I stopped eating meat in April 1991. I remember the exact moment pretty well, lying on the floor of my front room in Herne Hill and watching a rerun of the Animals Film as part of the Channel 4 ‘Banned’ series. I was half-cut, destroying a lamb phall directly from its foil container and in no condition to take in the gravity of what I was seeing, but take it in I did. Somehow, the message managed to penetrate the grotesque caricature of youth I had become and made me ask myself a few searching questions I couldn’t answer. Not then, and not when I had sobered up the next day and was paying the ultimate price for the 100k+ Scoville monstrosity I had ingested. And the thought that living creatures had been killed in order to make me feel that shit was truly appalling.
For me, it was about personal choice. That anyone else would give a flying one about what went into my sorry mouth never actually occurred to me, and for a brief moment the new diet of dry-roasted peanuts, Beanfeast pasta and Rioja seemed to have passed unnoticed. But then came Christmas, traditionally the flagship occasion when families unite, discuss politics and implausible career paths and revel in the ritual mastication of an ugly bird no-one gives a stuff about for the other 364 days of the year. I opted for a plate of green veg (the root ones being, as any fule kno, Satan’s little helpers) and a couple of potatoes, without gravy. And by doing so, I unleashed a Pandora’s Box of vitriol so strikingly at odds with the innocuous vegetables themselves, I felt duty-bound to pitch in and protect them. It was Twelve Angry Men vs the Chives with me as ’70’s TV lawyer Petrocelli, backing the voiceless oppressed against all odds. And they flayed me alive.
Perhaps it was the notion of underdog I found so appealing rather than the ethics themselves (a much less challenging justification to digest for those who had taken so violently against my new-found stance). But it wasn’t. The simple truth was that I could no longer turn my head away from such unnecessary suffering when there were/are so many alternatives. My decision, not exactly of seismic significance. And despite the odd hole in the argument (I own some leather shoes and have, on occasion, enjoyed a wine gum), I’ve stuck to it ever since.
Last year, Carol Midgley wrote an excellent piece in the Times stating her reasons for giving up meat and was bombarded with snide remarks in the comments section which were completely beyond me. If she’d said she was giving up catching the train to work and had started cycling instead, would an army of indignant commuters have taken to their keyboards to vent their spleen? I don’t think so. Carnivores, you have nothing to fear. Now, get on with your day and leave us alone.