For the love of food! The third time I became a vegetarian…

I LOVE FOOD.

I LOVE ANIMALS.

But can you really ‘love’ both?

There have been a total of three times in my life that I’ve seriously questioned the ethics of eating meat and changed my lifestyle because of it.

The first time was a case of accidental shock therapy, resulting in complete meat aversion, involving bizarrely, Taxidermy Puppetry.

The second time was intentional, the result of education, not just making myself watch Netflix documentaries, I also had a brush with a PETA Virtual Reality experience, which at the time felt life changing.

This third and hopefully final time happened on the eve of this (2018) Christmas Eve, on a remote castaway island in the Philippines with a group of other solo travellers. This time my change of choice was due to coming face to face with the face of my ‘dinner’. My very much alive, squealing screaming meal, as I witnessed it on the way to it’s end as sacrificial Christmas gift for us, a bunch of ‘Flashpackers’.

The first two times clearly didn’t last for there to be a third, so I’ll share my failures with you along side my stories of the moments that made me stop and think. As a food lover and animal lover, it’s a hugely conflicting debate for me to explore and write about. I’m already pretty sure it’s sadly just not possible to be omnivorous and love both equally.

My love of food runs deep, and is very much tied to my childhood, as is my love of animals. My first and possibly only experiences of giving ‘unconditional love’ revolve around my pets, in particular my first horse, Tamarin and current cat of 8 years, Small.

The stark reminder delivered to me on this desert island retreat, means I’ve re-opened a mine field of questions that I had managed to somehow block out for a while. So much so that I have spent the last couple of festive days re-evaluating my choices as a consumer, and started taking action.

I’ve had time to let my mind wander in the last few days, as I’ve hopped around the islands of El Nido. I have found myself reflecting with concern upon how many purchasing decisions I naïvely make based on the fact I just don’t experience the origin of a product, nor do I consider the impact on the environment, as it doesn’t directly effect me. This isn’t restricted to just food (although that will be the focus of this piece) but also I’ve called into question the ethics of my travel choices, the origin of clothes in my backpack, my technology, plastic use and even the cosmetics in my toiletry bag.

These questions have left me feeling a sense of guilt, in that I can’t plausibly deny my awareness of the facts. I have to admit, I’ve just been passively choosing to ignore them.

In the UK, I know strict welfare standards exist that are designed to make life more bearable for livestock, which also help us feel better about what happens before the packaging part. (By the way, I actually went to Agricultural College with plenty of farmers, who I hope won’t shoot me for writing this post).

Of late, at home, I navigated my guilt by only eating free range, organic, locally sourced animal products, which I convinced myself was ok. However, scratch beneath the surface and google a few things, and the marketing doesn’t necessarily equal the long happy life I imagine for these animals down on the farm.

Speaking of ignorance, I also managed 5 years working for one of the largest supermarket retailers, who themselves pilot a multi billion pound industry of dairy, meat, fish and poultry, without ever really thinking about it. Perhaps stupidly, I wasn’t even really that conscious of the fact I worked for one of the biggest corporate producers in the world, until I met with one of the fresh food directors. We had arranged an offsite meeting somewhere in Yorkshire, timed for her arrival fresh from a visit to a pork production plant. It dawned on me at the start of the meeting, when she complained she still had blood on her clothes. Gross.

Even then I managed to tell myself this was ok, as only worked in Marketing.

Given how disconnected we are from the food chain and farming practices, you could argue we can we be forgiven for ignoring or forgetting the detail that those plastic packs of processed produce we procure in the supermarket once had blood coursing through their veins, and their contents were once parts of something whole, that lived, breathed and felt pain? Or like I have admitted, have we just got really good at distancing ourselves from our choices?

I reflected on the boat to Bohol today, that one excuse could be because so many others do the same thing? I hope it’s not just me who’s thought this.

How often have you explained something away because ‘well, just one person choosing a different way of living can’t really make that much of a difference, can it?’

