Well, that’s it. Aside from a couple of minor mishaps with some Haribo, and the curious incident with the bacon bits, I’ve managed a whole month without ingesting any animal products. No doubt cow embryos keep my hair silky smooth or goat uvula extract helps alleviate my eczema, but to the best of my knowledge I’ve succeeded in this challenge. Whoop.
Did I notice any significant difference, with regard to physical well-being? Not really. Other than perhaps I was marginally less sluggish after meals. And I’m afraid I’m not willing to discuss my bowel movements – there are some things that I hold sacred. No doubt, over a much longer period, the human body benefits from a sustained absence, or limited intake, of meat, particularly that which is processed. I believe I’m right in thinking that two groups with the highest average life-spans subsist mainly on vegetables and fish. (They also live off the coasts of Italy and Japan respectively, and I imagine a warmer climate, relatively laidback work environment and less materialist outlook are all contributing factors.) Bearing in mind the scale involved, it would be unrealistic to expect any noticeable impact on my health – which is pretty good anyway – after only one month. Which is not to say that this wasn’t a worthwhile experiment. On the contrary, it has precipitated a profound and irreversible shift. (I think – I have a long history of losing interest or simply forgetting). The fact is, that against all the odds, I have survived, and quite happily to boot. As I begin to reintroduce meat into my diet, I am having to rethink many of my eating habits. For starters, I consume far too much meat, and the meat that I do eat is often of too poor a quality. Among other things, I don’t want to be part of a chain that inflicts abject misery on other animals for my fleeting pleasure. Collectively, we manage to bury the harsh realities of meat production, but this past month has allowed me to reflect on it properly. So the aim is to eat less, pay more. Organic, free-range, public-school educated, etc. This has as much to do with taste and flavour as with dubious welfare standards. I still don’t recognise anything inherently immoral about eating meat. Providing the animal is treated with respect, I imagine it would lead a far more comfortable life on a farm than in the wild.
In this spirit, I went to Waitrose on Sunday to buy some rainbow trout for dinner. On my way to the fish counter, I spotted a reduced own-brand chicken soup. It was part of the supermarket’s LOVE Life range, which is “committed to bringing you the best quality”. I assumed that the chicken would be responsibly sourced, a sentiment expressed by my girlfriend when I half-absently raised the point. “Oli”, she said, with a hint of exasperation, “it’s Waitrose”. That was all I needed to hear. It was only after I ate the soup that I began to question our blithe acceptance that Waitrose would choose to use free-range chickens. Was it just because they pander to the self-conscious middle-classes? (Who, incidentally, are complicit in being ripped off, it seems to me, in order to assuage their fragile insecurities. Waitrose allows you to buy your redemption. If it’s more expensive, it must serve a higher purpose. Also, the staff actually apologise if anybody below the recommended socio-economic threshold accidentally strays in.) Looking at the packaging on the soup, I couldn’t find a single reference to where the chicken came from, other than that it was British. Naturally, a wave of patriotic fervour swept through me, but once this had subsided I was left none-the-wiser as to whether the chicken was battery or free-range. (Although what does free-range actually mean? This is going to be harder than I thought. I’m going to have to seek out proper facts and data, which as a rule I try to avoid – they tend to contradict my firmly held beliefs.) This kind of information should really be a legal requirement. As a consumer, I have the right to know. In the meantime, I am going to be unable to purchase pre-prepared food unless the meat’s provenance is clearly described. The implications are only just dawning on me.
As predicted, it’s been enormous fun criticising people’s life choices from a position of authority. But what began as a harmless righteous crusade has already become a ball-ache as I’ve realised that I need to act upon my convictions. For example, there’s an excellent deli near my office on Old Street. A typical sandwich will consist of toasted ciabatta, soured cream, roasted red peppers, spicy chicken and mozzarella. I treasure many fond sandwich-related memories thanks to this place. Unfortunately, it’s all been turned to shit. I can’t imagine that the chickens led a relaxed and fulfilling life before ending up all plump and juicy in the display cabinet. Even if I’m wrong, there’s not a hope in hell of me asking. It’s busy, it’s noisy and the staff aren’t English, so it’s likely that I’ll have to repeat myself in an increasingly louder – and therefore indignant – voice and go into greater detail about what exactly I mean by ‘sustainably and ethically sourced’. So unless I can find a viable vegetarian alternative, I can kiss goodbye to some of the best sandwiches in town. I’m hoping that I’ll be a little bolder in restaurants.
Why are principles such a pain in the ass?
[My first bit of research – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21682779]