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Over many years, I became troubled by the cruelty involved in meat production, particularly in factory farms where living creatures are treated as products solely for commercial gain and with minimal concern for welfare. At that stage I stopped eating any animals that had been factory farmed, but I continued to eat free range meat and dairy produce.

Mr & Mrs Duck Then our ducks arrived.

OK, they just look like... well... ducks to you. But to us, they were Mr and Mrs Duck, a devoted couple who came to us for eight summers. Ducks are not supposed to mate for life, but nobody told these two. Mr Duck would defend Mrs Duck against other drakes and, unlike the other drakes, I never saw him go after any other female. When the time came for Mrs Duck to sit on eggs, she taught me how precious those eggs were to her by coming to feed only every other day, and always with the greatest urgency to leave again. Meanwhile, Mr Duck, who was probably not allowed near the nest, would stand on the bank by our house and quack for hours on end, hoping for her return. Once or twice there were joyful reunions and the two would feed together before going their separate ways. Then the next spring they would return together.

The other ducks also had different personalities and we gave them all names.

I was ill for a year, and most of my friends disappeared, but the ducks kept coming and became my friends. I would sit on the doorstep while they fed, bathed, slept or just enjoyed sitting on the grass beside me until they flew away at dusk.

Then I would go shopping and see the carcases of ducks for sale to eat. If these had had any sort of wild life, I wondered if they were the mates of other ducks who were pining for them. But most likely they were factory farmed in the most appalling conditions where they would have had no chance to even find a mate, bathe or fly, finally being slaughtered using similar procedures to those used for chickens and turkeys. These are hung by their possibly already broken legs along a conveyer belt where their best hope is that they will be stunned before having their throats slit and being passed through a tank of scalding water to loosen their feathers. Similar fates await most farm animals, and milk and egg production is no better. A cow cannot produce milk without also producing calves, often treated as a mere waste product while the mother, worn out with too many pregnancies, has the trauma of losing each calf as soon as it is born. Apart from the tortured life led by battery hens, crammed into their tiny cages for life, chickens produce male young as well as female, and the males, of no use for egg-laying, are very often minced alive.

What right had I to curtail the life of any creature or, even worse, cause it to lead a life of such suffering, just so that I could enjoy a meal? What is more, it seemed that meat, far from being essential to the diet, is one of the major causes of diseases such as heart problems, diabetes and some cancers.

There is no doubt in my mind that, although they may have many differences from us, higher animals at least can still have just as much ability to feel pain, fear and many other emotions as we feel. Maybe it's just instinct, but isn't that true of us too?

OK, there are questions I can't answer... why do some animals have to eat other animals? ...don't we need to cull when there is an overpopulation? These questions are not always easy to answer, though culling is very often not as necessary as it is made out to be, and alternatives are not explored sufficiently. But I don't need to eat meat or consume dairy. I am healthier without it. Being vegan is one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gases. The more people go vegan, the more it would reduce the enormous waste of resources used in meat production and there would be plenty enough food to feed everyone in the world. I can save the lives of many animals. I can eat with the minimum troubling of my conscience. And I can eat many delicious foods that most meat eaters have never even tried.

Oh, and I now have just about the most comfortable walking boots I ever had, thanks to Vegetarian Shoes.

A list of art materials suitable for vegans.


Ducks out of water

Livestock's long shadow, report by the United Nations
Reports and summaries of this important document, if you don't feel you can tackle its 400+ pages, can be found on the sites of Celsias and mediaenvironment.wordpress.com among others

The China study - available from Amazon