The trouble with being vegetarian in New Zealand

by Sharon Stephenson / 12 August, 2017

Sharon Stephenson on being a mung-bean muncher – and national traitor.

The summer I decided to give up meat was the hottest in years. Barbecues blazed in backyards, sending the aroma of beautifully browned sausages, perfectly grilled steaks and tender, juicy ribs floating across the neighbourhood. Everywhere I went, I had to negotiate an orgy of scorched grease and cooked flesh.

Lest my resolve softened in the face all of that meaty deliciousness, I shut the doors and stayed inside, munching lentil dahl and trying to find interesting things to do with aubergines. I wanted to prove to myself that I had the chops to remove dead animal from my diet.

That was more than a decade ago, but I still find myself justifying my decision. I’m not some knit-your-own-yoghurt crusty, but in kill-happy New Zealand, where fathers encourage their eight-year-old daughters to eat the heart of a young deer they’ve just shot, saying you’ll pass on the pork is like admitting you’ve got a crush on Bashar al-Assad.

New Zealand, I’ve been reminded ad nauseam, is a hunting nation. A Swanndri-clad bloke, no stranger to the family-sized meat pack, once told me, “Our forebears hunted, so we should keep the tradition alive by doing the same.” When I pointed out that our ancestors were, in all likelihood, also racists and misogynists and we don’t celebrate that, he looked at me as though I was something stuck to the bottom of his Red Bands.

To be fair, I was never a big red-meat eater; chicken was my poison. But then I saw a documentary on battery farming, and realised how unconscionably arrogant it is to take a life just to fill my belly – to participate in a repugnant system that submits animals to overcrowding, casual cruelty and artificially accelerated growth. Ethically, I could no longer square my love for animals with a desire for protein.

A few years ago, I interviewed a retired farmer about an export award he’d received and, at the end of the interview, his wife produced a plate of bacon sarnies. I did the same verbal foxtrot I’ve done everywhere from my mother’s dining table to coming clean to acquaintances unaware of my dietary requirements: thanks, but I don’t eat meat. It was like flicking a switch. This chap who I’d spent the past two hours believing was kind and intelligent told me I was a traitor and should hand back my New Zealand passport.

I wanted to yell at him that being a meat dodger isn’t just about being pro-animal and it isn’t necessarily anti-trade, but has implications for our health and wellbeing, the environment and the future of our planet. I should have told him about the link between vegetarianism and weight loss, reduced cancer risk and depression, as well as increased life expectancy.

I wish I’d said that animal agriculture is the number-one contributor to global warming, that people could do more for the parlous state of our environment by cutting meat than by giving up their car and plane journeys. That meat production is a highly inefficient way of feeding the world and, as the UN predicts, if people in emerging economies start eating as much meat as New Zealand does (we’re the fourth-largest consumer of meat per capita in the world), then we’ll simply run out of room on which to raise it.

But I didn’t say any of these things. I was in work mode, so a shouting match wasn’t appropriate. But I also held my tongue because I’m not out to convert anyone. It wasn’t easy giving up meat – the lure of a fat sausage roll lolling in tomato sauce at a work morning tea almost proved my undoing – but what you put in your mouth is a personal decision and I’m happy with mine.

I’m fortunate I have access to a wide range of food and don’t need meat to stay alive (contrary to popular opinion, omnivores eat around 60 per cent more protein than the body actually needs so, to put it bluntly, they’re pissing the rest away). I also like dialling the smug factor up to 11 when I look a cow in the eye and say, “You have nothing to fear from me.”

But if you want to fill your ever-larger abdomen with rotting flesh and contribute to the ruination of our planet, then feel free. Just please don’t offer me any. 

 

 

This was published in the July 2017 issue of North & South.


Get North & South delivered to your inbox

Subscribe now

/Northandsouthnz @Northandsouthmag @Northsouthnz

 

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

NZME-Stuff media merger saga goes to court
81581 2017-10-16 12:54:33Z Business

NZME-Stuff media merger saga goes to court

by Colin Peacock

New Zealand's two biggest publishers of news go to court today to try to overturn the competition watchdog's refusal to green-light a merger.

Read more
The living hell experienced by Rohingya Muslims
81556 2017-10-16 11:02:05Z World

The living hell experienced by Rohingya Muslims

by Kate White

Kate White, a co-ordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières, describes daily life for Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh - and how you can help.

Read more
Why some people get wheezy when peeling potatoes
81550 2017-10-16 10:31:13Z Nutrition

Why some people get wheezy when peeling potatoes

by Jennifer Bowden

As if living with hay fever isn’t enough, many people with oral allergy syndrome also react to certain foods.

Read more
I almost punched a man in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre
81545 2017-10-16 10:11:56Z Travel

I almost punched a man in front of the Mona Lisa i…

by Joanne Black

It was hard to raise a smile at the Mona Lisa, but the rest of the Louvre more than made up for it.

Read more
Is New Zealand turning away from the welfare state?
81539 2017-10-16 07:37:07Z Social issues

Is New Zealand turning away from the welfare state…

by Philippa Tolley

MSD says its mission is to help people look after themselves - so why are there so many complaints about its lack of humanity?

Read more
Dunedin city councillors question $980k payout to power company CEO
81536 2017-10-16 07:20:46Z Business

Dunedin city councillors question $980k payout to …

by Emile Donovan

Grady Cameron received a $980,000 payout after resigning from his position, but the makeup of the payment is confidential.

Read more
How the toxicity of Twitter drove Duncan Garner and Sean Plunket away
81532 2017-10-16 06:43:06Z Social issues

How the toxicity of Twitter drove Duncan Garner an…

by Colin Peacock

Sean Plunket says Twitter brings out the worst in people - including himself.

Read more
Urewera raid pair Tame Iti and Rangikaiwhiria Kemara seek pardon
81529 2017-10-16 06:29:20Z History

Urewera raid pair Tame Iti and Rangikaiwhiria Kema…

by Mihingarangi Forbes

It's 10 years since Tame Iti and Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were jailed on firearms convictions, but it's the 'terrorist' label that haunts them.

Read more