Highly Commended


by Sarah McCalden

Now that I am vegan, I wonder why it took me so long.  When I was born, my parents were vegetarian and we were the only vegetarian family I ever knew as a child growing up.  I remember one day when I was 7 or 8 years old my parents taking us to a restaurant and they told me I could try meat if I wanted to, but I didn’t.  Even then, I knew that it was wrong to eat meat.  When I was a young teenager, I became more aware of animal welfare issues, perhaps through conversations at school, but also through reading through some magazine articles that my mum had.  I especially remember one about a steel-jaw leg trap and the suffering endured by animals caught in such traps and the inhumanity of it.

Fast forward to last year, I was still vegetarian, living in New Zealand, married with a 2 year old and a new born baby.  I feel l have evolved over the last year.   There has just been a shift in my perception since the birth of my second son.

On a Playcentre trip one day last year I took my children to Ambury Farm in Auckland.  That day was a turning point for me.  I remember walking into a shed where a cow was on display.  She was trapped in a pen so small that she couldn’t turn around.  There was a lady giving a speech and then she offered some children the chance to milk the cow and after about a few of them had a turn, she placed a suction device on the cow which drew the milk out of her udder.  Everyone was then offered the chance of getting up close and personal with the cow… we could touch her if we wanted.  At one point I walked past this trapped animal and noted to a friend of mine how disturbed I was by the experience and how I thought it was cruel for the cow to be trapped in the pen and exploited like that, how even us being there was condoning it and how I should really be vegan.  That was the first day it had even registered with me that cows need to have babies to produce milk.  I mean… in all my life it had never even occurred to me.  But for much of the talk that lady was giving about the cow, I was sitting down, breastfeeding my baby and the penny dropped and I felt a real empathy with that cow.    I cannot tell you how much I was affected that day.  I was truly moved.

Since that day I have educated myself about the plight of dairy cows and their offspring.   I have read some horrific stories, I have learnt about the everyday and continuous suffering of these animals, I have cried, a lot.  I have also asked myself why other people seem to be blind to animal suffering and I feel sad and frustrated by the answer.  For months, though, I continued to consume dairy and I thought about what I was doing until I just couldn’t live with myself any longer.  I was also, interestingly, afraid of what my husband would say or think as although he accepted that I wanted to bring our children up vegetarian, he would sometimes get annoyed with the idea, usually when we had a disagreement about something entirely different.  Lots of people I know think vegan people are ‘difficult’ to accommodate and my husband was one of those people.

When baby Finn was about 6 months, he was tested for allergies because he had extremely bad eczema.  The test showed he was allergic to dairy products.  I was actually very relieved.  Because I was breastfeeding, it meant that I had to eliminate dairy from my diet and I knew I would no longer be taking part in an abusive industry that causes so much suffering.

It took a few more weeks for me to stop eating eggs.  Although I had always bought free range eggs, I saw a discussion online, about the suffering involved in battery egg production and also free range egg production and I was shocked there is really little difference.  I knew I had to stop consuming eggs for my own sanity – because it was the right thing to do – and just around that time, baby Finn had more tests confirming an egg allergy too.  It was truly perfect timing.

After baby Finn and I became vegan, it was time to talk to my husband in all seriousness about my beliefs and how I wanted our other son, Hunter, to be vegan too.  It was time to let him know about what my conscience was telling me and how I could not live with myself if I did not bring up my children to be caring, compassionate, thoughtful beings.  My belief is that they cannot be these things if they ignore the maltreatment and suffering of billions of exploited animals raised for dairy, eggs and meat every year.   I am happy to let you know that my children and I are vegan and I hope that my husband will be one day too, but I think it will be through attraction rather than promotion.   I will continue to educate myself on the issues that arise and teach my children not to ignore the elephant in the room as countless others do.

I feel like this is the beginning for me and there is so much for me to learn and so much that I can do to help educate people about veganism, in my family and my community and today, I feel like I can make a difference to the lives of animals by doing my bit.   My family even went to our first vegan potluck dinner last week!  It was good to finally see and meet some likeminded people.  I am sure they will become a big part of my life.

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