People commonly make mistakes with diet categories. For instance, vegetarians are often believed to eat fish which is not true at all. This happens because vegetarians usually say that they don't eat meat, but some people don't consider fish to be meat. It would be clearer to say that they don't eat animals. If we were to categorize people based on what they ate, we could fit them into the following crudish, definitely not-all encompassing list:
- eat everything
- don't eat animals except seafood
- don't eat animals at all
- don't eat animals or animal products such as eggs, dairy and honey
I wouldn't go into specific categories such as what constitutes a fruitarian or ovo-vegetarian. I know what they are, but I've kept the list short on purpose. You can always research them on your own.
I think that it is commonplace almost everywhere in the world to think that it is all right to eat animals. Considering the predominance of the omnivore diet across the world, there would've been little chance that I'd be raised differently. I come from a country where people routinely raise pigs for slaughter every year. Come winter and the day of slaughter, as a child I'd wake up to the sounds of pigs screaming for their lives as they were dragged to be shot or knifed. The entire experience sure left it's mark on me. To this day I remember crying incessantly on those mornings. And then, by the afternoon of the same day, I was eating roasted meat and all seemed fine.
Talk about cognitive dissonance.
As early as kindergarten we are introduced to the idea that we should live in sync with our environment (albeit, IMHO, this is not stressed enough), that our actions should not harm others or cause destruction. We are taught to be compassionate, caring and empathetic, yet at the same time we look around us and pick up on cruelty - that there are exceptions in how we treat individuals of other species, race, sex, nationality, religion... the list goes on - and that the grown-ups do not behave the same way they tell us to behave.
It's mind boggling that we grow up sane exposed to this duality between what we are taught and what we observe. I guess that along the way some people just accept how things are and some struggle for change in themselves and around them.
After high school I went to the university in another city, away from my family. Since I was too lazy to cook I avoided buying meat because I feared it would go to waste. Sometimes I ate at the student canteen, but I've never had the habit of eating a lot so overhauling my eating habits to exclude meat did not seem like it would be overly complicated. I had always felt using animals was wrong and my personal ethics finally pushed me to make that one step forward. During the 2009 winter holidays I tried to eat vegetarian for two weeks. The New Year came around and embracing the lifestyle stuck as a new year's resolution, 2010 being a nice round number. I did not suffer any health-related issues but I did get checked out at some point. My health had actually improved, which was a surprise.
The transition made me aware of how uniform my diet had been and going vegetarian forced me to go beyond what I was usually eating. I had to explore other options and eat things that I had been passing by in the shops. I started eating more diverse meals and even gained some body mass, which is a good thing since I've always been skinny. I also found out that, in fact, I liked cooking.
So here I am.
Sometimes I get frustrated because of endless debates on whether vegetarian lifestyle is viable and justified. For me, and many others, it is a no-brainier and quite simple to pull off. Had I known this before, I would've switched sooner, rather than later. As my motivation was rooted in ethics and environmental concerns, I started to watch out what I was wearing too. It also came naturally to start looking for cruelty free clothes and other products. I started looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint, to reduce waste... all of it is actually connected. The thing is, some of us do have a choice, but fail to make the right one. People have a visceral negative reaction to seeing animals inhumanely kept and slaughtered, and then they go out and grab a burger. Besides, even health ties into it, and nobody wants to be unhealthy.
Sure, just being animal friendly is not foolproof because sometimes product components may slip under my radar when I'm not careful, however, products that are cruelty free can often be identified either through an online list or a leaping bunny logo on the product itself. Humane Cosmetics Standard (HCS) and Humane Household Products Standard (HHPS) should ensure that the products were not tested on animals. You can also advocate that companies adhere to these standards.
Various food additives can also be identified. Leather belts, leather shoes and other things can be replaced with an alternatives that are not made from animals. Look for item descriptions or signs. Your country might label foods with a letter V or, in case of clothes, it is often required to list the materials used in the making of the item. You cannot make an informed decision if you are not informed enough.
It is difficult to do things in absolutes. Even though the noble goal is to eliminate it wholly, reducing cruelty comes a long way. I do as much as I can.
For the past few months it seems I've been in another dietary transition. I've limited my egg, honey and dairy intake only to weekends. I'm weighing my options on how to approach further change in my diet without impacting my health. On the surface it looks like there are few significant challenges, but it is easy to go vegan and fall into the trap of eating the same all the time (like pasta).
Vegetarianism and veganism are legit diets. It's not wrong or unhealthy to eat like that. Do not fall into the trap of people convincing you otherwise. As it's usually not something of their immediate interest, they will not have researched it to any extent and will casually toss around outdated and long ago debunked information. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition can show you what health problems might arise from meat consumption. Humans are said to be omnivores but that merely means that we can survive on a meat diet, not that it is necessary for us.
We are impressed when new technology makes food production more efficient, but don't acknowledge it when technology enables us to be cruelty free? This does not follow. We can choose what to eat today. We can either synthesize or have plants provide what we need for sustenance and to top this, it can even be cheaper to be vegan.
All of these small things are profound in their impact. People around me, friends, family, pick up on what I do and, more often than not, act in accordance as well. Reducing meat intake, having a meat free day in a week and such. Having all of this in mind, YMMV. If you have any ideas for a different approach, do try them.