My Life as a Vegetarian

News / Updates

Reporter Ed Vulliamy says to be a vegetarian is the way to stay in tune with nature.

Excerpts from an article published in The Guardian | The Observer online:

Ed Vulliamy with horse
Ed Vulliamy made the decision to become a vegetarian at the age of eight after asking what happened to the sheep he saw.

Unless the planet’s population
turns vegetarian by 2040,
the food that feeds it
will have run out.

Half a century ago this week – taking a last walk with my father before school began and autumn closed in – I made the most stubbornly enduring decision of my life. I asked my father what happened to the sheep we contemplated through descending dusk. “Well, er – roast lamb, I’m afraid,” replied dad.

I think it was the weirdness rather than the cruelty of the idea that made eight-year-old me decide never to eat meat again. We returned to the cottage we had borrowed for summer, which had neither gas nor electricity, and told mum the news. I ate beans for supper and have been vegetarian ever since.


Now we learn that, unless the planet’s population turns vegetarian by 2040, the food that feeds it will have run out. For a number of reasons: climate change, land use, water supply and the fact that the middle class in China and other developing countries, fleetingly enriched by globalised turbo-capitalism, want, bizarrely, to eat like Americans. They think those 36oz steaks gorged until 18oz of them must be thrown away will make them virile, rich and, well, American (while America goes down the pan).


The journalists also tells his impressions of being a vegetarian: how it was and wasn’t accepted by society, in different countries and in different times, and how the trends changed.

I’m no foodie, but vegetarian life on the road is more interesting than difficult. People presumed the Balkans to be hard, but they had not tried the wild mushrooms, spinach zeljanica or Vlasicki cheese. It helped to be an Italophile: I never envied anyone their veal while eating carciofi alla Giudia; vegetarians can live in Italy for months before anyone notices – I did. Even in England, you don’t need to eat bacon-flavoured Quorn, and I don’t.

The American midwest (unless there are Mexicans around) and France were always a nightmare: I lived on grilled sliced-cheese sandwiches for three months across the Dakotas and Iowa in 1988, and often had “vegetarian” dishes kindly served in Languedoc into which they’d put “a bit of chicken instead of the beef, specially pour vous, monsieur – donc, vegetarian”. Then there’s this macho look you get in Texas, Russia and Arab countries (for all the latter’s delicious mezze) that says: “How can you be a vegetarian father? Surely … er … a real man …?”


Supposedly at the top
of the food chain,
we are the only species
that utterly fails
to understand –
and is at war with –
its habitat.

I read two books back to back recently: one was The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies, about how mankind has built – during the 50 years since that walk with my dad – machines enabling him to see the edge of the universe, ergo the beginning of time. The other was The Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock, about how, during those same 50 years, humankind has terminally trashed the only cranny of that universe the telescopes have found so far that is actually alive – the one we live in. Supposedly at the top of the food chain, we are the only species that utterly fails to understand – and is at war with – its habitat.

Man doesn’t understand what a wolf does when it dummy-runs a herd of deer, so that the weak get caught behind by the real attack, while the strong escape to reproduce food for future wolves. Postmodern capitalist man is not like these hunters with a sense of long-term survival; no, humankind is a self-destructive, Tesco-shelf, couch-carnivore.

So, pushing 60, I return to that teenaged pantheism, to time with animals and challenging the basis of man’s relationship with them specifically and nature generally, to which being vegetarian is integral, though not the entirety.

I found out the other day that some birds migrate by reference to the stars, others to magnetic fields in the earth. Divine, in a way, and how unlike Homo capitalistus, supposedly sapiens, gorging on meat from factory feed-lots of tethered cattle or warehouses full of tortured pigs, both pumped with alien hormones.

Some god – and atheist humanism for that matter – gave us dominion over the birds and beasts, did he? In order to battery-farm, vivisect, extinguish, cull and kill – in pursuit of this fantasy we call “progress”?

A corner of my eight-year-old brain asked a childish version of that question half a century ago. Now, if our claim to be the highest form of life is seriously undermined, on what authority do we put the others into our mouths, chew and swallow them?

Read the full article:


Ed VulliamyEd Vulliamy is currently the United States correspondents for The Observer. He has been a newspaper reporter for The Guardian and The Observer for the last ten years, during which he has covered the Romanian revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Oklahoma City bombing. He has been a television reporter and research, serves as a freelance broadcaster, and makes frequent guest appearances on television.

Comments are closed.