I guess that attitude is how we’ve ended up with such a self aggrandising consumerist society, though right?

Making the decision to cut out meat, on the surface, is an easy choice to make. You’re doing it for the right reasons after all and it’s as simple as not putting something in your mouth.

But as I’ll share, it’s also a difficult choice to stick to, as quite frankly meat is delicious. I love eating it, and a perfectly cooked Sunday Roast, for me, is literally one of the most tantalising tastes on this planet. I can’t deny how especially glorious I find the smell of one cooking to be.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Gandhi.

It’s just food, right?

Being viscerally reminded of the facts, I can no longer ignore the point that meat isn’t just ‘food’, it’s flesh. Thinking, feeling, sentient flesh that has to suffer purely for our pleasure in consuming it. A life, no matter its origin, seems a very high price to pay when there are alternatives.

If you are one of those people who is already acutely aware of what happens from farm to fork and are happy to eat meat, then that’s fair enough. But if you can’t watch one of those horrific Facebook videos of the slaughter process without feeling physically sick or crying (like me), and you know you for a fact you couldn’t handle watching the moment happen (e.g not even being able to watch Bear Grylls, Survivor or The Island), does it make you/one/me a hypocrite?

Some would also argue that as we’ve made it to the top of the food chain, it’s our right to eat animals. That it’s natural. As predators we are entitled to hunt and kill as other Apexes do and our ancestors did. There’s even the whole Paleo diet craze dedicated to the revival of hunting and gathering.

And yes, one only has to watch a David Attenborough documentary to see how cruel nature is. (But I even cry when a crocodile catches the thirsty impala,  head bent down at a Serengeti watering hole during a drought).

However there’s a big difference. We humans are (mostly) evolved and empowered enough to have, and make the choice not to kill.

As a self confessed animal lover, with bonds to special animals in my life, I can’t help caring about animal welfare and travelling is one thing that really brings home to you the grim reality of the things that are hidden from view in the UK.

From the outset, I’d like to caveat the next part of my narrative, with another acknowledgement brought home to me by fellow traveller, and co-witness of the Island event, Abbey. I understand other cultures see things differently and often live in very different economic circumstances where food is scarce and valued. I am in no way disrespectful of other people’s culture. (And in countries where animals are treated inhumanly, I’ve also seen humans on the wrong side of the poverty line, inhumanely treated too).

But the same animal welfare standards of lucky countries like the UK are certainly NOT protected by law or observed everywhere.

When travelling in remote countries you often get to see ‘the processes’ happening right in front of you on the streets, rather than being hidden away.

I’ve seen animals (including dogs) in tiny cages waiting to be killed in markets in Vietnam. Spied Horses bound for slaughter through the panels of lorries lying down having fallen over whilst being driven across Eastern Europe. The open meat markets in Muslim countries where dead animals are hung to bleed out in the name of Allah. And in Malawi, on one road trip across country this year, I observed every mile or so, freshly skinned goats hung from their back legs, with cuts being sold off the bone on the roadside at what was clearly the equivalent of the local butchers.

But I’d never seen a live animal on its way to slaughter like I did here in the Philippines.

Just before ‘the Philippines incident‘, in Vietnam a couple of weeks ago something else had already got me thinking about my feelings on eating meat when Mrs Sen, the owner of my homestay in SaPa invited me as a guest to join her family lunch. In between the steamed rice, soup and steamed greens… I almost ate dog thinking it was beef (luckily Mrs Sen, being aware of my cultural difference warned me in the nick of time). Right then I questioned why I found eating dogs abhorrent and eating other animals more acceptable. I hadn’t thought it through fully then, but here we are now, and it’s time for me to fully face into the debate.

Everyone is entitled to their own choices of course, and I have no intention of expecting anyone else reading this and change their mind. But I felt compelled to write about my own experience none the less.

My love of food.

For context I have always been what you would call ‘a foodie’ defined as one who takes great pleasure in culinary delights.

