg from my own happy little chickens who run around the stable yard and lay eggs in the roost Andrew built them. So I’m not entirely vegan, but I’m comfortable with my choices and happy in the knowledge that my eggs come from a happy source and that no chickens were injured in its making. Although slowly, I will admit, the idea of eating a chicken’s period stuffed full of cholesterol is starting to disturb me. We will work with this one. I also want to say out-right that my decision was not “brave” or “risky” and I don’t feel like I’ve made a massive commitment to an impossibly hard thing. It’s honestly the easiest and best decision I’ve ever made; I’m so happy about it and in no way do I feel deprived – there are so many alternative options and meat replacements out there. I’m eating more than ever and it’s entirely guilt-free! I have a feeling that I will end up on a completely plant-based diet and I have no qualms with that – I intend to make this an exciting foodie journey and I look forward to treating my tastebuds to new tastes and adventures. Without getting into all the environmental factors (you can research those below in the links provided), let’s just say that I firmly believe that not eating meat will significantly lessen my carbon footprint. Also, I’m not sure that I could call myself an environmentalist anymore if I was still a consumer of animal products.
I was afraid to write this post too soon, as I’m still learning and exploring and finding my way around this new way of life and it seems that people who haven’t yet made the connection like to attack vegans and “catch them out” on any little thing. I’m two weeks in and feel the pressure already – I feel that anything I say or feel or write needs to be defended and it is a little exhausting – but totally worth it. I will tell you one thing though - I feel lighter and more healthy than I ever have. My digestive system has improved, my skin feels firmer and I have so much energy. I feel like I need less and less sleep and I’ve found out that this is because your body uses so much less energy digesting plants than it does digesting hunks of flesh. You know that feeling you get after a heavy Sunday roast – that feeling that you need to lie about on the couch like a fat python? All gone. It’s no wonder so many athletes are turning towards a vegan diet – I honestly wake up feeling like I could run 10kms every morning. The best thing about this entire change – because it was not about health for me in the beginning – is that I can look at myself in the mirror and be at peace with the path I’m walking on this planet. If I ever have children, I will know that I’m trying my best at attempting to provide them with the best possible future they can have on this earth and I know that no animal will ever die senselessly for my own greed. I can cuddle my dogs and cats without having to push aside any guilt regarding other animals – I love them all equally and enough to respect all of their lives on this planet.
I firmly believe that God, whoever she may be, gifted us with our intelligence and made us guardians of all life on this planet – including, if not most importantly, the animals. And yes, many years ago, we used primitive tools to hunt down an animal which would feed a starving clan of people for weeks. We don’t need to do what we’re doing anymore – not on the levels we’re doing it, at least. We’re greedy and arrogant and selfish and the worst thing is that we’re hiding behind a veil of secrecy and lies, we’re denying the truth and even more heart wrenching, is that we’re still somehow, in some sick way, justifying it. There is never a justification for taking the life of another being for your food – not when you’re living in your nice little apartment in Sea Point with access to a supermarket stocked full of healthy veggies, beans, breads and everything else you may need. I can honestly say right now that humans and animals are the same thing to me and roasting and eating a suckling pig is pretty much the same as roasting and eating a suckling human baby.
The way I see it: every single individual should be made to kill their own meat if you really want to consume it. If you want to eat beef or chicken, or pork, or lamb, you should be made to go to a slaughter house, pick out your desired live animal from its little pen, stun gun it yourself, hang it up by its feet with your own arms and then slit it’s own throat with your bare hands. I don’t think many people would be cool with doing that every time they fancied stocking up their freezer. I have a feeling we’d all be consuming a lot less meat if we were faced with how that steak really gets to your plate. And at least then we wouldn’t need to lie about our “humaneness” and wonder about how things have got so bad; why we are raping our children, killing our brothers and sisters and stealing from each other. I think that if we all look deep, deep down inside yourself, we know the truth. We all do. And the simple act of honouring our guardianship of the earth and our animals, replacing our greed and addiction for meat with love and compassion and remembering our place on this planet, will go a long way in stopping the inhumanity amongst ourselves. And that’s just my humble opinion.
On a more personal front (like I could get any more personal with this post), for years I have been on a spiritual journey of sorts. I’ve been to kinesiologists, I’ve taken up yoga, I’ve cut out alcohol, I’ve meditated, I’ve become an exercise freak and you’ve all read about my amazing healing sessions with the amazing Colleen of Midlands House of Healing. All of these experiences have been completely wonderful and I believe that they have all lead me down this road and enabled me to make this decision so easily. This is the missing puzzle piece. I finally feel like I can practise the kindness and compassion that I preach through what I put into my body. This deep respect for my fellow beings has given me the peace to be fully present in every moment, completely guilt-free and completely conscious. I can now understand why most of the greatest spiritual leaders did not consume animals. Taking on the energy and emotions of another being, feeding on their pain and fear, has a massive effect on your own energy. I feel calmer and more in tune with myself than ever before. Kumba-yaaa mother fuckers!
In the end, we all live in the present moment. You can make a difference to your life, the lives of millions of animals, the planet and your fellow human beings with a simple decision you make three times a day. It’s as simple as that – it starts with YOU and the choices YOU make to show that you’re a conscious member of this human race.
If you are going to ask me any of the following questions in the comment sections, I urge you to please watch the videos below before you do – all the answers you seek are there.
Where are you going to get your protein/calcium/iron/vitamin B12 from?
Aren’t you going to get fat eating all those carbs?
What’s going to happen to all the farm animals if we stop eating them – are they going to become extinct?
Are the farmers all going to become bankrupt?
Are you still going to buy leather? (NO!)
What do I feed my pets if I’m vegan?
Would you eat an animal that was dead already if you found it lying around?
Isn’t it really expensive to eat vegan?
Earthlings – free on YouTube
Some of these videos are intense – but I urge you to please educate yourself before you judge. And remember, remember, remember that we are all innately compassionate, lovely beings. Don’t let this get you too down – because it’s simple – we can change the way animals, and ultimately humans are treated, simply by by creating a new demand in the market; if we demand that our food, clothing and products are cruelty-free, big corporations will have to pander to our demands to stay afloat. Protest with your mouth and your wallet. Yes, there is a lot of bad happening in the world, but there is also soooo much good happening too. But you won’t be able to help and make a change unless you allow yourself to acknowledge the bad.
As for other resources, so far I’ve found Pinterest and Easy Peasy Alchemy really great for vegan recipes. Vegan SA is a helpful website for searching for Vegan products and meat and dairy alternatives (also they list all the vegan wines in SA – very important!) and I’ve also downloaded the Cruelty Cutter app which enables you to scan the bar codes of products with your phone while you’re shopping to check that they are cruelty-free. I’ve also recently purchased The Kind Diet by celebrity vegan, Alicia Silverstone, which is so far a great read. There is still so much more for me to learn, but I’m so happy to do it – in fact I haven’t felt this motivated and excited about waking up every day for a while. It’s like I can see clearly now the meat fog is gone! Ha.
Note: I have noticed how much abuse animal lovers and vegans get online (see image below – really ridiculous comments I saw posted on a recent image of a veggie burger on Vegan’s instagram profile… the sad thing is that they are so common), so if you’re so inclined to comment something nasty or sarcastic at the end of this post, please remember that I reserve the right to delete any malicious or hateful comments made on this blog.
This will probably be my last post for the year – so I hope you all have a wonderful and present festive season with your family and friends. See you in the New Year, I’m sure, with that mandatory post of appropriate goals for 2015 or something to that effect! Thank you so much to all my wonderful friends and followers who have been so supportive during this time, it really means so much.
Big love, Kez xxx