When asked why I became a vegan, I always say the answer is simple: because I believe that all animals, be they furry, feathered or finned, have a right to a life free from human domination.
I’m well aware that this is an opinion held by the few, not the many. For most people, there are four reasons to consume animal products: convenience, habit, taste, and tradition.
In an age where there is a supermarket around every corner; we cannot escape consumerism. This makes eating meat convenient. And whilst not all cafes stock soy milk, you won’t need to travel far before finding a bacon sandwich. But would people feel differently if they had to hunt, kill, gut, and prepare an animal for themselves?
Eating meat is a habit ingrained from childhood; we are taught from an early age that dogs are pets and cows are food. But who said that dogs are man’s best friend when pigs are only fit for the dinner plate? The lion – a true carnivore – isn’t fussy whether he catches a gazelle or a zebra.
I liked the taste of meat, but taste should never be seen as more important than compassion. Being vegan forces you to be experimental and have fun with food. There are so many incredible ingredients out there that don’t involve the suffering of sentient creatures. You can even make cheese out of almonds and cashew nuts!
Tradition is an odd one. I know of an American family that call themselves vegan, and then at Thanksgiving they sit down to a turkey. Again, I don’t feel tradition should be seen as more important than compassion. It really is as simple as that.
You might be thinking to yourself at this point, “it is people’s choice to eat whatever they want”. But you are forgetting someone; the mother, whose two day old calf has been taken away and confined to a tiny container for veal so her milk can be used by humans. Animals should not be considered commodities, ripe for exploitation, and this is the key point about veganism; we see animals as someone, not something.
We can, and must, embrace new eating habits for the sake of the animals we abuse, but also for our bodies and for the planet. The meat and dairy industries are one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Corporations are destroying forests to grow crops to feed animals reared for meat.
Since running for PETA’s Sexiest Vegan 2014 competition, I have been on the radio and in the newspapers answering questions such as ‘but what do you eat?’ and ‘surely you are not getting enough protein?’. The answers are simple and unchanging. I eat anything that isn’t derived from an animal. I eat fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu, soy milk, quinoa, whole grains … the list goes on. And my protein intake is just as high as it ever was thanks to vegetables like broccoli, and soy products, which are readily available. I feel good! And, according to the UK and Ireland, I look good, too. I am more alert, have more energy, feel calmer and haven’t had a cold since going vegan.
Being a wildlife artist allows me the opportunity to look at animals differently; seeing them as beings not things. I could not justify calling myself an animal lover whilst putting them on my dinner plate at the end of the day. Being vegan is a way of life which has compassion at its core; something we could all do with a little more of. The question is not why did I become a vegan, but why I didn’t do it sooner.