Growing up in Cyprus, one of the Mediterranean’s most visited islands for its crystal clear beaches and densely sourced meat and cheese, probably makes me one of the least likely people to be advocating a plant based vegan diet on the internet. Yet, here I am… two and a half years later, loving my lifestyle more than ever before. A mere curiosity into the injustice and discrimination that’s so heavily ingrained into our society spiralled into bridging a desire for human equality with wanting justice for all lives across the world. What initially began as a stance for animal justice expanded into an environmental agenda, and also a sustainable and enjoyable way of eating delicious, satiating, large portions of food without worrying about my mood or physique.
I was brought up in a household that loved all sorts of animal products, ranging from meat, to fish, to diary and, eggs. My granddad worked at the British bases in Cyprus and he’d bring back corned beef, or ‘bully beef’ as we’d call it, which was essentially a combination of canned beef, animal fats, and salt. I absolutely loved having it on toast with thick layers of butter, melted cheese, and fried eggs. Looking back, not only was I putting my appetite above the life and happiness of other sentient beings, but I was also consuming so many toxins and hormones that don’t belong in my digestive stream.
Considering that we bought most of our other produce from local butchers, the quality of the animal products was presumed to be ‘better’ than what it would’ve been if bough from a supermarket. I guess you could consider this in the category of what is now branded to be ‘free range’ or ‘organically sourced,’ but neither of those titles diminish the fact that what you’re eating is still another being’s body or produce that was forcible taken from them through a constant insertion of hormones- in the case of milk and eggs. At the time, both myself and my parents felt that we were contributing to organically sourced ‘fresh meat,’ even though in reality it was still a dead animal that was being exploited on the basis of its inability to fight for it’s own justice. This post isn’t intended to be an exposure of the industry as such, but more of a run through of my experiences and current reflections on my past thoughts and behaviourism.
Looking back at my childhood, I have such vivid flashbacks of my grandmother’s compassion and love towards others, regardless of who it was. She’s probably one of the most genuine and pure people I know, as she’d always be so respectful and loving towards everyone, an important character trait that I only hope was washed off on me in the most positive of ways. Without wanting to go off on a tangent, a few refugee families moved into her neighbourhood around 2008 and whilst all her neighbours were skeptical towards the families, she was so accommodating and understanding towards their circumstances. Despite wanting to believe that my egalitarian and compassionate personality is derived from my education and a rational thought process of ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ I can’t help but realise that my grandparents played such an important role. Undoubtably growing up in an environment where I was exposed to lifestyles that were both wealthy and economically unstable, I was always aware of the absurd inequality that people were unwillingly subjected towards.
My auntie worked at a company that heavily funded Unicef, so she would always bring home leaflets about poverty and malnutrition in various regions around Africa. However, as opposed to merely buying different products form the catalogue to contribute towards improving the lives of others across the globe, I remember always asking my family why other people were initially so much more worse off. The response was always disappointing though, as I was told that it was just ‘how the world is,’ or that ‘we should just try and help them out.’ I’m not suggesting that my family were patronising towards others, as neither of my parents come from wealthy or privileged backgrounds themselves, but I feel confident saying that we were always economically comfortable and I’m so grateful for everything I’ve had whilst growing up. I suppose they didn’t want to enter a discussion about poverty with a 7 year old that had an array of questions coming at them every so often.
For the purposes of context, the above helps set out a framework of how my disapproval of inequality amongst humans effectively extended towards all animals around the world. None of us chose what conditions we’re born into and as a result that shouldn’t define our future or the way we’re treated. So with that rationale, I came to realise that animals shouldn’t be discrimination against due to their inability to communicate with humans or express their dissatisfaction with how they’re treated, or even have their date of execution predetermined before their birth just because ‘they’re different.’
Up until the age of 15, when I decided to adopt a pescatarian diet, I’d stand next to my dad on a Saturday afternoon asking him to slice the ‘crispy fat pieces’ off the lamb chops that he was overlooking on the barbecue. So not only was I a so-called ‘meat lover,’ but I even enjoyed eating the fat and all the parts of an animal that the average person may dispose of . Without going into too much detail, I was always open to trying out different kinds of meat… I mean, if I’m going to eat animals I might as well eat all animals, right? That might possibly be why transitioning to veganism was relatively black and white to me, as I didn’t have a preconditioned double standard between ‘pets’ and ‘food.’ Hunting is relatively popular amongst many in Cyprus, so our local butcher got a decent inflow of hares that my grandmother would occasionally turn into a stew- but enough of that for now as I’ll gladly write a piece on the double standards of our food consumption.
Being involved in competitive swimming from the age of about nine, my trainer would always tell me to consume a high proportion of meat and eggs in my diet in order to obtain enough protein to repair and build up my muscles. Even before deciding to give up meat for a while, my go-to dinner when I’d get home from training was either a shephards pie (which is basically mashed potatoes on top of minced beef), or two steak fillets with mushrooms and fresh cream. When people tell me how much they ‘love meat’ and could never go vegan, I can’t help but think that I was probably one of the biggest meat eaters I knew. I’d have ham and cheese toasties for breakfast, followed by bacon and halloumi baguettes (yes, multiple… I ate alot) during school breaks, and then bolognese or pasta with chicken for lunch.
