I have to start with some honesty: I did not become a Vegan for compassionate reason. That said, it is exactly why I remain one.
I was always vaguely aware of Veganism and slightly more conscious of the idea of animal rights. I’ve always had an underlying sympathy for non-human animals, especially concerning our treatment of them. This mostly manifested itself as support in ‘spirit’ without any real or concrete action. So when I saw or heard about chickens held in battery conditions, or circus animals being mistreated and ‘broken’, I would tut and shake my head. This was the extent of my indignation and if ever this inaction troubled me, I’d reassure myself “sure, I’m in jail, what can I do?”
Then along came the health documentaries and the possibility that those who eat a plant based diet generally live longer and are freer from age-related illnesses. Along with this too was the potential to loose some weight.
I am like a lot of my generation. Body image is something that we are forced to be concerned with. Whatever the reasons this is the reality. Losing weight, then, was regularly on my mind. I tried all sorts of diets and each of them ultimately failed. So I decided that a Vegan diet would be my next attempt.
Once I’d begun the diet I immediately began to reflect on my decision – was it a good decision? How long would I stick it out? Have I done this for the right reasons?
This last question stuck with me and suddenly all the issues around animal welfare came to the fore in my mind. After a while attempting to grapple with this I made a decision: whatever my reason for initially going Vegan, I was making it a permanent part of my life and there was no turning back. It mattered too much to me now.
As part of my reflection a key question was: now that I was out, how could I go back to feeding into a system that causes so much unnecessary suffering and harm when another option exists?
So, although I started off as a ‘health-conscious’ Vegan, I would now say that I’ve begun an ethical evolution. I say evolution because it will be a process, the speed of which will, to a certain degree, be determined by my circumstances.
Nevertheless my journey has started and I hope many more will set off on the same journey.
➽John Paul Wootton is imprisoned in Maghaberry.