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About a Vegan

Journalist and radio host Matthieu Dugal tells the story of how he became vegan, despite his visceral love for lamb chops.

TEXT  Matthieu Dugal

ILLUSTRATION  Kane Tchir

Quite honestly, I never thought I’d write this. It’s not exactly easy to do given how much people from all walks of life judge this lifestyle. I’m clearly not getting any likes, friends, or gratitude for this confession. When I’m done, I promise to never mention it again.

Long story short, about a year ago, my girlfriend started her 21-day vegan challenge. I say ’her,’ because had I started off by saying ‘Okay, I’m doing it with you,’ I would have already been picturing my glorious return to omelettes, rosemary lamb chops, osso buco with extra parsley, tender tilapia, and delicious sausages of all kinds. Because I love meat. I’m crazy about it. 

And I eat everything. I’ve lived in Uruguay, asado country, along with Argentina, where you eat the entire beast, from nose to tail, and all that entails. Eyes, brains, stomachs, tongues, balls, galore. I even loved haggis when I went to Edinburgh — know what I mean? And I’ve always been on board with chef Martin Picard’s approach, and not just him. I love meat!

I’m a pretty big fan of fish too. Black cod in a butter sauce? Tuna steak with a balsamic reduction? Thick-cut salmon drowning in lemon juice? Bring it on. And don’t even get me started on cheese. Dates stuffed with blue cheese? Yes, please.

But, hey, if I was going to deprive myself for three weeks, I figured I might as well find out why. I’ll to be completely honest with you (and with her): Even though I really like Élise Désaulnier and I think her online presence is awesome, I’d never tried to understand the reasons behind her veganism. In fact, her posts and persistent enthusiasm used to get on my nerves (just a little, though). Besides, I told myself, we’ve been eating meat for thousands of generations. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s as normal as it gets. And seriously, we’re at the top of the food chain. We’re predators like a thousand other predators in the animal kingdom. Spare a thought for the suffering of lesser beings? Fuck that. Buffalo Wild Wings!

 

In other words, I thought vegans were a little over-the-top with their fanatical prohibitions and refusal to enjoy scarfing down good food.

You’ve probably noticed by now that science is one of the main beacons that guides me through my earthly existence. During these three weeks of research, I attempted to approach this lifestyle from a critical point of view and I came to realize a few things. It’s true that certain vegans border on ridiculous; they almost sound like Jesuits telling natives there’s a God far greater than theirs that they need to welcome into their hearts. Apart from that, though, veganism makes a lot more sense than a meat-based diet. By one hell of a wide margin.

Strictly from a thermodynamic point of view, eating meat is a bit as though we were still heating our homes with coal. The amount of energy and water we need to produce a kilo of meat, milk, or butter is simply unsustainable if we want to be able to keep feeding the 10 billion people who will soon inhabit the earth. There are 70 billion livestock in the world. The food, fertilizer, and medication we give them, and the shit they produce, amounts to an environmental catastrophe of the same order of magnitude as Trump insisting on opening oil drilling areas like they’re McDonald’s franchises. River and ocean dead zones, created by industrial agriculture’s heavy use of fertilizers (mainly to feed livestock), are suffocating even the hardiest ecosystems.

If everyone avoided eating meat, the number of farms required to feed everyone would be 20 times lower, and we know for a fact that we need more forests.

And that’s not even counting overfishing: More and more studies show that we’re progressively, and literally, emptying the oceans of all life. For a kilo of fish caught, we kill five kilos of marine biomass. According to many experts, unless you only catch two or three trout once in a while in a lake in the Laurentians, the concept of responsible fishing is a bunch of greenwashing bullshit.

Since Darwin, we’ve also come to understand that we’re only one branch of the evolution of life on earth, and what we thought was exclusive to us, consciousness, is probably pretty common. Neuroscience is unequivocal: Our industrial livestock have consciousness and they suffer. So, on the highway, when I come across a truck full of pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse, when it’s rainy and cold, I figure they’re aware of their painful lives. I’m not being sentimental; it’s scientifically proven. Whether you eat meat or not, it’s something you need to know.

Organic meat, cows in the fields, free-range chickens? That’s great. But the quantity of land required to meet our collective needs is simply impossible to reach. Like many experts, I came to the conclusion that the meat industry is scientifically and environmentally unsustainable.

Such an enormous environmental mess just to have something in your mouth that tastes good? I don’t buy it anymore.

Do we really need meat and milk and fish to survive? No way. It’s far from essential. Is veganism within everyone’s reach? For a bunch of reasons—health, accessibility—no. I’m lucky enough to have a decent income (but seriously, meat is hella expensive) and live where vegan options are pretty much available everywhere. I chose not to have children, so I don’t need to deal with pressure from their school or friends.

I’m also lucky to love food—all of it (in fact, apart from bananas and goddamn parsnips, I’ll eat pretty much anything). I’m lucky to have an incredible girlfriend with whom I enjoy cooking real gourmet food, not just tasteless substitutes for food I actually like.

We already know that collectively, we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Our populations have fibre deficiencies, and that causes a bunch of health problems that are too long to list here. Can we live better by avoiding eating meat? We sure can.

 

It happens rather frequently that during a shoot, I’ll have to eat out with the team. Am I going to cause a fuss? No. If you invite me over, I’ll probably grab a slice of your dry sausage before dinner. And I still eat oysters (until proven otherwise, oysters have no consciousness and farming them doesn’t endanger the oceans). Do I feel righteous? No way. I’m as full of contradictions as the next person. But I own up to them, and I’m open to discussing them.

I’d really like to thank Marianne, my wonderful girlfriend, who helped me realize all this by initiating this change, which isn’t nearly as hard as it looks.

Is my choice a way of condemning my colleagues and friends who do things differently? Not at all. I’m not going to speak out against something I did for decades.

You can judge me quietly, or not. But I hope you’re still going to talk to me. I’m still going to laugh at vegan jokes (a lot of them are really funny). I love you all. I wish you a great year, no matter who and where you are.

And thank God beer is vegan.

MATTHIEU DUGAL has been a journalist, radio host, and columnist for the past 20 years. He’s contributed to Le Devoir, La Presse, Voir, and ICI Radio-Canada Première, where he hosts a show called Moteur de recherche, which covers science, the environment, health, and technology.

KANE TCHIR is the founder of the multidimensional illustration and art studio NICE NOTHINGS, based in Vancouver. 

 

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