Updated: Jul 2
“I never really thought about my dad’s job when I was a kid. It was just his job. As far as I was concerned it was normal. He may as well have been going to an office for all I knew or cared.
I was raised on a dairy farm. I am the daughter of a farmer’s son, of a farmer’s son, of a farmer’s son.
But this wasn’t just a farm anywhere - I’m from Northern Ireland - a country with a huge focus on animal agriculture as a major part of the economy.
Farming was ingrained in what seemed like every area of society for me growing up. From my school and the other children I was hanging out with, through to the kinds of activities I did as a teenager, our church community and even just the influence of my grandparents. Farming was and is a huge part of my life and who I am today.
Our primary school was a tiny, countryside school full of children from agricultural backgrounds. So when I went to my friends’ houses for sleepovers, this would have also been on farms. Mostly dairy farms but I do also recall staying with a friend whose dad was a pig farmer. There were things that were just normalised, such as getting milk directly from the milking parlour at my friends’ houses, rather than going to a shop.
Or helping my mum to prepare meals for a group of hungry farmers during the summer silage season, where local farmers would come to help cut the grass to store for the winter months ahead. Or slightly more sinister memories of seeing baby animals that hadn’t survived birth and not really understanding, as kids, why or how they were there.
Go-to meals at home growing up would have been shepherd’s pie, a whole roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables, bangers and mash, and beef lasagne. I never thought of these foods as anything but usual. It’s what all my friends were eating. I do remember we had one childhood friend who went vegetarian at a very young age, and we all thought that was quite strange but didn’t question it. We would have Sunday roasts of lamb, beef and chicken at my granny’s house.
Meals at restaurants would always contain meat. It was just the norm.
As teenagers, my sister and I were members of the Young Farmers Club - a sort of youth club for young people from farming communities. Some of the activities we would take part in would be sheep and cattle judging, as well as travelling to barn dances in tractors! We were also heavily involved in our local church Youth Club and activities, and the members of that club were mostly other farmer’s children who would have had similar experiences to us.
But it wasn’t only these experiences that cemented my existence as a farmer’s daughter. My own family was particularly rooted in animal agriculture in general. Of course my grandfather on my dad’s side was a farmer, but his wife, my granny, formerly ran her own small egg business, and my grandfather on my mother’s side also had a job within the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland itself in the Meat Standards department. So it’s not really surprising that it took me a long time to question any of it.
Me and my siblings loved going to see our dad on the farm when we were kids and would always ask to see the newborn calves. We would get to see them when they were literally just born and often already taken away from their mothers, who would be returned to the herd to be milked. It’s strange to me now, that we knew about the system of the calves being born and what was happening, but it’s like we had no frame of reference to understand why they were actually there. That it was for the milk. That the cows weren’t just producing milk because they were cows, but because they were mothers.
When that fact dawned on me many, many years later, I felt a sort of sense of confusion. It now seemed so obvious and yet I had lived on a farm and I didn’t make the connection.
But the fact that I was immersed in agriculture and still didn’t make the connection between the systems of production and what was actually happening, is one of the reasons I now do what I do. I create content that shines a light on the animal agriculture systems that are happening all around us, but that are not explained in a clear way to allow us to make our own decisions about what we want to consume or participate in.
And also in knowing how I felt when I found this information out for myself (without others trying to criticise me) I make sure my focus is to keep things light-hearted and fun. I aim to help people to consume the information in a way that’s easy to understand but that also doesn’t sound judgemental, and that’s because it isn’t. I have no high horse to be on, as I only made these discoveries myself in 2017, after a whole life eating meat and dairy.
The way I began my vegan journey was actually through a documentary called ‘Cowspiracy’ which focuses on the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry. And again, this was a shock to me. I had no idea that there was any link between climate change and meat and dairy production.
But once I had gone away and done my own research after the documentary, I realised that there was a significant correlation and (much as I didn’t want to) I was going to have to go vegan. And so I did, there and then.
The journey of telling my family was certainly a challenging one and because I knew it would be, I didn’t actually break the news for a whole year. The topic came up in the preparation for a big family party I was returning to Northern Ireland for.
My mum called me to tell me what food she was making for the party and if I had any requests (from the childhood favourites). I remember there being a distinct silence on the line when I said I wouldn’t be able to eat any of that food, and then a very firmly annunciated, ‘why?’. When I dropped the news that it was because I was vegan, it did not go down well. My mum assumed it was because I was against Dad and his farm specifically. But when I explained that I was doing it from the perspective of the global scale and industrial farming systems in place, that seemed to make them understand that it really wasn’t personal. But it is largely due to my family and my background, that I approach veganism with so much nuance. I understand that I was a benefactor of the very system that I now oppose. I tread lightly.
So yes, I am a farm girl, and I am now vegan.