Last year, I suddenly made the decision to become a vegetarian. I quit meat cold turkey (excuse the pun), and haven’t touched it since. Whenever someone learns that I no longer eat meat, they ask what prompted it. My answer? “I ran over a pigeon”.
Generally, this is met with laughter. People think I’m joking—after all, “I ran over a pigeon” sounds like the start of a joke.
Okay, here we go. Last Summer, I ran over a pigeon. I was driving back to my house when two pigeons landed in the road in front of me. I slowed down, giving them time to get out of the way. Another car approached behind me, and—remembering my driving instructor’s mantra about never holding up traffic for wildlife—I began to inch forward. A flutter of wings in my peripheral vision told me that the pigeons had cleared out of the way. I continued to edge forwards, when a sudden explosion of grey feathers caught my eye. Only one of the pigeons had managed to escape; the other had met its maker in the form of my front tyre.
Before that point, I had never been directly responsible for the death of an animal. The moment I realised what happened, I was flooded with immense guilt. I felt almost as if I should stay at the scene of the crime and take responsibility for my actions. I started to cry. I’m not talking about a couple of tears rolling down my cheek, I’m talking full on “oh my god I’ve just lost all of my belongings in a fire” crying. I drove around my village, trying to come to terms with what had happened and to figure out exactly why I felt so guilty. After all, it was “just a pigeon”.
I felt sick for the rest of the day. I know it sounds dramatic, but I felt such terrible, genuine guilt that I completely lost my appetite. I began to reason with myself; I ate meat, so surely it was no different to the pigeon. Rather than making me feel better, this train of thought made me feel worse. If running over a pigeon accidentally made me feel this awful, how could I justify knowingly eating cows, pigs and chickens, all of which I had such a fondness for?
I have always considered myself an animal lover. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of my main personality traits. That day, I realised I couldn’t honestly claim to love animals, all while happily paying to eat them and have them slaughtered. I know that I could not kill an animal with my own hands—so why is it okay to let someone else do it for me? We are so far removed from the slaughtering process that it’s hard to associate a packaged beef steak with a kind-eyed cow, grazing contentedly in her field.
I am by no means intending to come across as holier than thou. I ate meat for 21 years of my life. I loved animals—and still love animals—but for 21 years I ate them, and I never felt like a hypocrite. Something about that day changed the way I think, and I don’t think I could ever go back.
So, here’s a toast to the pigeon that made me into a vegetarian. I hope he’d think that his sacrifice was worth it.