i looked into her eyes and thought 'no, i can't do it'
Recently my girlfriend and I took a long weekend away from the city to stay on an organic dairy farm in beautiful rural Devon. It was an interactive farm and as part of our stay we looked after our own chickens. It was whilst holding one of them that I had a rather morbid thought - could I wring your neck?! Being a meat-eater I had always thought that it's important to consider whether you could kill an animal yourself and then eat it. I looked down at the chicken looking up at me and suddenly I wasn't so sure anymore.
I thought about this a lot over the weekend. We had ordered an organic meat box from the farm for our stay and planned a BBQ for dinner that night. I enjoyed the flavour of the meat and there is a huge difference in the flavour of organic meat, but I couldn't say that I ate it happily. I had mixed feelings and felt increasingly uneasy.
The following morning, our two chickens, which we'd named Henrietta and Freddy (absolutely no idea why€¦), had laid us two eggs, which we ate for breakfast. When you have fresh eggs straight from the hen you really realise the difference between them and shop-bought ones (even shop-bought free-range or organic eggs). When we broke them into the pan, the white held its shape and didn't 'run away' and the yolk was a deep, amber colour and rich with flavour.
I felt fine eating the eggs - if the animal is compassionately looked after then I think it's OK to eat the eggs. But I still didn't feel happy about eating the meat.
That day we went for a walk around the farm to meet the other inhabitants. We saw pigs, sheep and cows. As we were feeding the pigs, I found myself thinking - I couldn't possibly slaughter you - it just felt wrong. I felt that animals aren't here just to satisfy our desires and even though as humans we are omnivores and have the choice to eat and digest meat - it doesn't mean we have to. Being an omnivore as opposed to a herbivore has obvious evolutionary benefits but do we have to eat meat now? More questions to ruminate over the weekend.
We were heading back to the city late on Sunday evening along winding country roads when, out of nowhere, a white animal dashed into the road. I hit the brakes as fast as I could but it was too late, we heard and felt the dreaded massive thump and knew we'd hit something - possibly a cat. It was a horrible feeling, and it shook me up. I wanted to stop and check but it was a pitch dark road with a 60 mph speed limit, so we had to drive on. I had very little doubt that the cat was dead, but we couldn't even stop to find out if the cat had an owner we could contact. It left me feeling awful and the dark irony wasn't lost on me. I'd spent the whole weekend thinking about whether I could kill an animal - and that evening I had and it didn't feel good. Of course that's a very different circumstance to killing a well-raised animal for food, but still it was another experience to inform my decision making around eating meat or not.
This is not the first time I've considered going vegetarian - I've done it a few times before but never for more than a few months as ultimately the taste and convenience of eating meat gets to me - but for many years I have felt increasingly uneasy about eating meat.
If my fundamental belief is that in order to eat meat you have to be prepared to kill it then if I can't do that, I can't eat meat. I am not 100% sure about it - I say I 'can't' - but I'm pretty sure I could if my life depended on it or if I detached myself from the act, but that's not the reality of my life or how I want to live it. So since I'm not confident enough that I can - for now I am not eating any meat.
Fish on the other hand (yes also a meat but somehow different) I know that I can kill - I've been fishing. I could go out tomorrow, catch my own fish, kill it, gut it and eat it and feel ok about it. It might be said that that doesn't make sense - fish are animals too, and can feel many of the emotions and sensations of land animals like cows, sheep and pigs. I'd agree, but whether it makes sense intellectually or not, I can kill fish, but not land animals. So I'm going to eat fish occasionally - maybe twice a week - but for the most part I am going 80% vegetarian. I'm not sure if this will last and I'm not saying I am a vegetarian or not - I'm just deciding not to eat meat. I may change my mind in the future, I may not.
So Henrietta and Freddie, you made quite an impression on me. Not the reaction I was expecting but we have to be open to changing beliefs, even life-long ones are not fixed for good. And then we need to have the conviction to follow our new beliefs through. On matters like this I think it's important to follow your gut instinct - and my gut tells me that I can't stomach meat.
If you want to receive more quality content like this straight into your inbox every fortnight sign up for our free newsletter (in box on the left) - and of course we will never share your details with anyone, ever :-)