We need to talk.
First of all, I want to thank you. I applaud your choice to move toward a more compassionate diet, and I think it’s great that you decided to reject meat. Your commitment to vegetarianism shows you can handle peer pressure well and know how to say “no” when you need to. Choosing ethics over convenience is a rare virtue these days, so I salute you for it. However, there are some matters we must address, and I hope you’ll take the time to reflect on them.
You probably can guess what I am talking about. I understand, you rather not discuss it right now, but you can’t keep pushing it under the carpet. Believe me, the longer you avoid it, the harder it will be.
If you have been vegetarian for a long time, you probably have found a comfortable spot in your lifestyle where you can rest in peace curled up away from those images and thoughts that made you stop eating meat in the first place. Or perhaps you just followed what your religious scriptures said was the right way to eat. Maybe your choice may have initially been disconnected from ethics, and it had something to do with health, or with what your parents fed you.
Either way, it’s time you look at that choice with different eyes, the eyes experience have been sculpturing on your face over the years.
You and I have many things in common. From some perspectives, I am, technically, one of you. I also try to be a compassionate person like you. And I also prefer to eat healthy food and reject any dish made from the flesh of someone — seasoned with hormones, antibiotics, carcinogens, and tears.
For many years, cheese was my favourite food in the whole world. So creamy, so aromatic, so warm. So convenient, so characterful, so versatile. When my friends went travelling somewhere, I always asked them to bring me some exotic cheese. I could not get enough of it. And I loved omelettes too! Made with potatoes, courgettes, or spinach, they were one of the most common meals I ate when growing up — in fact, omelettes were the first dishes I learnt to cook! Ah, and we should not forget those fabulous desserts. Where I come from, my favourite was “mel i mató”, made from honey and milk curd — delicious, I can tell you. Vegetarian food has a comforting, homely quality, almost like a mother’s embrace, don’t you agree?
But — I think you know — there is also something very sinister in vegetarian food. Something that many people don’t want to know about—especially long-term vegetarians set on their ways. Before I made my choice of diet, I kind of knew, but I did not want to acknowledge that I knew.
I didn’t want to accept that I had blocked it out of my mind. I knew that milk only comes from the breasts of mothers who have given birth, but I didn’t want to know what this meant for a cow and her kidnapped calf, or that they both are killed when they are still young.
I knew that eggs only come from laying hens, but I didn’t want to know what this meant for the doomed male chicks born in the egg industry (who are all killed soon after hatching), or that the hens live a horrible life in factory farms.
I knew that honey was made by bees, but I didn’t want to know how they would react when the beekeeper stole it from them, and that many would die in bee farming.
I kind of knew, but I didn’t want to know that I knew, if you know what I mean. I didn’t want to accept that, in effect, milk, eggs, and honey are “liquid meat”, plain and simple.
Have you ever wondered why vegetarians do it? Why do they block all this critical information from their minds when they are licking a chocolate ice cream, sucking a honey candy, or devouring a cheesy egg scramble? Well, because, like in the case of smokers, they all fell victim to an industry that exploits a human weakness useful to recruit customers: addiction
I was very addicted to cheese, and unless you are an ovo-vegetarian, the chances are that you are too. You are most probably an addict, like I was, and your main drug is casein. As you may already know, that is a protein found in milk that gives it its white colour.
However, perhaps you don’t know it is responsible for another thing. It causes addiction in baby mammals of any species making them seek their mother so they can be breastfed regularly. It’s a drug that evolved to guarantee that baby mammals, who often can walk soon after birth, stay close to their mothers always seeking their milk — any mother who has weaned her child knows how strong that pull is.
But what happens if humans are not weaned off milk? What happens if you keep feeding humans with milk in their adulthood, from another species, and now concentrated in the form of cheese, yoghurt, or cream, with higher doses of concentrated casein? You make dairy addicts, that’s what happens.
And I believe that dairy addiction leads to the rest. Once you are addicted to dairy, I think it is easy to begin consuming the rest of liquid meat. If your addiction made you rationalise exploiting cows, another mammal like you, what stops you from exploiting birds in the same way? And if you allow yourself to exploit birds, what stops you from exploiting insects?
Ultimately, I think it is likely that your addiction to casein made you accept the exploitation of animals for milk, eggs, or honey and “convinced” you that you had no other choice than to consume products derived from them.
You shouldn’t blame yourself for becoming addicted, as, like me, you were exposed to substantial amounts of casein from a young age and grew up in a society where animal exploitation is commonplace and accepted. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that you may consider your vegetarian diet as the best option for you and that you cannot do better than that.
But you can. Like with all addictions, you can get rid of it. You can get “sober”, You can get free. My addiction to cheese was clouding my judgment, but I got rid of it over twenty years ago. You and I have many things in common, but there is a big gap that separates us. Unlike you, I became a vegan instead of a vegetarian, and I no longer support the exploitation of cows, goats, hens, ducks, or bees. It only took me just a month or so of dairy abstinence to get rid of my addiction to casein (so it was not as hard as I thought it would be) and now my diet is solely dictated by me — not by any unethical industry.
You must also know it’s healthier, right? You know that the high cholesterol in eggs, milk, and cheese is not good for you, don’t you? You know that it is better for the environment too, as the dairy industry is one of the most polluting and damaging industries for the planet. You must also be aware that avoiding animal products is not incompatible with any religion. You know that whatever the religious scriptures you may be following say you should not eat is the minimum you must avoid, not the maximum. And I am sure you know that, in the second decade of the 21st century, you can get any animal-free versions of any vegetarian dish you want (in most cases, you would not be able to tell the difference in terms of taste and texture).
You can become vegan too. It’s easier than you think. Perhaps you have considered it before, but something stopped you, so if you want some help to do the jump, you can try this:
Find a comfortable place to be, with no distractions. Once there, remember when you decided to stop eating meat. Go back to that moment. You should never forget it, it was an important moment in your life, so close your eyes and try to recall it. Try to remember the arguments you used to make that decision, and the fears you had. Recreate the mental process you went through, re-live it, if you will.
Then, when your mind is fully engaged in that moment, do this: ask yourself what your choice would be if that important moment had happened today, rather than then. Ask yourself which diet you would choose if you had to decide today, with everything you now know. Don’t get too attached to the dietary habits you have created since then, they all can easily be replaced and become your new comfort zone. Give yourself credit for what you can achieve, because remember, you already achieved something similar in the past.
Given your current knowledge of the world and the person you became, reconsider that important decision and see if you can improve it (which is something I do every year, by the way, and I always conclude that I can do better).
Do this today, if you can. Use this letter as a challenge, if it helps. As the ethical person you are, you know that, sooner or later, you must face the music, so why not right now?
It’s time to take the step you probably already wanted to take for some time. I know you are not one of those stubborn closed-minded old-fashioned vegetarians because you would not have reached that far in this long letter if you were. You can do it. Many of us have. It should be easier for you. You already know how to take steps to stop eating unethical foods.
You only need to take a few more, until you are finally free.