Archive for the ‘ vegetarian ’ Category

The Silence of the Cows. (or Worst. Job. Ever)

I recently won a competition. There was no prize, beyond the satisfaction that I was the hands-down winner.

I don’t win much, so I was pretty chuffed. Never mind that the contest was to find who, out of eight women, could officially claim to have had the worst job. Ever.

Back in 1985 I was in the middle of my first year studying A-levels at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology. For personal reasons I won’t go into, I decided to abandon my studies and get a “proper job”. In those days Thatcher’s Government had recently launched the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). Critics claimed it was a cheap form of child exploitation, with little in the way of meaningful training.

I need say nothing about that other than to say that during my six months as a YTS trainee I learned how to type. And I saw more of life (and death) than I cared for. Enough of the real world to know I just wasn’t ready for it (certainly not in exchange for £25 a week).

My first placement was in a hospital. Why this was I’m still not sure (In my YTS interview I’d definitely told them I wanted to be a journalist. Or a novelist. Or a UN peacekeeper. But definitely not a nurse.) Anyway, I rolled up to Shrewsbury’s Copthorne Hospital to take up my post as a Ward Clerk.

My job was to take care of the admin for two surgical wards, making sure notes were filed correctly, admission and discharge sheets filled in, reports compiled and phone calls answered. It soon became apparent that the job also involved lots of additional tasks – making tea, chatting to patients, fetching and emptying bedpans. Before I knew it I was even taking temperatures and pulses and filling in medical forms. All this as a completely untrained school leaver.

Anyway, I loved most of the patients and they seemed to like me. I got to see people at their most vulnerable and anxious, and hopefully my little smiling face and teenage banter brought them some comfort. I got careers advice galore from the patients, mostly of the “go back to college” sort.

Thankfully most of the patients made it home. A few did not. I found this very difficult to deal with, particularly as not once did I receive any advice or support. Death was dealt with practically and efficiently and was not dwelt on. I found each death shocking. I realised one sweet old lady had died when I went to fill her water jug at the start of a shift. She’d been telling me the day before how much she was looking forward to going home to her grandchildren.

It was a part of the job I hated. But it did not make this my worst. job. ever. That came at my next placement.

I’d obviously done a good job as a clerk, so I was sent off to ABP, the local abattoir, to help administer the transport depot.

I should say at this point that I had become a vegetarian months earlier, after reading a famous series of articles in The Times supplements about factory farming of chickens.

The transport depot was attached to the main factory, which in turn was situated on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, amid rolling green pastures. Every day hundreds of cows and sheep were brought in by lorry to graze briefly in the fields before being herded to their deaths.

I tried to stay oblivious to the carnage going on mere yards away, instead focusing on my task, which was to ensure delivery drivers could feasibly make it to and between various Tesco depots all over the country within very strict timescales. I got to know the UK motorway system intimately.

On my first day I was taken to the dining hall for lunch. En route I was shown around the packing area, where burly lads and lasses boxed up joints and steaks, ready for shipment. Inside the canteen, men in blood spattered overalls tucked into roast lamb and beef stew. It was enough to make my tummy do somersaults.

Worst of all was the sound of the cows in the fields. As soon as a herd started to trundle towards the slaughterhouse, bellowing would break out. It is hard to describe, but to simultaneously hear dozens of cows begin a low moo-ing left me in no doubt that they knew what was coming.

I didn’t last long at ABP. The last straw came when my boss kindly offered me a guided tour of the factory, with the bonus that I could select my own lamb in the field, then follow him/her through slaughter, gutting, butchering and packing – and then I could even take him/her home. I think mum was a bit cross I turned down the offer.

I saw the light and decided soon after to return to my A-levels, and then on to university.

Since then I’ve done lots of things as a journalist that were emotionally difficult; I’ve witnessed death firsthand, I’ve visited the scenes of innumerable tragedies and had to interview people in the midst of terrible tragedy. But those cows moo-ing. Still brings me out in a cold sweat to think about it.

Worst. job. ever. Anyone beat that?

PS: Due to the fact that I’ve spent all day quarantined in my bedroom, I have no today picture to share with you. I could have shared my sick bowl, or box of pills and remedies, or my unmade bed in the style of Tracey Emin, but I just didn’t have the energy. Hope to resume normal service soon. Bloody flu. Euurggh.



Porky, Stinky and Basil

When I was 16 I went veggie. I had read a stunning series of articles about meat production in the Sunday Times which captured, through words and pictures and graphics, the life and times of farmed animals.

