Among Quakers the proportion of vegetarians is much higher than in the general population, but Friends are far from being universally vegetarian. So are they vegetarian because they are Quakers, because it’s a trendy middle class thing to be, because they are idealistic, or squeamish, or some other reason? Probably for all of these reasons and others, varying from one person to another.
My own journey to becoming a vegetarian, and currently towards being vegan, has been very slow, and informed by a variety of reasons. I normally date the beginning of my interest to a friend offering to cook me a meal and asking if I minded if it was vegetarian. I certainly didn’t mind, and the meal, I remember, was delicious. I was rapidly converted to being a fan of Rose Elliott‘s cook books (and Dave’s cooking), but I didn’t become a vegetarian. I did cook vegetarian by choice when I cooked, but I didn’t tell my hall of residence that I wanted vegetarian meals, I still ate fish and meat.
Late in 1980 I encountered ‘The Scottish Eco Cookbook’, a booklet put together by Friends of the Earth Scotland. It told me very plainly how much food went to an animal to produce a given quantity of meat for me to eat, and advocated reducing our meat intake to help the world’s resources go round. I promptly resolved to give up beef entirely (which I’ve stuck to about 99.99%) and to reduce my intake of other meat. When cooking for the community I then lived with I increasingly offered vegetarian meals (Rose Elliott and the Scottish Eco Cookbook being a great help in that). Getting married and bringing up a family, I persisted in a low meat diet (several meat free days a week). My daughter became completely vegetarian in 1999, and I announced my intention to do likewise at New Year 2001. At that point I felt I really didn’t want to eat other mammals, and my motivation included concerns for animal welfare as well as the effects on the environment.
Later in 2001 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Reading the dietary advice for MS patients, which recommended a high intake of oily fish, I felt I should return to eating fish regularly, though not every day as was suggested. A few years later, consulting my GP about a problem with excessive, very smelly wind, she suggested that I give up eating fish because such high protein foods could cause that problem in some people. We discussed how I would get the essential nutrients, especially the essential fatty acids, and agreed that a fairly high intake of seeds should be sufficient. I modified my diet accordingly (and added some supplements to be certain) and now only eat fish once or twice a year (fish and chips at the seaside, an occasional prawn or a few prawn crackers).
In 2010 I formally received the Buddhist ‘five mindfulness trainings‘ which are very clear about not killing (Quakers are very clear about not killing people, the Buddhist teaching is clear about not killing anything – though I struggle with what to eat if I’m not even going to kill a carrot …). This made me consider my diet again and I began exploring how I could reduce my consumption of milk, cheese and eggs. I now eat more peanut butter, whole nuts and hummous, and a lot less cheese and eggs. Since Quakers made the ‘Canterbury commitment’ in 2011, I have moved even closer to a vegan diet and use soya milk and yoghurt at home in place of cow’s milk products. However, I don’t yet make a fuss about a drop of cow’s milk in a cup of tea when I’m out and often don’t even ask if a dish is vegan or not.
So my reasons for my dietary choices are complex, they include concern for the environment and a desire to lessen the effects of global warming; a distaste for eating other sentient beings; a concern for animal welfare; an aspiration to avoid killing other living beings and issues about my own health and well being. Some of this is directly linked to my being a Quaker, especially more recent decisions influenced by the Canterbury commitment, some of it is more loosely the result of taking ‘heed of the promptings of love and truth‘, and some is just really enjoying eating vegetarian and vegan food so much that I mostly don’t miss meat and fish at all.