Clea's been a vegetarian since the age of 12. She became vegan after participating in Veganuary 2014. describing herself as “an unconscious vegetarian, but a very conscious vegan”, Clea is passionate about sharing information and ideas, and inspiring others to take part in Veganuary.
I was 12 years old when I decided to become a vegetarian.
I have a memory of being on a walk, not long after, and there were sheep in a field on the other side of a stone wall. I remember looking out at them and feeling so content in my heart, content that I would never have to hurt them again.
That may sound silly to some, but that feeling has always stayed with me. I guess, being a New Zealander, sheep epitomise the eating of meat for me; roast lamb being a religion you’re indoctrinated into from birth.
In my teenage years, being veggie was very much a part of who I was. I was the girl with the hippy skirts. But it was all very normal, really, and easy; living in London meant there was always lots of choice and I never worried about what I ate.
I moved back to New Zealand, which was a whole different story. Often there was no vegetarian option, very little in terms of convenience food, and cheese that had been made without animal rennet was a rarity. Being veggie was weird. Going round to someone’s house seemed to cause mass hysteria. “What, you won’t even eat chicken!”
Fast-forward nine years. I’m back in the UK, and overjoyed at the choice of food. I can eat so much! My husband and I begin to settle into life and, after that initial ‘trying to get to know people’ stage, start making some real friends. A couple of these happen to be vegan. I’m intrigued. They share my values. They rescue animals. They’re informed. They’re fun! They like giggling over a few glasses of wine as much as I do.
But they make me feel like a fraud. That might make it sound like they preached, or judged, or condemned. Not at all, far from it in fact – not even slightly, not once. And you know what? That made me feel even worse.
But I love cheese. And vegan’s just too extreme, isn’t it. Isn’t it?
I meet up with another friend, one who I’ve not seen in years. Guess what? She’s vegan too. And what’s more, she became vegan in the one place I found it so hard being vegetarian: New Zealand. I start to feel worse than a fraud. I feel spineless.
Facebook. A video appears: Veganuary. “Everyone’s going vegan for January!” it exclaims. I don’t think. Click. ‘I’m game! Anyone else?’
January 2014 is a month I will remember for the rest of my life. I read. I read books, I read online. I watch video after video. Specifically, I watch videos about the dairy and egg industries. I cry. I didn’t know it was like this. I’m angry. Why the hell didn’t I know it was like this? I’m shocked. How can it be like this? I feel stupid. I’ve been a part of this. I’m upset. All those animals. The ones I became vegetarian for. All this time. Still. Now. And then. I’m relieved. I’m so relieved. I’m not a part of it anymore!
Oh thank god. I’m not a part of it anymore.
I feel brilliant. I can’t describe it. It’s as though I’ve been let in on this big secret, a secret that’s right there, that you can reach out and touch…but hardly anyone seems to know about it.
Now when I smile, I smile from the inside out.