I became vegetarian at the tender age of 11. Having seen my wonderfully precocious, wilful 9 year-old sister make the change, followed by my parents, it felt almost inevitable. As it happened, my teenage years were characterised by a burning passion for animal rights. In the end, it was a smooth transition. 26 years later, I am on the cusp of taking the next logical step and I've never felt more determined.
I have managed to find an excuse to abandon my efforts to adapt a vegan lifestyle on each previous attempt. I was too busy to put the time into researching and creating alternative meals; I was concerned that I would be unable to satiate my admittedly horse-like appetite while on the move; someone offered me a baked camembert. You name an excuse, I wielded it. My willpower was uncharacteristically weak. This was due in no small part to one salient point: my motivation in the past was disproportionately selfish. Becoming vegan was about my health, my weight loss.
I've been aware for some time, thanks mainly to social media, that becoming vegan is the single most effective step one can take to contribute to the fight against runaway climate change. In truth, transitioning to a vegan style is a thoroughly political act - and as anyone who knows me will readily confirm (and likely bemoan), I am nothing if not political. As someone who considers themselves an environmentalist, becoming vegan is no longer a personal lifestyle choice, it's an ecological necessity.
The facts are well established and readily available to anyone willing to take their fingers out of their ears and listen. Animal agriculture, including the dairy industry, represents one of, if not the most significant burden on our planet. The resources required to keep the world's population hooked on meat, milk and cheese are astounding. Indeed, research suggests that for every 1lb of beef produced, 2,500 gallons of water is required. The manufacture of one single hamburger uses a volume of H2O equivalent to two months' worth of constant showering. By anyone's standards, this is thoroughly unsustainable. The impact of excessive water usage in animal agriculture manifests itself in the form of devastating droughts and desertification. It is overwhelmingly the world's poorest people who suffer the life-shattering consequences of this.
The animal welfare aspect is also impossible to ignore. In order to keep supermarket shelves stocked with milk, cows are cyclically subjected to artificial insemination. Separated from their offspring almost immediately after giving birth, male calves are routinely sold off as veal, while females are reared to eventually take their mothers' places, with all the concomitant emotional and physical distress. Mastitis is common, sometimes progressing to necrosis of the udders. A perpetual sequence of insemination, pregnancy, lactation and milking culminates in a curtailed life; once cows are no longer able to 'perform' and become surplus to requirements, they too are either euthanised or sold on, almost exclusively to beef farms. I have come to believe that no caffe latte or fine cheese is worth the guilt associated with consuming the lactation of another species. Egg production offers no respite from the litany of horrors, with even many 'free range' hens rarely seeing sunlight, instead confined to overcrowded barns. Male chicks are of no use and are disposed of, often by suffocation, sometimes by being fed, still alive, into a mincer.
All of this has me convinced that veganism is the only ethical path. We humans are trained from the youngest age to over-indulge on the bodily fluid of an entirely different species. In doing so, we are accomplices to unthinkable cruelty and immense environmental repercussions at a time when the planet is already heaving under the weight of a catastrophic climate crisis.
Let's be honest: if you consume enough milk, cheese and eggs to feel that you will genuinely miss it once it no longer forms part of your diet, then you were probably over-indulging to begin with. I am entering 2017 determined to break that addiction. Unlike this time last year, my mind is focused not on the things I'll miss but rather on the exciting challenge of discovering a whole new lifestyle and being able to nourish my body with a clear conscience. Only then will I be able to truly call myself an animal lover and an environmentalist.