veganism

Becoming vegan

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I watched Simon Amstell’s mockumentary film ‘Carnage’ this week, which is available on iPlayer for the foreseeable future.

Set in 2067, the film depicts a future world in which the entire population is vegan, and meat, eggs and dairy are banned. It tells the story of how we used to live and how and why we changed, reminiscing about the the meat-guzzling decades of the past with a sense of macabre horror: brightly coloured 1990s fast food adverts, depicting smiling, happy families ploughing dripping burgers into their mouths take on a different quality when cut with footage of cows being shot in the head and male chicks being gassed on egg farms. As we move through the decades, vegan activists become prominent figures, the animal rights movement grows force, and environmental issues including widespread, devastating flooding starts to make people think more seriously about the environmental impact of their choices.

Amstell himself is a vegan. If you go and see one of his stand-up shows he will talk about veganism in his usual apologetic, self-effacing way. The film reflects this, being as it is not full of science or facts and figures, and seems quite personal in its experience of changing views. I saw a lot of parallels with my own experiences in it, having been vegetarian now for almost 15 years. Vegetarianism for me started as a gradual phase-out, and I now eat no mammals or birds (I still eat a bit of fish). At first it was quite hard not eating meat, but after a few years I realised one day that I no longer saw meat as food. I would look at a sausage or chicken breast and feel just as I would if I was looking at a stone or a table. It had left my food vocabulary as an edible product.

Some years later, another shift occurred. I was in Tesco and found myself accidentally in the meat aisle, cutting through to another part of the store. On a shelf were whole chickens, piled up in rows, and I suddenly saw them for what they were: the dead bodies of former living creatures, industrially massacred so we can enjoy a cheap and probably forgettable dinner. I have never had a problem with looking at meat in itself and am completely comfortable with the concept of dead flesh (I was a total dissection geek at school), but the concept of filling my body with the commoditised product of a genocide upset and disgusted me. How would you feel if you walked in and saw a shelf piled up with the cling-wrapped flesh of dead dogs for sale? And what is the difference?

Last year I was at a festival and amongst the activities you could take part in was one where you would be shown how to skin and prepare a dead rabbit, before eating it. I overheard a girl complaining about how she loved eating rabbit, but that the idea of preparing it made her feel sick. To me, the idea that you could find the preparation process revolting but willingly put the results inside your own body is completely incomprehensible, and just goes to show how completely detached we have become from a true appreciation of what we are eating.

Watching Carnage also had an impact on me as a non-vegan. Watching footage of cows suffering obvious pain whilst being forcibly inseminated to keep them producing milk made me realise how incongruous it is to continue to consume dairy whilst not eating flesh. So I will be making more effort to cut out dairy where possible.

I will be recommending Carnage to people whenever I can. The film works so well because although its subject matter is hugely serious, it’s not presented in a serious way and is actually very funny. The future depicted in the film features support groups for elderly people who are trying to deal with their meat-eating past, and viral videos from a Farage-esque angry old man who wants Britain to make meat great again. The film doesn’t have an overt, stern education message, but simply shows that cultural norms are not always rational, and attitudes can change. Sometimes I feel i am just quietly waiting for everyone else to cotton on.

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