I never much liked meat. One of my early memories is being made to stand in the corner of the dinner hall at primary school for refusing to eat it. This, I recall, happened quite a few times!
However, it wasn’t until I was 15 years old that I had my Eureka moment. On holiday with my family in Devon, we passed a field full of ewes and lambs. They were frolicking in the spring sunshine and we shared a happy family moment enjoying what I thought at the time was a perfect pastoral scene. Later my parents ordered lamb at our local pub and then it hit me like a sledgehammer. I declared I was going vegetarian on the spot. I could practically hear my parents’ eyeballs rolling to the back of their heads. It’s just a phase they said; you’ll grow out of it. They were right about that. I did grow out of vegetarianism because I went vegan!
I knew I could be healthy and happy without consuming animal products. More than 30 years later I feel that I’m living proof that’s true.
Working as campaigns manager at Viva! I see horrific things almost daily. Whether it’s from the undercover investigations we do or the images of animal abuse that land in my inbox. It is sometimes overwhelming. Nothing really prepares you for seeing animal suffering first hand. Or the sensory overload of factory farms. The smell, the sounds, the heat and the evident despair.
Often I get asked how I remain positive in the face of all this suffering? I reply that getting despondent is pointless as that’s not helping yourself and it’s certainly not helping the animals. In my role at Viva! I know recording this horror, as upsetting as it is, means that we can really show consumers what happens to farmed animals. This means being able to place stories in the media that can reach millions – and do cause change. Requests for help to go vegan have soared. It is also heartening that the long-term trend for meat in Britain is downwards. It is great to see the growth in veganism over the past decade and how it has entered the mainstream consciousness. I am extremely lucky because I work for an organisation that helps drive this change.
However, on a personal level I tell people that the most important thing anyone can do to make a difference is to go vegan. In a world where it sometimes feels as if we have little control over what happens around us there isn’t a more powerful and influential decision we can make to help animals, protect our health and fight for the planet’s very future.
Read my blog on the Viva! website and find out more about our work: www.viva.org.uk/what-we-do/latest-updates/blog/justin