I think my fascination with food began when growing up in the north west of England, in Cheshire. My grandmother, Mary-Constance Wilding, although most of us would lay claim to this, was actually the best cook in the world.

She was born in 1925, at a time where women learned cookery skills in order to become fully prepared for their future role as a wife and mother. She had learned the secrets of British cooking from her mother, and her mother before that and so on. I remember her hand written recipe books of these secrets, plus ones she collected over her eventual 80 years on earth, that we have kept safe back home.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of being at Grandma’s house.

There was always a meal being prepared or a cake being baked.

As my Grandad, Frank, was a fan of proper cooking, it would be her daily undertaking to craft his favourites and I remember he would always finish whatever delight she had presented to him by saying in his gruff-yet-kind northern voice ‘You really are the best cook Con, the best’

I also recall the way she would bashfully smile with pride and appreciation of his gratitude.

Growing up wasn’t always easy for me, so the happy times spent as a family around my grandparents dinner table were precious indeed, as was the time I spent with my Grandma helping her to cook.

Food and love it seemed, went together rather well, and I would fill myself up as much as I could. (So much so that I only realised I was a ‘fat kid’ when arriving at high school aged 11, about a foot taller and wider than other girls my age).

When I was old enough to stand on a stool without toppling off, I assumed my role as ‘Soux Chef’ to my Grandma’s ‘Head Chef’, fascinated by the measuring, pouring, mixing and chemistry of the whole thing.

The pleasure of licking the spoon, or tasting something the first time when checking the flavour of whatever was being made, is still so vivid in my mind.

One of my favourite past times with Grandma was making trifle. The two day affair began with building layers of fruit interlaced with soaking sponge fingers in boiling hot raspberry jelly. Next came custard, made from scratch, so that the desired thickness could produce a solid layer, creme brûlée style. Which once set was covered in thick full fat whipped cream and ready for me to perform the most serious of tasks and my duty.. Adorning the trifle.

The basket my Grandma kept the cake decorations in was like a treasure chest to me. With its little containers of brightly coloured prettiness. As she would reach up to the top shelf of the cupboard, on apron clad, slippered tip toes, the rush of excitement would arrive. Those silver sugar balls, pink confetti, glacé cherries candies fruits and rainbow sprinkles on their way to me, to meticulously spend hours creating the patterns we’d later cut through with the big silver serving spoon.

As I got older, I was able to learn the more serious task of preparing a Sunday Roast which was a weekly occurrence at her house and like clockwork in terms of menu.

Regular Sundays:

Roast Beef with Yorkshire’s and horseradish sauce.

or

Roast Lamb with mint fresh from the garden (and Yorkshire’s as we insisted they came whatever the choice of meat) and homemade gravy.

Served with: Roast and mashed potatoes. Carrots, cauliflower, peas and broccoli.

Followed by: Homemade rice pudding.

Easter Sunday:

Whole leg of roast lamb and all the trimmings (including Yorkshire puddings) and homemade gravy.

Followed by: homemade Easter Cake, decorated by me with little yellow chicks and Cadbury’s mini eggs.

Homemade trifle, also decorated by yours truly.

Christmas Day:

Turkey, stuffing, sausage meat, pigs in blankets.

Served with: Roast potatoes, boiled potatoes. Carrots, roast parsnips, sprouts and cauliflower. Yorkshire pudding (yep, even with Turkey as they were that good). And homemade gravy.

Followed by: Christmas cake (made by me and Grandma in October) and served with pouring cream.

Christmas pudding (also made in October and containing the pound coins wrapped in baking paper I was allowed to drop into the mix as Grandma made it) and brandy sauce.

And the day after, Turkey soup made by boiling the bones for broth, with bubble and squeak for breakfast.

Grandma and I would work (with my mum’s help too) to bring together what I realise now to be be a feat of preparation, timing and skill.

