By Dr Carys Bennett, corporate projects manager at PETA Foundation.
In 22 years as a vegan, I’ve seen vast changes – vegan burgers and plant milks in restaurants, for starters! Gone are the days when eating out meant a plain jacket potato and black tea. As World Vegan Month (November) approaches, plant-based eating is booming – a YouGov poll showed that more than a third of Brits are interested in going vegan – and with good reason. As we emerge from a pandemic believed to have been caused by the cruel confinement of animals in filthy conditions at a wet market and as the UN urges a shift to a vegan eating to combat the climate catastrophe, people are understandably worried about who is on their plates.
Like many people, I grew up eating animals. The meat was neatly packaged with labels such as “beef” and “pork”, so I didn’t really associate it with the flesh of a sensitive cow or pig. But the truth hit hard when, as a teenager, I met animal rights activists who were hosting a stall in my local town.
That’s when I began to discover what really goes on in the meat industry. Gentle animals kept in cramped and filthy cages or pens, stuffed with antibiotics to keep them alive, standing in their own waste, and ending their miserable lives strung upside down with their throats slit. The photographs of the slaughterhouse left me horrified. I understood what Paul McCartney meant when he said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarian.”
On my way home, I noticed people in a café, happily tucking in to burgers and bacon without a second thought. It was like they were on autopilot, just as I had been, not linking the food with an animal who had lived, breathed, and died in dreadful conditions – all for a fleeting moment of taste. But now I’d made the connection, there was no going back. They were eating the flesh of a tortured animal, and I had been, too. I looked at the leaflets the activists had given me, and I knew I’d never eat animals again.
Ditching eggs soon followed after I learned about the horror of egg farms, including those misleadingly called “free-range” or “humane”, where chickens are kept in vast windowless sheds amid their own waste, many with broken bones or other injuries, all sent off to slaughter when no longer deemed productive. I was shocked and couldn’t believe these wonderful, sensitive birds were exploited in this way.
The defining moment for me was the day I said, “I’m going vegan.” It was two years later, in the autumn of 2000, when I travelled to a vegan fair in London. From vegan clothes and shoes to delicious dinners, it had everything. I knew I wanted to live my life in a way that meant no animals had suffered for me. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Being vegan wasn’t difficult. I was living in Liverpool, a student in Earth Sciences, and there was a big vegan community catered to by restaurants, health food stores, and international food shops. It was more challenging outside the city, where cafés didn’t have the wondrous array of plant milks and vegan foods that they do now. So I’d pack up a bag with a bottle of soya milk for tea and my own vegan sandwiches, fruit, crisps, and snacks for lunch. The real game-changer came about five years ago, when supermarkets and restaurants stepped up to meet the growing demand for a range of exciting vegan options, from dairy-free cheesecake to meat-free spicy “chicken” wings.
As an academic, I studied ancient ecosystems and climates, but by 2018, I knew that animal exploitation and the current climate catastrophe were worsening. I used my research skills to help others learn about cruelty-free, sustainable vegan options and to do all I could to help animals and the planet. That’s when I joined PETA (my dream job!), and now, I work with companies to help them add more vegan choices. I’m a real foodie – I’ve organised vegan recipe clubs, cookery demos, food fairs, challenges, and educational events. Today, it’s never been easier to choose animal-free, planet-friendly, and healthy vegan foods, with all the taste and none of the cruelty. To help, PETA offers a free vegan starter kit.
There’s no better time to give it a try – vegan foods are right here, right now, and every single one of us who chooses plant-based, humane foods spares the lives of around 200 animals every year, boosts our own health, slashes our carbon footprint, and helps prevent the next pandemic. Plus, they’re delicious. It’s such a positive, life-changing step which made me happier, and I’m so glad I took it. Save lives and the planet by going vegan today!