Pauline McLynn: Why I stopped eating meat a year ago

Broadside: ‘I loved the taste of meat but I have always known that I couldn’t kill a creature myself and eat it, so I left the slaughter to others. Now, I can no longer do that’

Intense factory farming is one of the most upsetting practices mankind has invented and causes suffering and waste on a huge scale

Intense factory farming is one of the most upsetting practices mankind has invented and causes suffering and waste on a huge scale

 

Food month

‘You are what you eat”. . . well, quite. One of the problems with proverbs and clichés is that they are TOO TRUE and this comes home to roost late in life. I think it’s one of the reasons we get more grumpy as we age, the annoyance of a pithy saying having a foothold in your mind and nagging away like an unwelcome earworm.

As the years advance, I am reminded daily of all the things I ate that have made me who and what I am: I just need to look in the mirror to see that I am what I ate. It’s not always lovely.

I’ve been eating since I was a newborn (comes with the territory of being alive), sometimes wisely but often too well (I include liquids of dubious nutritional value in this). As a child of the early 1960s in Ireland, my diet was full of convenience and “modern” foods. In those days it was a lot of packet soup – add water, boil, simmer and in less than 20 minutes lunch was ready.

We moved on to exotica in my teens, when curries occurred. This meant adding water to powder and rice and in less than 20 minutes dinner was ready. (The difference between the “chicken” curry and the “beef” was that the chicken was a bright yellow and the beef a dark brown). We did eat meat and two veg too, but we also embraced the modern delights of the packaged powder diet.

 

Other ways to cook

It was many years before I learned of other ways to cook and eat: until I got to college I thought spaghetti was tinned hoops in tomato sauce. Olive oil was bought in the chemist and used to clear ears, certainly not to cook with.

Incidentally, tonic wine was also got there, but only for adults, the rest of us had to hope for a new baby and the bottle of gripe water in the cupboard (until the recipe was changed to a dill-based concoction that had nary a buzz at all out of it).

I suppose what I am saying is that I didn’t have a sophisticated palate. So, my diet wasn’t interesting or (probably) very balanced. Readers, I survived.

Diet is one of those words that follows you around, isn’t it. In my own case, I either have a diet or I am on one. It makes me agree with that other pithy saying that diet is simply DIE with a T on the end.

For years, I didn’t have much imagination when cooking my own food. That led to a delay in doing the one thing I have wanted for decades – to give up eating meat. I think I was afraid I’d starve to death eating only vegetables and be glum looking at the cutlet-shaped space on my plate where meat used to be.

I loved the taste of meat but I have always known that I couldn’t kill a creature myself and eat it, so I left the slaughter to others. Now, I can no longer do that. I have been vegetarian for the best part of a year and it really is the easiest and most wonderful thing I have ever done.

It’s a moral issue with me. I am appalled that we treat sentient beings, be they animals or birds, in such a horrific way to provide us with food.

Intense factory farming is one of the most upsetting practices mankind has invented and causes suffering and waste on a huge scale. Then there is the pain and terror of the creature as it is being killed – even a happily-reared animal is likely to have a panic-stricken death. I cannot stand by that.

Now we hear that eating processed meats is carcinogenic and too much red meat is bad for us. Hardly a surprise. And when you think of how chickens are artificially fed and treated to be as big as possible for us to eat in a very short time (often unable to walk and in great pain because of their inflated size in the weeks leading up to their death), you’d have to wonder how much good that food is to a human body.

That’s before we even get to all of the caged animals that never get to stretch or see the light of day – miserable, short, pain-filled lives. Are we simply eating fear and the actual essence of death, I wonder? That choice is ours of course. For me, I cannot, and I do not want to be a part of the suffering, so I no longer eat meat.

But there is a fine line between trying to do what I see is the right thing and preaching or zealotry, so I tread a fine line. I merely try to point out the problems now and hope that others agree. And if we cut down on intensive global cattle farming, gas emissions would improve, rainforests could be saved. The world really would be a better place.

Meat is big business, so it’s economically unfashionable to want to end it. Let’s hope for education and moderation, from the top of that particular food chain down … it might not happen properly in my lifetime but it’s worth fighting for.

In the end (spoiler alert), we are all going to die, with or without a T on the end of that. If that’s the case, why not try to do as little harm as possible while we are here, leave as little hurt behind as possible.

Oh, and I did love pork crackling – a lot, since you’re wondering.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. You will find food-related content in all of our sections. We will also have reader events, competitions and lots of exclusive content at irishtimes.com/food

 

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