Ours was always the biggest of the Turkeys, delivered my the butcher on Christmas Eve with a strange plastic bag stuffed inside that I didn’t know what it contained until much later. My mum took the job of ‘preparing the bird’ and always advised I stay away from this part of the preparation, including finishing plucking, washing and stuffing.

I recall my horror at discovering what ‘giblets’ were and not being able to un-know the heart, lungs, liver and neck were delivered as part of the parcel, and cooked off as to give flavour to the gravy.

My Grandma told me one time as we made the Yorkshire pudding batter together over the ‘Magimix’ that the secret to good food was animal fat. ‘None of this olive oil nonsense’ she would say. Roast potatoes? Boiling hot beef dripping. Gravy? Use juices from the roasting meat. A light sponge? Butter and caster sugar. ‘Don’t forget this Clare, animal fat is flavour, it’s very important’ as she looked me right in the eyes.

I lost my beloved grandma in 2005, 14 years ago this January. But this time of year never fails to make me think of her. How she would ‘turn in her grave’ if she knew I might never use her recipes again due to choosing a vegetarian lifestyle.

I know she would forgive me though.

My first time..

So there’s no doubt about it, the social media presence of the environmental issues being caused by meat production have raised the agenda for eating a plant based diet. But the first time I quit meat, it came from a very different place. And the most visceral of conditioning experiences I can only describe as accidental shock therapy.

One of my closest friends, Dr Caroline (someone who last year I got to witness get married as her bridesmaid) invited me to her sister Madeline’s debut London performance in a play called ‘Sing for your Life’

It was served up under the arches of Waterloo station, at the Vaults Festival where only the edgiest of acts perform, but I had no idea about what was in store.

It turned out to be a musical comedy, using the medium of ‘Taxidermy Pupperty’

‘What on earth is that?’ I hear you ask.

Well, taxidermy puppetry is a a thing, and on this occasion involved dead animals that they’d gathered as a result of (in) human causes. The theme, bizarrely followed something similar to Britain’s Got Talent, and was intended to confront the audience with the harsh reality of how we treat animals, produce food and our ability to disassociate ourselves from our actions.

The story followed a troupe of animals, desperate to get the attention of humans who every night stage a showstopper at their venue, ‘the bottom of the garden’.

The main protagonist was the carcass of a puppy, re-animated. The death of which was a result of inbreeding to the point of physical deformity so that he couldn’t survive. (The programme revealed he was a product of a puppy farming industry that feeds a demand for tiny dogs who are no more accessories than the handbags they are carried in).

His friends in the drama, included a lithe black road kill cat called Splat, who’s body had never been claimed from the council, resurected post taxidermy, as a celebrity obsessed millennial, who valued herself by her chances of fame.

The carcasses of chickens, bought in the supermarket and brought back to life in their headless way formed a chorus line, who performed along side a troupe of racist squirrels, who were back from the dead having been killed for being ‘pests’ in a local park.

But by far most shocking was the solo performance by a stripping mink.

Initially a beautiful (albeit dead) creature with slinky fur, black as night and shiny as an oil slick, danced for the audience. Until the chilling reality of why she died was presented… as she ‘stripped’…her was skin pulled off her body for all to see the glistening form of meat and sinew held underneath. Again we were informed by the programme that she had died in the fur trade.

I was revolted, shocked and horrified all at the same time. This very avant-garde production certainly achieved its objective of confronting me with a reality I had ignored.

Dr Caroline and I were heading out for dinner after the show, and when we arrived, anything that mentioned meat was now repulsive. Every day after that I found myself choosing not to buy meat until it became a habit. The result, I became a vegetarian!

The first time, I lasted a year. I hate to admit it, but it was pressure from a boyfriend that tempted me back to the ‘dark side’ so to speak. He was frustrated at what he saw as my pickiness with food and having to make extra effort to accommodate me. At the time I clearly was not thinking straight (he was a total douche bag) and abandoned my own values to placate him. Pathetic!