I particularly recall my horror at the incredibly short life of a chick reared for the table, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and dead within weeks. I immediately declared I was never going to touch meat again.

The year was 1984. The Smiths released the anger-fuelled Meat is Murder the following year, with it’s in-your-face lyric:

It’s not natural, normal or kind,

The flesh you so fancifully fry,

The meat in your mouth,

As you savour the flavour,


My conversion was complete. I spent the next 24 years of my life meat-free, although (and all vegeterians will scream “cheat” at me) I did quickly allow fish back into my diet, ostensibly on health grounds. I guess I somehow felt the suffering of fish was acceptable, who knows.

Anyway, I was never a particularly evangelical or fussy non-meat-eater. I didn’t balk at cooking it for other people, nor cast dagger-strewn looks at anyone who dared to tuck into a burger in my presence. I didn’t even make a fuss if mum “accidentally” poured meat gravy over my nut roast.

My husband is a carnivore-extraordinaire. He can do wonderful things with a pork joint or a boring chicken. Our boys have been raised as meat-eaters. I did once sit my eldest, then aged five, down and asked him if he wanted to eat meat like daddy or if he wanted the cute lambs, piglets and chicks to have a long and happy life. He still eats meat.

Then last year I did something I hadn’t done but had often thought about. I tucked into a bacon sarnie. Boy, it tasted sweet. The juices dribbled down the corner of my mouth as I bit through the white crusty bread into the tantalisingly perfect sliver of meat below. Oh. My. God. It was delicious.

I berated myself afterwards of course – but then I got to thinking about why I had abandoned meat in the first place. It wasn’t the killing of animals I had objected to. It was the life they had lived that had turned my stomach. Ergo, if I could stick to free range, locally produced, organically reared meats, surely that would be okay?

There was no stopping me after that. Locally produced sausages, free range pork joints, a leg of lamb, chicken curry – all of this and more was greedily consumed over the course of six wonderful months.

However, this did lead to an interesting dilemma. Did I tell my friends and, particularly, my parents and parents-in-laws, of my change of habit? And if so, could I insist on knowing the provenance of every piece of meat offered to me? Would I not sound like a complete arse if I questioned where they had bought the chicken roasted for Sunday lunch?

So instead, like the proverbial chicken, I opted to say nothing. Instead I lived a weird double life, eating meat at home and reverting to pseudo-vegetarianism when out and about. This reached its zenith the weekend both sets of parents came for lunch. Slices of pork and a morsel of crackling were deliberately left out on the kitchen top for me to secretly pick at, while my plate was piled high with veggies and a quorn fillet.

It was pathetic. I was back to my teen days as a furtive smoker, doing the equivalent of stuffing tissue into a matchbox to stop the contents rattling and developing a passion for Polos.

I also realised I was dangerously subverting the view I had of myself. I prided myself on being a caring, socialist-of-sorts type who didn’t follow the herd and who stood up for the underdog (no puns intended). What I most definitely was not was a selfish, boring traditionalist.

Was I going to let all that teenage angst and noble desire to do my bit to change the world, one meal at time, go down the pan? What would go next? Before I knew it I’d be arguing the case for Phil Collins and Simply Red, and deciding the BNP actually made a bit of sense. It was time to make a decision.

It had to be “all meat, a real treat”, or no meat at all. So now the fridge and freezer are stocked up with veggie options, things made of quorn, and vege mince. But the whiff of bacon gently cooking in the pan is still there, drawing me in….

By way of penance for my wavering, I took some time out yesterday to take some pictures of pigs. I headed off to a nearby pig farm at Mose where I hoped to capture the beauty and intelligence of these lovely beasts. What I found was lots of mud – lots and lots of it – but also some pretty happy seeming pigs. I know diddly-squat about the ideal living conditions for pigs, but this lot appeared to be in piggy heaven, with ample food to ferret about for, lots of space to roam around, and straw-filled homes to shelter in. Occasionally they would look up at me as I knelt to photograph them, and I would gaze into their little piggy eyes to see if I could discern whether this impression was justified or not.

My visit did make me think twice about that desire for a bacon butty. When the urge strikes, I’ll remember looking into the eyes of Porky and Stinky (you can only name them if you’re not going to eat them) and resist, resist, resist!

Stinky, Porky and Basil

Piggy snout

Pigs in mud

Pigs searching for food

Pig's ear...