Confessions of a Very Slow Starter

by Eva Batt (1908 – 1989)

From the pamphlet "THE VEGAN WAY… Why? & How?", published in 1981 by the English Vegan Society. Available as a PDF. Learn more about Eva Batt and the history of veganism.

Whenever I read about the Albert Schweitzers or Anna Kingsfords of this world I am filled with shame. Which is why I have formerly avoided any mention of the first 49 years of my life. Such reticence is possibly excusable for in all that time I had given little thought to my eating habits and their effect on the hungry third world, animal abuse, the causes of war and the like. However, apart from this all too common complicity I had never knowingly caused hurt to my fellow creatures — but I certainly had done nothing to help them either!

It was towards the end of the last war that I began to think and this unusual activity was occasioned by a bomb which shattered our home and adjoining stables, killing the poor horses and narrowly missing the Batt family. In all the turmoil of that night, tearing up sheets for dressings, straining water and groping for soap in the blackout, with hair, eyes and ears full of soot and brickdust, it was the fate of the horses which preyed on my mind. Why should they have suffered such a tragic end, unable even to flee from danger, and I be spared? These gentle, innocent creatures were not at war. Could I have done anything at all to prevent it? Had I even tried? The answer was no.

Yet I still did nothing constructive about it. Oh I worried all right but that was as far as it went. I was leading a very busy life which perhaps gave me some kind of excuse for pushing these feelings out of my mind. Some time later I was shocked into action by a first hand experience of the suffering caused by dairy farming.

As an unsuspecting townswoman on holiday in the country my husband and I were waiting for a train at a very small railway stop — I can hardly call it a station as it was mostly used by local farmers for cattle transport. A number of cows were tethered at one end of the platform and at the other end, but well in sight of each other, were a group of very young calves — some still wobbly on their legs. Both groups were facing each other, the cows were making quite a din between them and pathetic little bleating sounds were coming from the calves.

As they were all obviously upset I stopped an official: "These poor animals are very distressed, why don't you put them together?"

"Because, M'am, the cows are going to market so that you can have milk in your tea, and the calves are off to the butcher."

"To the butcher, why?"

The man, being as patient as possible with this "ignorant townie" explained: "Look M'am, you get no milk if those poor cows don't keep having babies and you can't keep many calves to rear for beef or milking cows. The rest there gets knocked down for veal and ham pies for your dinner."

I was shaken. I had not realised that milk was responsible for cruelty and slaughter. I had thought of cows contently grazing in green pastures and the kind farmer relieving them of their milk when they got uncomfortable.

We were standing with our backs to the cows and at that moment one of them put her wet muzzle on my shoulder so that I turned round. She made no sound now but her fly-infested, running eyes looked straight into mine and — believe me, I did not imagine this — I came face to face with silent pleading. That unanswered appeal for the return of her calf has remained with me ever since.

At last I realised the cruelty involved in my way of living and decided I could have no further part in it. I became a "vegan" then and there. I did not know that was what I was for I had never heard the word. I had no knowledge that it was possible to live without dairy products and more than half expected to fade away fairly promptly! Ignoring the pleas and warnings of well-meaning friends I obstinately insisted that, come what may, no cow would ever be separated from her calf in future on my account.

Then, to my surprise — and that of the family — my general health, which had always been poor, gradually began to improve. With this encouragement I contacted the Vegetarian Society and asked if they knew of anyone living without dairy foods and was astonished to learn that I was not the only one! After being cautioned about ensuring adequate alternative nutrition I was given the address of the Hon. Sec. of the Vegan Society (at that time Mr. John Heron) and my life took on a whole new meaning. Just fancy, I was not alone! Other people were living a healthy, enjoyable, compassionate life without hurting any other creature. With great joy and some relief, I joined them and read everything I could about nutrition in general and the vegan diet in particular.

It cheered me no end to realise that, in a vegan world, there would be no hunger anywhere; no animals, birds and fishes killed in their millions every day for human food; no incitement to engage in wars for these reasons as there would be ample food and living space for all; therefore no money wasted on unattainable "defence"; no creature killed for "sport" and a better standard of living for all mankind.

Here was something for which to work and, with new broom enthusiasm, I began my little effort to try to change the world! Life was good and exciting as never before. I was fortunate at the time in living on the outskirts of London so I was able to attend many meetings and enjoy the inspiring company of others who did not, for a change, think me crazy. Also my friends were at least convinced that "there must be something in it” as I was not going into the expected decline but had considerably improved health and increased energy. My daughter had always encouraged me, and my husband later became a vegan and was able, although diabetic, to live and work normally without medical treatment.

How grateful I was, and am, to those early vegans who, in the face of great opposition and in the most difficult war years when many foods were not available and others in short supply, persisted in their belief that the compassionate way to live must be the right way and struggled on. When I think of the problems with which they had to deal I thank with all my heart the spirit of true compassion which prompted them. Because of their courage, today we are reaping the benefit of a wide choice of vegan foods such as vegetable milks with added vitamin B12 (at that time the only known source was liver!). Now the medical profession is becoming increasingly interested in the benefits to be obtained from the natural (for man) humane diet and some are regularly recommending it to their patients.

Although I rely largely on raw, unprocessed, first-hand wholefoods, when these are not to hand I take whatever is — providing it is vegan of course. I do not feel that the occasional cup of coffee or denuded potato will do untold harm. It is difficult enough for non-vegans when catering for us to remember not to use milk or eggs without adding to their problems by insisting on "whole" rice or "real" wholemeal bread when they have thoughtfully provided "brown".

My great regret is that it took me nearly half a century to realise what is now so obvious — to me — but it does enable me to understand others in a similar position. I think that living the vegan way is better than preaching it too much, but heaven help anyone who says, "Why are you vegan?", for they are likely to get a very full explanation! After all, they asked for it!

Menu for a Typical Day

On risingFruit Juice, usually orange for no other reason than that I prefer it.

BreakfastHome-made muesli of rolled oats, bran or Grape Nuts, raisins (or chopped apple or banana) and coarsely ground nuts (any kind). The ingredients will vary from day to day. Served with diluted Palmil or fruit juice. (Sometimes I remember to soak the oats overnight so as to get the full benefit of the iron content.)

Mid-morningA coffee-like drink, usually Barleycup, with Plamil.

LunchLarge salad containing vegetables and fruit in season — with half an avocado when not too expensive. Baked potato and unfired Nut Balls ("What's Cooking?", page 54, but using tomato pulp in place of water while I have plenty of tomatoes in the garden). Or, a "Ploughman's Lunch" of wholemeal bread, vegan cheese and onions.

Mid-afternoonCup of tea with Plamil or an orange.

Evening MealPiece of Bean Pie ("First Hand-First rate", page 8), grilled tomatoes, minted potatoes (skinned and oiled after cooking) and at least two green vegetables; at the moment it is cabbage and runner beans which, like the potatoes, are from the garden. (I add green peas when young and tender and spinach when in season but have not yet grown either.) Onion sauce. Side plate of celery or any other salad vegetable not included at lunch time. Fresh fruit in season.