The second time…

Having been eventually dumped by the douche bag boyfriend at 33, for someone 10 years my junior, heart broken I was looking for ways to get over him.

The heart break diet ensued, and saw me lose a stone in a month. I looked great, but was miserable. I found it quite hard to eat for a while, and when I started to, veggie options seemed the most nourishing and palatable.

By this point a fair few friends had gone veggie, and some fully vegan so I had people to share cooking tips and restaurant recommendations with. And at this kind of post break up time you also find yourself watching all of the Ted talks to find some kind of meaning to the pain. It was easy enough to wander into the Netflix documentaries that tell the truth about what actually happens when animals are a commodity.

One of my newly acquired single vegan friends, Helen, (who’s also my horse riding instructor) suggested I attend a Veganuary vegan festival at Alexandra Palace, so I could find out more about living plant based, and this seemed like a good opportunity to reinvigorate my vegetarianism.

I did so with my best (and vegan) friend, Billie Jean.

Making our way around the various stalls and talks, I was expecting to be met with a bunch of chest beating hippies dressed in hemp and talking about murder, but I didn’t.

Instead I found a bunch of thoroughly interesting people promoting an alternative way of living.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) were there, and seeing as their role is to highlight animal rights issues, and not being known for being subtle about how they do it, they had come up with an ingenious use of technology to present the reality of food production using Virtual Reality.

They were offering delegates the opportunity to ‘become the animal’ and watch what they saw, through their ‘eyes’ from when they were born until they died. And it came with a warning, of graphic content that can not be unseen. And using actual video footage.

There was a choice of IPig, ICow, or IChicken, and as I said, being the kind of girl that had never been able to tolerate watching any of the Facebook videos, I knew that this would be a point of no return. I was choosing to see what really happened and knew it couldn’t be unseen. I chose IChicken thinking I probably had less feelings for the avian species.

The experience started with chicks being born in the egg industry and hatching under the sterile lamp light that replaced the function of a mother hen. Next was sorting, and I saw all the little boy chicks being plucked out and head down a conveyer belt….. to be macerated in an industrial grinder.

In the next scene, I was a Chicken in the meat industry, and given a 360 degree view of the cramped conditions in a shed where the modern hybrid breed grows so quickly and disproportionately that many can no longer stand up. I saw the cuts and bruises on the slumped legs of my fellow feathered friends, and I myself, eventually toppled over onto the filthy floor and couldn’t get up again.

Finally, I was plucked from the shed by my chicken feet and carried head first towards the processing plant.

If you’re squeamish, look away now.

I was hung up by my feet on another conveyer belt, but an arial one this time, like the ones used to process and fill cans in a factory.. and I looked around to see the crystal clear view of thousands of other clucking chickens in the same position ahead and behind me, necks wobbling from side to side as the belt moved along.

First pass is some kind of stunning device, and the chickens ahead of me were having their heads dunked into a water bath, that when I arrived at it and was also dunked, realised it was charged with electricity. But, as I witnessed, through my blinking chicken eyes, it doesn’t work on everyone, including me. I looked right and saw some of my comrades still awake, clucking and struggling against their bonds as they passed to the next/final level.

The coup de grâce, was a run of rotor blades positioned at my neck height, and as the ones ahead of me passed through it, those still alive, in a flurry of squawking and feathers, had their necks sliced open, with a splatter of arterial blood as the jugular was severed, worthy of the most gruesome of Eli Roth horror films. But from my place in the line, I saw that for some, the cut still didn’t result in death.

This was too much for me and my VR chicken body, and with tear filled eyes I pulled off my mask and came back to reality before I saw the end.

Good job the PETA rep was there to comfort me as I literally fell apart.

This time I left in tears and as a committed vegan, full of good intentions to remove any animal suffering from my personal consumption.

With research I found out being vegan is hard. Everything from shampoo to lip balm contains someones suffering. However, I did discover brands like Arbonne who are completely cruelty free. But that also meant me giving up brands I love like MAC.