Cyprus is massively accommodating towards a vegan diet, despite the conception that many restaurants will have against it, as we have such a large variety of legumes, grains, beans, and freshly picked vegetables and fruit. Most of the time, recipes will just throw chunks of meat in meals that are easily built from a plant based- vegan foundation. Even though I enjoyed eating animal products, the ‘good taste’ was usually due to the seasoning and specific ways of cooking the meat. However, I recall eating unseasoned/ boiled meat before competitions sometimes and would actually gag at the taste of it, or I would find an animal hair in my food and even though my parents would say it was just a sign that our meat was ‘fresh,’ or ‘local,’ it was nonetheless a reminder that the food I was consuming was sourced from another living, breathing being. Considering humans expect their meat to be properly cooked and seasoned before it’s eaten, this is just indicative of the fact that we aren’t designed to eat raw meat, nor would we be able to hunt down an animal and kill/ eat it with our bare hands and teeth.
During my teenage years, I struggled with digestive issues quite frequently, especially after large meals. I had a tendency to consume my food quick fast, which is something I’m still trying to reverse through mindfull eating and appreciate my food more generally. I always thought that my difficulty in breathing after dinner, or the need to lie down in order to ease digestion was therefore merely due to how fast I’d chow down all my meals. Coming to University made things even harder as I couldn’t always just walk off and take a stroll after a meal, or collapse on a couch after a meal out with my housemates, so I went to the NHS to seek help. I was immediately diagnosed with irregular bowel syndrom (IBS) and the potential of being coeliac or gluten intolerant. But after I’d had the adequate tests for all those, it turned out I was fine and then the mystery of my indigestion emerged once again.
Even though when I initially went vegan, my health and improved well being was never the objective in mind, over time my body adjusted to food that enabled it to function and digest food in the most optimal of ways. I remember being haunted by a constant bloat, or the unease of never feeling comfortable after enjoying my meals. In retrospect, I believe that taking hormonal pills for contraceptive purposes was also a key contributing factor towards my bloating, but It still felt that as I was getting older, my body wasn’t agreeing with the food I was eating and as a result my mood spiralled downwards. At the time, I was experiencing weight gain and combining that with the way I felt after consuming certain foods, I started struggling with emotional eating that was intended to justify how I was feeling. Therefore, I ended up entering this negative cycle of: eating, feeling physically bad, then feeling emotionally bad, eating more to comfort myself, and then that would repeat itself until I was lying on my bed contemplating life.
From the age of 15, up until I was 18, I was an on- and – off pescatarian. Asides from believing that salmon, dairy and eggs were required for obtaining protein and calcium, I also think at the time I wasn’t fully aware of what the consequences of my actions towards the lives of others, my health, and the environment were. Once transitioning to veganism it’s far easier to not only rid yourself from expected cravings, but to also stick to a vegan lifestyle, which was a consequence of realising that it was the best choice I could have made that didn’t only reflect my personal beliefs, but that also bettered my health.
I didn’t want to be adding another animal’s body into my own, nor did I want to be ingesting the hormones and toxins that were fostered within slaughterhouses or polluted oceans. Once I realised how other beings were exploited on an abstract basis of their inability to vocalise their injustice or dissatisfaction with the way they’re treated, even the potential of ‘cheating’ on my vegan eating was out the window as my tastebuds were by no means more important than my awareness of my human privilege and compassion.
During my contemplation of whether or not I wanted to give up dairy, eggs, and fish, I came across a Tedx talk titled ‘carnism,’ which basically outlines how we’re systematically conditioned into accepting that the consumption of animal products is normal, natural, and necessary – described as the 3 ‘n’s of justification. Melanie Joy, who gave the talk has a published book titled as: “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.” I was so compelled by how perfectly and simply she outlined the dominant mindset that upholds the normality of animal farming, that I reached out to her and was able to secure an interview with Jeff Manes, her European correspondent.
Melanie’s talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0VrZPBskpg
Ever since I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle back in December 2014, It’s become more widespread that we don’t actually need animal products for protein, calcium, or other basic vitamins. Back when people started to find out that I was a ‘vegan,’ old classmates who hadn’t spoken to me since primary school all of a sudden made my health their priority and started interrogating me on my dietary choices. I have no problem with people being curious about longstanding ‘facts’t that they’re been brought up with, however when they challenge my beliefs purely for controversial purposes, not only does it stop feeling genuine, but It also feels like their own belief systems are being challenged. Regardless of how people reacted to my transition, I still feel that it has been one of the most positive life choices that I’ve made thus far for both my own lifestyle and the wellbeing of others around me.