‘Why am I vegetarian? Distrust of the meat industry and there’s just no need to eat flesh’

The Irish Times: We Love Food – Peter Smyth, multi-media journalist

Peter Smyth tucks into a ‘thoroughly satisfying meal’. Photograph: Eric Luke

Peter Smyth tucks into a ‘thoroughly satisfying meal’. Photograph: Eric Luke


It’s a tough game, this vegetarianism, but after 25 years of engagement, I’m hunkered down for the long haul.

How did I get here? In the first place it was through a friend who joined the Hare Krishnas, he aged 19 when I was 16, and so I was at a bull-headed age of trying to wreck the perceived parental regime. Yes, I’ll admit, I probably wanted to annoy the folks at home, at least to a small extent. But that was way back in 1988.

The friend is back for decades now “feasting on the beast”, laughing as he chomps on steak or salmon, whereas this herbivore has only been properly caught out once, in Asia, eating extra-chewy tofu (as I had been assured) that turned out, in fact, to be chicken.

I’ll admit I have at times drank pints that I was confidently told had animal products in. Maybe that disqualifies me, but I’ve done my best considering the time involved. Call me a heathen.

Anyway, over the years the lack of meat has become a confirmed way of life. The key thing has probably been an inability to perceive animals as food. It’s not due to sentimentality, and I’m certainly not hugely political about it. But we humans do seem to have an imperialist view of “lesser” beings.

I must point out I’m married to a meat-eater, and my children eat the lot. Some day, the kids will find out what they eat is a whole lot more complicated than they think. I’ll do my best (okay, maybe hopelessly) not to impose any particular view in this area on them.

My thinking is more down to distrust of the meat industry, which has thrown us so many horrors in the past 25 years, along with the key point that there just is no need to eat flesh. Is 25 years of doing physical stuff not enough evidence of this? I’ve completed the Wicklow 200, a 200km cycle, in horrible weather (the apocalyptic 2011 one), been heavily involved in DIY and construction for years, go kayaking, and I’ve even hung around a lot on cattle farms. It wasn’t too bad (even the ribbing those farmers gave me).

I’m sure I’ve eaten a lot of what meat-eaters will call vegetarian “slop” over the decades, with who knows what unsavoury ingredients used by some operators in the non-meat food industry.

So maybe I was a bit of a fundamentalist about my new habit when a teenager. But nowadays I barbeque meat for my children when called upon. Why? To make sure the stuff is cooked properly. No, I don’t quietly scoff the sausages. Call me a pragmatist, or even a hypocrite, if you like. I’m good. And I guess some will say I don’t mind the children eating meat because I sneakily suspect that’s what they really need. But as I said, I’m no fundamentalist. We can all be different.

Last week my colleague Ronan McGreevy, writing here about vegetarians, mentioned virgins, teetotallers and men with no interest in sport. I reckon he was joking. I’m trying really hard to spot if they might necessarily have anything in common. I’ll keep trying, sure.

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