Milk was easy to quit, as I found nut milks better once I was used to them, and my body felt healthier.

I managed 3 months vegan, and another year veggie. But you’ll never guess what brought me back to carnivorous ways?

Yep, it was an Easter Roast Lamb Sunday dinner.

Having just written this I feel horrified at myself that I didn’t remember the VR experience, the Taxidermy Puppetry or all the documentaries I watched.

It seems that to maintain my morals, I need constant reminding of reality. Yes, humans are certainly good at distancing ourselves from our actions and their impact.

The third time…

So as I said earlier, it was Christmas Eve eve, and I found myself on the most beautiful castaway island with a group of other solo travellers as part of a ‘Flashpack’ Christmas trip.

As you know I’d been flying fully solo on my travels before this, but I didn’t feel ready to spend ‘the big day’ completely alone. My family life has consistently deteriorated year on year, since my parents divorce in 2003, and my beloved Grandparents’ sad departure from this world.

Last year I spent the day alone in my Grandma’s old bedroom, at what had become my mother’s part time house, following a family argument. In that moment I swore to spend 2018 on a beach somewhere beautiful. (With my mum’s blessing of course).

We had spent the day hopping between the limestone islands and white beaches of El Nido’s Bacuit archipelago and I felt completely relaxed, ready to sleep in my mosquito net tent on the beach.

Reading my book, perched on a sun lounger, out of the corner of my eye I spied a boat arriving on the pale blue of the shore. Inside there was movement and once the engine was turned off I heard the blood curdling screams of what I assumed to be a pig.

Two of the staff stood up on the boat, and to my horror, they indeed had a pig, hog tied and strung up across a pole, legs lashed down and head lashing back and forth. Squealing and struggling against the pressure.

It was clearly in pain.

My fellow ‘Flashpackers’ were also alerted to the suffering and some of us stood up, and looked at each other, one searching the eyes of another, in hope that someone else knew what to do.

The pig’s captors realised the distress of their Western guests, who clearly weren’t used to seeing dinner still alive and had a brief conversation about how to address the situation.

Their way of dealing with it was to submerge the pig’s head under the sea water, until shuddering against the drowning, it was quieted. I couldn’t believe my eyes, overwhelmed by the cruelty of what I’d just observed, and paralysed momentarily.

The pig emerged, silent, head now lolling back, presumed dead. I felt the surge of hot tears behind my eyes and anger rise at the humans who clearly didn’t see this animal as anything other than a commodity and annoyance for it’s attempt to hold on to life.

Then, just like the chickens I’d seen in the VR experience, the pig regained consciousness and coughing up lung fulls of water, began to struggle against its bonds once more.

I felt my legs carry me forward, and on auto pilot ran towards the pig and the men holding it prisoner.

What came out of my mouth surprised me. I was shouting, pleading ‘for fucks sake, if you’re going to kill it, please do it quickly’

The pig carried on screaming as it was taken out of view, one final howl emanating from the kitchen.

I thought that then it was over, and the pig was indeed finally dead.

Shocked at the scene of just witnessed, and indignant at Flashpack for a Bear Grylls experience I had certainly not signed up for, I headed over to our trip leader Nikki (who is lovely by the way) and accused her, somewhat emotionally of having the pig killed.

She told me it wasn’t being killed, and not to worry, so I demanded to see it if that was true.

She led me around to the back of the kitchen and the pig was indeed still there. Now tied up snuffling the ground and getting acquainted with one of the beach dogs, who seemed to want to make friends.

I again demanded to know why they were allowing such cruelty, and expressed my disgust at the partial drowning of the animal.

The host of the island, fed me a load of crap about the drowning being my misunderstanding, they were simply washing the pig after its journey from another island, and the only way to transport it, to stop it defecting everywhere, was to attach it to a pole. I didn’t buy it.

Poor Nikki, clearly distressed, especially at her guests being subjected to this situation, then explained that the Filipino Christmas traditional meal, is ‘Lechon’ (not materially different to us and our turkey traditions I guess).

