I started being a vegetarian when I was 16, and stopped eating fish when I was 18. Since then there's been a little niggle inside me, reminding me of the issues surrounding dairy. I've never tried veganism, not even for a short period, but I've been contending with the idea of it for a number of years. My heart can't justify consuming milk products when it won't justify eating meat; in terms of ethical and ecological issues, the two go hand-in-hand, and it seems almost hypocritical to overlook the issues surrounding dairy production while claiming moral high ground for cutting meat from my diet.
I went through a period of buying non-dairy milk, and have regularly bought dairy-free spread, custard and other products. I often experiement with dairy-free cooking, too. In fact, it would be fair to say that I'd find it relatively easy to cut out dairy altogether; I almost never eat cheese, prefer chocolate in its darkest varieties and am quite happy to have non-dairy alternatives to milk. My only real challenge would be yoghurt, but I still dream of salmon and tuna every day, and have never touched either since that first fish-free day, so I'm sure I'd find a way of coping.
This is an issue I've been exploring lately, not through cooking or eating, but through thinking about and discussing why I'm vegetarian in the first place. I turned veggie because I thought eating animals was cruel, and indeed I still do, but eight years later vegetarianism resonates much deeper than that simple argument. Vegetarianism feels right to me. It feels like the right choice both in terms of diet and lifestyle. I can't even start to explain here why I'm vegetarian now, but to put it all into perspective I will admit outright that I have absolutely no problem with eating meat in theory - I would love to tuck into a bit of chicken or salmon again, if I thought I'd be able to chew and swallow it without getting hysterical. In terms of hysteria, though, I would find it easier to chew and swallow a piece of local organic chicken, bought from a souce that I know and trust, than I would a piece of fake 'meat' provided by that corporation known to veggies and non-veggies everywhere. I would rather eat something pure, real and well-sourced than a slice of fakeness, packaged in plastic and shipped around the country.
Before I go on, I must highlight in bright green pen that I make no judgements towards anyone else on this issue. Meat eater, vegetarian, vegan or whatever, if we make choices we make them to fit our own feelings and lifestyles, and if we don't make choices then we exist in a blissful ignorance, and that's ok(ish) too.
Through my long period of contemplation (which is still on-going, but in a much less frantic and obsessed way) I realized that I am something that doesn't quite fit the 'vegetarian' mould anymore; I am simply buying and eating foods which reflect my own morals and beliefs. Being vegetarian doesn't make anyone a better person (though I find that, from many people's reactions, non-veggies do think that vegetarians are 'better' in some way - does anyone else find this?); non-organic soy happens to be one of the most irresponsible products available in supermarkets, while it is quite possible to be a completely 'responsible' meat eater. It's all about choices, whether they contain meat, fish, dairy, soy, palm oil or anything else - the vegan who doesn't make responsible choices is just as irresponsible as the meat eater who doesn't make responsible choices.
Another green highlighted bit: I also can't claim to be responsible. I mean, who can, really? I eat a banana every day, for starters, and I have no intentions of giving them up, either. But I do make choices as often as I can. I always consider what I buy before I buy it, and I always always read the ingredients of everything. If it has something in it that I don't want to eat, I don't usually buy it* (I'm currently working on reducing the amount of 'sugar free' in my life, but for now I do have the occasional gulp of aspartame a bit more regularly that is healthy...).
So, where did I get to with the veganism issue? After much disucssion with Daniel, as my choices affect him too after all, and after some internet-based research, we decided to go organic. It's better for the cows (and I LOVE cows), it's better for us, it's better for the environment, and it means I still get to eat gallon upon gallon of yoghurt. Whereas I think veganism isn't right for me in many ways, this feels right; it costs a little extra, it goes off much quicker, but it sits right in my head and in my heart. And I think that's where all of our choices really take place - in our hearts. I would never have been able to stop eating fish if I couldn't live comfortably within that choice, and even now I know that I may well start eating fish again one day, and I'm ok with that; in fact, I'm almost eager for that day to come.
One thing I really gained from this journey of moral standing was the realization that our ideals change over time, and that it's important to re-assess our choices every now and then. The world is slowly becoming a more responsible place to live, and if these changes are going to get anywhere it's important to move with them and support them on their way.
*I should probably add to this that there are some things, such as energy drinks, that I consume for reasons other than nourishment - I don't read the ingredients of my Lucozade bottle; ignorance is bliss, after all!