Reared on fry-ups and meat-filled dinners every day of the week, this farmer’s son has turned towards the big V, but hasn’t told his family, writes Eoin Weldon
I lack the willpower and discipline to become a vegan. It’s hard for me to ever imagine permanently parting with my morning eggs or a juicy steak filet. Veganism is on the rise though and the penny has dropped for millions in the western world, thanks, in part, to a string of meticulous and compelling documentaries. These influential films name and shame, carefully seeking out the guilty parties with their crosshairs for their crimes against animals.
The reality is we, the majority, are complicit but those culpable in the worst possible ways are the meat industry, the entertainment business, the fashion and pet industries, and scientific researchers. Some documentaries focus on the bloody history of large scale animal slaughter, others on the health risks attached to eating animal products.Whatever the angle, these activist-driven productions have lit a torch of awareness and contributed greatly to a vast shift in consciousness.
Stats for veganism in Ireland may not be plentiful but globally the impact is evident. An example of this is the projected $5.2bn value of the global meat-alternative market by 2020 while the world’s non-dairy milk market is expected to be worth $11bn by 2019.
In Canada, where I now reside, veganism has grown exponentially since I landed in 2012. My wife was vegan for three years for ethical and health reasons so I found myself dining at a string of new vegan restaurants. New being the operative word, they just kept opening in Toronto and the demand was there to fill them. For one who had a meat-and-dairy upbringing in Ireland this was a shock to the system but vegan cuisine proved to be surprisingly tasty.
During her first pregnancy my wife allowed dairy and fish back into her diet so I gradually forgot about veganism and its rising popularity.
That was until I met a certain fellow Irishman. He’s seen the documentaries, knows the horrible facts, and feels remorse for his past dietary choices. He’s been vegan now for about two years. I was given the all clear to write about this individual on the condition that he remain nameless. His family own a farm in rural Ireland which is home to a herd of cows and some chicken coops. He worked that farm as a youngster fuelled by black pudding and fried egg sandwiches for breakfast and pork chops, mincemeat, and chicken twice a week followed the obligatory Sunday roast dinner. No meatless Mondays in this household. On his cornflakes at night was cow’s milk and on his mince pies at Christmas was a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Typical Irish fare.
Like myself, the recession was his reason for emigrating to the Great White North. When he arrived in Toronto a few years ago, everything on the surface appeared to be the same. People loved bacon, beef, chicken, and especially cheese curds — the key ingredient of poutine — Canada’s national dish. However, as time passed and his restaurant choices broadened, he began to notice more and more menu options flanked by a large ‘V’.
The more he paid attention to how diverse Toronto’s vast restaurant scene was, the more he noticed alternative protein sources like seitan, tempeh, and tofu. Vegetables, one-time side dishes, were also the main attraction. A dozen plump florets of cauliflower, for instance, are battered, deep fried, and bathed in hot sauce to mimic a plate of chicken wings. This was not just about meat substitutes, it was about allowing the veggies to star.
The reason this Irish vegan wants to remain nameless is because of Ireland’s favourite pasttime: Slagging. His dad is a dairy and beef farmer and the Sunday roast tradition is sacrosanct in his mother’s eyes. And it is a big roast my secret vegan friend is fearful of. In his words, “the slagging would be desperate” if his family were to discover he was vegan.
Listen, most people would just come straight out and tell their family. Some would even relish the rebellion of it but this lad has decided to keep his diet hidden for the time being. This meant breaking the rules of veganism by eating fry-ups and Sunday roasts when he was last home. He told me he nearly puked on several occasions. Such drastic measures will surely become a thing of the past as modern-day Ireland moves forward into the future with a more health-conscious outlook.
Some 8% of the Irish population are vegetarian, according to Bord Bia, while 2% are vegan. This may not seem like a large amount but change is coming. Pushing for this dietary shift is animal rights activist Sandra Higgins. Go Vegan World, which was founded by Ms Higgins, launched a candid and informative pro-vegan billboard campaign across Ireland in 2015.
“The campaign has run thousands of ads, They are placed where they will gain maximum exposure so that people are confronted with facts that are their right to know and their responsibility to act on,” said Ms Higgins.
“Research suggests that there is a steadily increasing number of people in Ireland who avoid animal use. The increased availability of vegan-friendly foods, cosmetics, cleaning products, and clothes is testament to the fact of an increasing supply to meet that demand. People have learned that animal use is unnecessary for human survival or wellbeing and that a plant diet is not only nutritionally adequate but can help prevent many diseases and causes of early mortality.”
Whether you do it for ethical reasons, health reasons, or a mix of the two, there are many impactful and persuasive reasons to becoming vegetarian or vegan. In the health column, the positives are plentiful and it’s no coincidence that plant-based eating is being used by top sports dieticians. Benefits include improved heart health, reduced risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes, lower cholesterol, and a longer life expectancy.
Ethically, people become vegan to help the environment, for example. When faced with the depressing stats on large-scale cow lots, methane emissions, and climate change, lab-grown burgers and meat substitutes are beacons of light during dark and ominous times for Mother Earth.
People mostly go vegan to protest the mass slaughtering of animals for human consumption and use. The disgusting, inhumane practices performed routinely in the name of cheap meat, high-end fashion, science, and entertainment are not common knowledge. The Joaquin Phoenix-narrated documentary Earthlings does an impeccable job of lifting the lid on all this nastiness. Watching until the end is difficult and not for the queasy or faint-hearted. It’s a highly disturbing but very necessary watch.
A friend of mine once said he felt like he earned the right to eat meat just by watching it.
Instead of blindly picking up that clean, clingfilm-wrapped chicken breast or buying that leather jacket, people should educate themselves and respect what another living creature endures for these things to be so readily available. If you still want to eat meat and buy leather afterwards, then fine.
Since educating myself, I eat less meat and try to avoid buying real leather. It’s not much but it helps. For the secret vegan, Earthlings was the straw that broke the camel’s back; he cleaned out his fridge the next day and the rest is history. I just hope he works up the courage to come clean to his folks some day.
Veganism is simply humans evolving, becoming more intelligent and choosing a healthier road to extend and protect their lives. As a lifestyle, it comes with a host of positives, not least for the planet and the health of its inhabitants. Maybe we should all consider embracing the diversity of modern food, try eating some seitan perhaps, or give the Impossible Burger a look-see.
If it is not for you then fear not, your meat of choice is always waiting. The animals make sure of that, they have no choice in the matter.