When I was about 3 years of age, I asked my parents for a toy kitchen, the kind you usually think girls would have as kids. I got it. At three I was imitating my then chef father, dicing fake carrots and serving plastic chickens.
Years later, much to the embarrassment of my parents, I wanted an easy bake oven. I wanted the damn thing to cook with, because I was not allowed use the actual oven. The idea of being able to bake a cake was magic, I could literally pull any treat I wanted from the ether at will.
By the time I was eventually allowed near the oven, age 12 I think, my father had given up cooking, simply because my mother would request elaborate meals at a moments notice when she had friends around. Turning a cabbage, half a pack of rashers and some rice into something worth eating drove him mad.
For the next decade, I either cooked for the whole family, or ate whatever was made by my mother, who now by the way is an excellent cook on the doorstep of vegetarianism, but then, everything was boiled. Boiled ham, boiled potato, boiled cabbage and boiled carrots was for some reason considered a treat of a Sunday.
After years of this, I had a reverence for good food. I respected it. I cared about what I ate, not in the sense of its health, but in the sense that the ingredients were sacred, and cooking them wrong was simply not an option.I was especially careful when it came to preparing meat. I would choose the best pieces, requested them to be cut specially by a local artisan butcher. It would be room temperature before cooking, marinated in red wine vinegar with salt, sugar and herbs, cooked off with patience, care and attention.
Being an outdoors type, I predictably enough, watched a lot of Ray Mears programmes. In one of his shows, as part of a cull, he shot a deer in new Zealand. As I watched, I remember thinking to myself that there was no purer way to get ingredients, the idea of taking personal responsibility from start to finish with food appealed to me. At the time I thought this was simply me being a food purist, it wasn't, and I'll explain why soon. Fast forward to august 7th, 2013. I was in Dublin, about to meet for the first time the woman who would change the course of my life drastically in a very short space of time. I paced up and down near the hapenny bridge for at least half an hour, feeling like a teenager. We met, smiling like idiots, and gingerly went to a bar nearby.
I was in love, instantly.
"Aisling was a vegan, I was not"
We are not the kind to dance around subjects. Within a few months, we lived together, started a business together, and ate together constantly. Aisling was a vegan, I was not. Early on I declared openly I would never be a vegetarian, hell no, god no, meat's too tasty. Silly me. I cook every day. When I have a bad day, I make bread to chill out. My primary way of showing affection to friends and family has always been cooking for them, so inevitably, I cooked, all the time, for both of us.
Aisling being vegan, and me being head over heels in love with her, I researched endlessly ways to make delicious, intricate and completely vegan meals for us.
Within a few weeks my only contact with meat was outside the house, the odd burger, some cheese on pizza, we didn't keep milk, cheese, meat or eggs in the house, not because I couldn't, she never once had an issue with me cooking meat, but more out of a growing sense that I didn't want to have it in the house. Meat goes off, eggs rot, cheese moulds, veggies just don't, and we eat enough that we always have fresh food.
Early in the summer, on a warm Saturday, my dad was cutting the grass. He got chest pain, thought it was heartburn, and so sat down, drank a pint of milk, and waited for the pain to subside. Luckily, it did. That Monday, he had an appointment with his doctor, and mentioned the heartburn. She immediately did a cardiograph. She attempted to send him to the hospital immediately, but my dad brushed it off, saying he would go on Wednesday to the Hermitage clinic. I had an idea something was up, so I offered to go along with him, knowing he would keep whatever went on to himself.
"He had had 3 major heart attacks in a week"
It's Wednesday, and as he climbs from the car in the car park of the hospital, about to meet a heart specialist, he looks at me, and says the heartburn's back. Fifteen minutes later the doctor is taking details, and asks when the last time he felt the pain was, the look on his face when he heard my dad say, "actually, in the car park a few minutes ago, and its still hurting" was priceless. Dad was admitted. Grumpily, he gave in, and sent me home for his laptop and sundries.
He had had 3 major heart attacks in a week, and brushed the damn things off as heartburn. That evening, he was in surgery, the first of 4, resulting in 12 stents in his heart.This was followed up by a diagnosis of 95% blockage in his arteries, oh, and diabetes too, just for good measure. He's fine now, actually far healthier then he was even in his thirties, because his dietician put him on a vegan diet.
So here I am, mid 2014, cooking vegan for my dad and girlfriend, my recently vegetarian mother, whose conversion was a show of solidarity for my dad, and still a meat eater, though now painfully aware that if I kept eating meat I'd be dead by 50.
"I was crushed. I never thought I would react that way"
One afternoon, over beers with a friend, I copped that I hadn't eaten anything animal based in a week. I was weirdly proud of myself. The pursuit of making perfect vegan food for us both had become something of an obsession, it saved my dad's life, and I felt, realising I hadn't been near meat for a week, like I had won something. Aisling promptly informed me I had forgotten about a battered sausage I had the day before. Here's the fun part. I was crushed. I never thought I would react that way. And so like lightning hitting me, I became a vegetarian, though at that point, I couldn't really figure out why. I was just happy. It didn't take long for me to really get my head around it. Firstly, meat is dead animals, and I really didn't need something to die just so I could have a snack, its plain wrong. Surprisingly easy point to see now, damned hard though before. Not long after this followed the realisation that meat involves not only murder, but also my own suicide, death by a million pies, a heart attack for my fiftieth birthday.
"My years of carefully preparing meat, making every effort to ensure it was cooked perfectly was an apology, every single time"
Then it hit me. I had actually known it was wrong to eat meat my entire life. I just hadn't realised it consciously.
When I was 8, my school held a raffle in aid of the local old folks home. I won a choice between a Christmas turkey, or a bottle of Baileys. My parents never drank, so I chose the turkey, expecting a supermarket one. I was given a voucher to be taken to the local turkey farm. Later the next day, stood in a yard full of live turkeys, the turkey farmer asked me which one I wanted. I was horrified, he actually wanted me to sign the death warrant on some innocent animals life, so we could have dinner!. I couldn't do it, exclaimed loudly that I would never kill one, and instead I wanted to get one from the supermarket. I wasn't old enough to realise they were the same birds, in my mind they were some completely different type of food, disconnected from reality. I can still see my dad smiling, tearing up the voucher, the confused look on the face of the farmer, and being carried on his shoulders back to our car. We got a supermarket one.
Watching Ray Mears I wanted to hunt my own food not to be a food purist, but because I felt guilty. I felt guilty about buying meat in stores, because I had avoided the unpleasant part, it felt deeply dishonest. It dawned that I would never live in an age where I would not have access to plant food, and so at no point would I ever have justification to kill something for food. It all became so plainly unnecessary. My years of carefully preparing meat, making every effort to ensure it was cooked perfectly was an apology, every single time. I bought meat, it felt bad, and I felt obligated to treat it with some respect after death, because its life was taken for me. So within a month of becoming a vegetarian, I ritually threw out all the remaining cheeses, anything non vegan, and cleansed my fridge. I will never consume animal based products again, to do so would be inexcusable.
So now there's me, Aisling, both vegans. Both for different reasons, but both attaining the same goal. Apparently not eating meat saves something like 150 animals a year. By my count, I've to find a way of saving an additional 4200 to fully cancel out my years as a meat eater.
That's what Moodley Manor is for, so we can spread the word, help other make the change, and promote the lifestyle, for every person reached, we make a tiny impact on the world.
With some luck, we might just be able to cancel out that 4200, hopefully more.