Today, being the last day before Easter, is also the last day I`m a vegetarian.
You see, I`ve been running an experiment of sorts. Since I also celebrated carnaval, which is traditionally the kick-off for Lent, I decided I`d also join Lent and give up meat until Easter.
That`s the simple explanation, that makes people wonder if I`m turning religious (I`m not, don`t worry). The more difficult explanation, is a combination of factors.
First off, I`ve been learning a lot about the food industry in general and how they treat animals and meat. With the constant cutbacks on the meat industry, there is less money for quality control, less money for personnel, while the production speed increases, resulting in more and more mistakes that are dangerous for the consumers. There is less hygiene, more bacteria and other crap ending up on the meat. I`ve heard stories of dead animals lying around for several days before the meat is processed. It happens often that stomachs and guts are accidentally cut and the half-processed food/crap combination ends up on the meat itself.
And that`s just the slaughterhouses, not even taking into account how the animals are treated while they`re still alive. I`m sure we all know the stories of the chickens being stuffed into tiny spaces together, their beaks cut off, of animals living in their own excrement their entire lives, of deformities, fights, animals not being able to even walk properly, not being fed properly.
Secondly, there have been more and more reports here in the Netherlands of not only more dangerous meat, but also mix ups and other strange practices the meat industry has been doing. There is of course the horse meat scandal that seems to still be ongoing. There`s also the part where companies have been selling cheap/bad cuts of meat labelled as biological, on top of the aforementioned problems with less staff and less quality control while production speed increases. And that`s just the industry itself – I`ve also heard of people who work at the meat section of supermarkets, who would drop the meat onto dirty floors, and just put it all back in the package, relabel it, and put it back on the shelves.
Now consider for a moment, to hear all this news and these stories (often firsthand – my dad has worked for a lot of slaughterhouses), and then consider my apparently somewhat extreme views on food to begin with combined with my OCD and being absolutely terrified of any and all diseases.
And so, the decision to temporarily become a vegetarian, and to see how I would like it, was made.
Now, having spent some time as a vegetarian (since somewhere at the end of February, so I`m guesstimating roughly 6 weeks), I have a couple of conclusions I want to share with all of you:
First off, I have a newfound respect for vegetarians and vegans. I already had a lot of respect for vegetarians, with a lot of them in my close friends group. But having been vegetarian for 6 weeks myself, has made me realise what a tough decision it is in a world full of omnivores. Yes, I know vegetarians made the decision themselves, but that doesn`t necessarily mean it`s an easy one. I`ve found there were a lot of products I suddenly couldn`t eat, and that it`s hard to make people around you accept it.
Secondly, I`ve learned that a lot of people don`t really know what being a vegetarian actually entails. No, we don`t meat. Yes, that includes fish. Fish are animals, too, you know. Yes, we do eat eggs, because eggs were never fertilised or really alive to begin with. No, you can`t chop up the meat in tiny pieces so we won`t notice – we do notice, and you might really hurt us in the process, both in terms of trust and in physical health. But I`ve mostly had to explain that I don`t eat fish, which I still find very surprising. I`m sure there`s an interesting social experiment here, as to why people don`t consider fish to be animals but apparently a whole separate type of thing, neither plant nor animal nor anything else, just. Fish. If anyone has any research or articles on this phenomenon, I`d be much obliged.
The final realisation is that I`m still not sure if I want to continue being a vegetarian or not. I think for now I`m going to stick to being what`s referred to as a “flexitarian”. Someone who is a vegetarian part of the time, and eats meat other parts of the time. I don`t think I want to live without meat or fish or shrimps or whatever, especially shrimps, but I`m also a bit too aware of what`s going on in the meat and fish industries and I don`t like it one bit. If I could, I`d buy proper meat from a trusted farmer, untreated with antibiotics and steroids and given proper food and space and treated with proper hygienic care during and after slaughter. But unfortunately, that kind of meat is very expensive and it`s very difficult to be 100% certain of its origins and treatment. I just don`t have the money for it.
I`m left at a conundrum, but I`m also left with some new experiences and new information, and that`s a good enough result for now.