I didn’t become a vegetarian overnight, but the influential moment was an overnight decision.
I went veggo on April 1st, 1997. And the influential moment was a night dive in Puerto Gallera in the Philippines. On this critical dive I had a close encounter of the cephalopod kind. It was in the form of a squid. I have never seen a live squid before. Those that I have seen previously were dead lifeless gray mess of rubbery slippery skin and flesh.
This one was suspended in mid water and as my torch shined on its luminescent body, I could see the colour of the rainbows shimmering through its skin, with beautiful, hypnotic huge eyes that spoke volume to me. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, at 37 years old.
At dinner that night after the dive, I was offered deep fried calamari rings. I couldn’t eat it, not even a single morsel of calamari ring. That was the decisive moment. I made a decision to become vegetarian there and then.
The ocean is first my love, my second home and diving is almost second nature to me. I have a strong affinity for the seascape and its fauna and flora, its complex and yet fragile eco-system and its amazingly diverse biodiversity.
So, initially, I didn’t decide to go meatless due to health, religious or even moral reasons. I guess it was more of an ecological reason, although I didn’t really see it that way back then.
Before the decision to become a vegetarian, I have been cutting back on my red meat consumption due to a public health risk scenario. I lived in Hong Kong for 15 years. Back then as it still is today, Hong Kong had to import food, mostly across the border from China.
In the mid 90’s there was a series of incidents with imported meat: foot-and-mouth disease followed by avian influenza, which saw thousands of chicken destroyed in just one day to stemmed the spreading of the disease. I decided to go meatless for a while but was still enjoying seafood and fish, until the night of the encounter of the cephalopod kind.
These incidents opened my eyes to the world of factory farming and I was shocked upon learning the harsh reality of bringing meat to the table; the general treatment and living condition of these animals, the endless cocktails of antibiotics and other medications and the slaughtering process. The supply chain in the meat industry is not an easy one to digest for me personally.
For many months prior to the crucial diving holiday, I did a lot of research on vegetarianism and how to maintain a healthy and balance diet as a vegetarian. I was lucky to have some friends who were already vegetarians and were able to share with me how they made the transition. One of the earlier dishes they taught me was how to prepare pasta sauce with lentils instead of meat. Since then, I have improvised and perfected that dish using tempeh, minced and mixed with fresh herbs.
I also had a karmic realisation around this time. I believed, and still do, that animals know when they are about to be killed and this makes them fearful for their lives, which is physiologically manifested by the release of adrenalin and toxicity into their system. On a spiritual level, I decided that I didn’t want to ingest that fear.
I am a lacto-ovo, meaning I eat dairy products, eggs and honey. I am not a vegan, who doesn’t consume any animal byproduct in any shape and form whatsoever. I am also not strict when I am invited around to dinner at someone’s house. I am happy to pick my meal around bits and pieces of meat. Sometimes, I would even partake in a bit of fish or seafood like prawn or mussels but never cephalopod.
Once I made the mistake of overindulging in some mussels at a Sunday lunch. I spent the next few hours hugging the side of my bathroom sink. It is not an uncommon reaction as I later found out from another vegetarian friends who once made the same mistake. It was too much for the body to handle it had to reject it. Never again.