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Why did I become a vegetarian?

I spent a fair bit of time on farms as a kid. I wasn't particularly squeamish - I would comfortably cut the tails off lambs to stop them getting flyblown (a necessity here in Australia).

When I was about 12, I went fishing with some adults. Fish was one of my favourite foods at the time, and I believed that if you want to eat something you should be willing to kill it. I guess I should point out that I was a pretty strange 12 year old, already in second year of High School and reading Animal Farm, 1984 and Brave New World.

Anyway, one thing I certainly didn't know was that fish can make noises. I reeled in this fish and as the thing writhed and flipped about on the deck of the boat, it started to scream. I was horrified. I'd never even heard of a Trumpeter, but it was obvious how they got their name.

One of the adults told me to stop being silly and chopped off it's head. The mouth kept moving for quite awhile and the eye seemed to be looking right at me - but thankfully the squawking had stopped.

I think I was ill, and then I remembered the fairy tale of the fish who spoke and granted a fisherman three wishes in exchange for throwing him back into the sea. Too late for that, thought :( The thing is, it really seemed like this small, slimy thing was trying to communicate with us, trying to beg for it's life - or perhaps call for help from fellow fishes. And is that so irrational? The fight to stay alive is one of the most fundamental Darwinian principles.

It may seem like a small and insignificant event. After all, we have companion animals that we make a personal connection with and generally that doesn't make people unable to eat meat - perhaps just unwilling to eat dogs and cats.

I couldn't forget that this thing that I'd considered to be food was a being. It's dead body was supposed to make a tasty supper. I just couldn't eat meat after that.

My Mom insisted that I go along with her to our family Doctor to see if it was safe to be a vegetarian. I think she was expecting him to talk me out of it, especially as I was already a very late-developing teenager, tiny for my age and a year or two younger than any of my classmates. He was very sensible about it though, and said that as long as I had a balanced diet I should be fine. He recommended that we buy some good books on the subject, which we did. I also found Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation" and was thrilled to see that my anti-meat stance was a political statement as well as a very personal choice.

My Mom liked to tell people that I was "going through a vegetarian stage". She now admits over two decades later, that it's lasted a little longer than the average teen fad ;) (Kat Black, April 2004)




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