I think I always instinctively wanted to be vegetarian. I don’t remember it, but my family tell a story about me, aged four, becoming hysterical one Christmas when we visited my Grandparents farm in West Cork. They were due to kill one of their turkeys to have for dinner, but I was so inconsolable they had to drive miles on Christmas eve to find a pre-packaged turkey as a last minute stand in, which I happily ate as I hadn’t connected the plastic wrapped lumps from the shop with the animals running around the farm.
Moving to the country finally confirmed my vegetarianism. After years of begrudgingly eating meat ( and generally the most processed and un-meat like meat I could find) I became unable to reconcile naming the sheep in the field beside our house ( all named after politicians of the day, Garret, Charlie, etc. giving my age away) with sitting down to a lamb dinner on a Sunday. So once I became a teenager I ventured down the meatless path. Finding vegetarian foods in rural Ireland in the 1980s was no joke, and regular bus trips to Dublin to seek out Beanfeast and TVP in the health food section of Easons (yes, there really was such a thing) sustained me until after a few years I dated an assistant manager in the local SuperValu ,who diligently ordered in Linda MCartney products for me.
Almost 30 years later and I had remained a vegetarian (albeit it a guilty one) convincing myself that I couldn’t live without cheese and that life was hard enough without the added trauma of endlessly scanning packets for ingredients I could consume ( that would be too much like a flash back to my early days as a vegetarian).
And then I adopted a dog, a year old Lurcher, who had been rescued in terrible condition and nursed back to health at the DSPCA. She was shy and nervous and the sweetest creature you could imagine. If you have never been close to a sighthound you may not realise what timid and sensitive creatures they are (all the more reason to abhor the greyhound racing industry) but over the next few months she came on leaps and bounds and she was soon happy to snuggle up on the sofa with me, although she was still terrified of men and of her own shadow (literally). All was going well and she was due to be spayed when something really odd happened; her teats started to swell, she became very clingy and started to build nests with her blankets and horde her cuddly toys. And then she started to produce milk.!In a panic I rang the vet who told me she was having a phantom pregnancy; I’d never heard of such a thing but was advised that it wasn’t that uncommon and that she could be spayed once her hormones settled. He said to take her toys away from her as it would speed the process up. So I did. To say she was distressed is an understatement. The look of panic in her eyes as I took her toys away was undeniable, as was her concern as she searched for them. Then she began to replace them with anything puppy sized; shoes, door stops & makeup bags all found their way into her nest and were carefully moved around the house from one secure location to another. I realised the huge maternal bond that she felt with these imaginary puppies and gave her back her toys to mother. At that moment I also realised that all mothers and babies in the animal kingdom must feel the same pain when separated from each other and the guilt of having contributed to that suffering by remaining a vegetarian overwhelmed me. That was the day I decided to become vegan.