The pig was to become a surprise hog roast.

The plan was that the body of this very alive pig I was staring at, would be gutted, the pole fed through its mouth, nose to tail, and it would be slowly roasted until it’s brown flesh crisped, and fat melted ready for carving.

The same feeling came over me I’d felt before.

I could no longer see this pitiful snorting beast and the hog roast as two separate things, they were indeed one. As would every other animal that crossed my plate going forward.

I walked away.

Nikki recognised the distress of the group and after dinner (me eating only rice and veg) that night, with the pig very much alive, we were offered the option of sparing the its life.

I of course voted to free him, and Abbey did too. But we were told his execution would only be delayed, he wouldn’t actually be freed to roam around the island.

(Abbey reminded me that the situation was reminiscent of that Bear Grylls programme ‘The Island’ episode, where the group decide to starve and save the pig. They tied it up to a tree, only to find it the next morning dead anyway, having strangled itself).

When the island host, Karen, apologised for letting us see what happened my thoughts formed into the realisation that what everyone was really offended by (including me), was seeing the pig being hauled over the island in front of us, not the fact that we were going to eat it.

The only difference between me and the group, was that everyone else voted to eat it and I assume, keep flesh and food dissociated in their minds.

When Karen said ‘you might change your mind when you taste his sizzling flesh! I had enough. I stood up and announced ‘you can f**k off’ to the table and went off to cry alone on the beach.

What I think came up in the ground swell of emotion, was years worth of guilt about my ability to ignore the facts and tolerate suffering of others for my own gain.

I  recoiled at my own blatant hypocrisy, arriving on the island a meat eater and then complaining at the fact I’d seen the pig suffering, which ultimately is only the reality of my omnivorous situation. I felt stupid, ignorant and worse because I’d known the truth about eating meat for years… but managed to shut that part of my self up on and off, to make my own pleasure of eating steak and roast dinners, possible.

Safe to say I didn’t partake in the consumption of the Lechon the next night, and left the table to sit alone on the beach and drink my body weight in Gin and Tonic, which ended with skinny dipping and memory loss.

I was afraid that my point of view would mean I’d ostracised myself from the group, and insisted I be taken back to El Nido mainland to leave the tour and carry on alone. But given it was Christmas Eve and peak time this wasn’t possible.

So I stayed, but this time I stuck to my guns.

It turns out it’s ok to have your own views when the people around you aren’t douche bags. They didn’t hate me for it and were actually rather understanding.

The day we returned to mainland same thing has happened again, as after the puppetry, and the VR. I connected meat and living animals together and felt the same aversion when I thought of eating meat.

Staring at the bacon on offer at breakfast at Christmas morning, I forgot for a second, then remembered the screaming pig and the burning flesh concept, and I just didn’t want to put it in my mouth, no matter the taste.

Clearly this Flash Pack situation was handled terribly from a customer experience perspective. Western guests don’t want to see their food alive or being slaughtered.

I’m sure Flash Pack know this, and I know it wasn’t intentional, but they haven’t yet responded to my messages of complaint.

But the truth of the matter is…all we saw was reality. A terrible experience that ruined my island Xmas, but one that was needed, to remind me.

The last few days have been pretty bland on the pallet, it appears Filipinos aren’t one for special diets, but I feel positive about my personal decision. With the influx of new vegan restaurants in London and availability of services who can cater to plant based diets, I won’t have to worry about how to eat when I’m back, or missing out on my food love life.

I use Fresh Fitness Food to calculate my macros and deliver 3 meals per day to my door before 6am and they have an extensive menu of tasty cruelty free choices so I know I will be catered for and have no excuses.

I live with a vegetarian too (my dear friend Carly) so won’t be short of dinner company at home, or a supply of my other veggie friends to try out the latest meat free food fashion trends.

My next decision is how far to go on the vegan scale.

So far I’m undecided, but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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