From Vegan to Bow-hunter

How did I end up with such a particular diet? I am 32 years old at the time of writing and this time last year I was a vegan, high school music teacher and now I am a bow-hunting lumberjack.

Life, as they say, is stranger than fiction…

When I was a boy I ate what my parents told me to, which was a very healthy diet of lean meats, lentils, legumes, beans, a tonne of leafy green vegetables, root vegetables and so on, you know, all the good stuff. Rarely was I allowed to eat sweets and fast food, which suited me fine. As a teenager I ate anything and everything, from junk food to high protein shakes. I was a competition Taekwondo fighter at the time and would train up to five days a week. My exercise routine along with the forgivingness of youth allowed for such a high carb, and what I would call today, a trash diet. I didn’t gain weight, I was fit, healthy and full of energy. I never thought about where my food came from. It was not until I was in my early twenties did I start to get active with animal rights and environmental ideology.

It started with my love for nature, animals and the environment. I would take shorter showers to save water, ride my bike more often, reduce, reuse and recycle. My parents, long before it was “cool”, and certainly long before it was mandated, would take their own calico bags to the supermarket in lieu of using the store’s plastic bags. There were times they were refused service unless they used the store’s plastic dolphin killer bags. Some twenty years later this memory struck a chord with me and I decided to see what else I could do to reduce my carbon footprint. At the time the term carbon footprint was not the catchy buzz word it is today, however the sentiment was there. After reading some enlightening articles and books I came to the realisation that large scale animal agriculture seems like a pretty rough ride for the animals, and our beloved environment. It was at this time, around the age of 22, that I concluded that the most important impact I could have on the world around me was to change what I ate and to change my diet for the sake of all those that suffered for it. So I sat down and did some research. The following is what I believed I needed to do:

  1. Reduce my meaty intake. I love meat. Always have, always will. I know this now, and I’m ok with that. But I will talk more on this in the latter part of this blog.
  2. Increase high iron and protein foods to supplement my meat reduction.
  3. Before purchasing any food items, research not only the ingredients but where they came from; aiming to stick to local produce as much as possible while avoiding animal products to the best of my ability, avoid palm oil and various other (products) that come from large cash crops responsible for mass deforestation and much more.
  4. Acquire food from Farmer’s Markets reducing the amount of purchases I would make from supermarkets and large corporations.
  5. Avoid farmed animals altogether. From now on it will be game meat only for Jakob. This would be one of the biggest changes I was going to make in my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
  6. Eat only true free range eggs, sourced from backyards or legitimate, transparent and researchable companies.
  7. Educate my friends and family to the best of my ability… or should I say annoy the shit out of them.

A challenging endeavour, but I was committed. A year or so later I started, along with my parents and girlfriend at the time, this very website. (Chooroo.com) I didn’t know it at the time, but my decision to change my diet, along with the seven or so changes I needed to make, were the founding principles for the entire philosophy of Choo Roo.com, and in fact, the philosophy I live my life by to this day. These principles have evolved, adapted, expanded and been fine-tuned over time, and no doubt they will continue to morph as I plod along through this strange adventure we call life, but regardless the core principles have more or less stayed the same:

  • Reduce unnecessary suffering,
  • Know where your food comes from
  • Understand the impact we have on our environment

The philosophy is more or less identical to veganism.

As time went on more and more meat started dropping off the menu as I couldn’t find a legitimate reason to consume it other than my own selfish decadence and cultural norms. Eventually dairy disappeared from my diet as well. I came to the conclusion that it seemed pretty silly for me to stop eating farmed meat but not milk and cheese. After all, the masses of animals used and abused in the dairy industry are very high in number too right? Not to mention the devastation caused from desertification, extreme water usage in a country that is desperate for H20 and a myriad of other environmental issues. At least this is what I thought at the time, thus dairy had to go. So now my diet was mostly plant based, with a bit of game meat, mainly kangaroo, wild buffalo and goat and this worked well for me for several years but then came a crushing blow.

My life took a radical turn at this point, my fiancé and I broke up after a seven-year relationship and I ended up 3000km across the other side of the country. Funnily enough the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was a fight we had about food. She had had enough of my constant badgering when it came to her dietary choices, which didn’t conform to my philosophies at all. Of course I don’t assume this was the only reason we split, but I do find it funny, in a sardonic sort of way, that the final straw was a massive argument about veal. However, the ‘crushing blow’, mentioned earlier was not referring to my hopeless love life, but to a piece of information I discovered regarding goats.

I love goat meat. It’s tasty, nutritious and if one eats only wild goat one also removes a devastating pest from the native environment. I would say that goat meat is my all-time favourite meat, even to this day. Eating goat meat is a win/win… or so I thought. I found out that the goat that was being sold to me as game, was actually farmed. You see in recent years goat meat has finally become more popular in Australia, so of course the big industries take over, and instead of hunting the pests, they farm them instead. At the end of the day, it all comes down to money. Farming is more profitable on a large scale than hunting. After some more research I couldn’t find any source of wild meat. Buffalo were rounded up and caged, goats were farmed, the oceans were being stripped and I had no idea how to hunt, no mentors to show me the woodsman way. After my break up I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. I was browbeaten and defeated. I had no choice, but to become… a vegetarian. I would have used the term vegan, but I still had a legit source of eggs and honey, so technically not vegan, but with no meat and no dairy in my diet, my diet was close enough to vegan to warrant the term.

At this time in my life, about to turn 30, I needed to do something cool. I went volunteering overseas at an elephant rescue centre in Thailand. Here I met a bunch of awesome like-minded people, most of whom were vegetarians or vegan as well. I learnt a lot about sustainable living, permaculture, vegan lifestyle and how to be happy with who you are. I came back to Australia refreshed and ready to get stuck into the garden, to start growing my own food and become the true environmentalist I always wanted to be. I quit drinking alcohol the following year, took up Muay Thai boxing and got super fit again. For the first time in a long time I was happy with the man I had become, all the while living on a strict plant based diet, with no meat and no dairy.

After throwing myself deep into vegan culture, blogs, documentaries, interviews and so on I slowly became frustrated with labels and the representation of vegans in media. I decided to dig a little deeper. What makes a vegan a vegan? Many of us think being vegan simply means “no eating animals or using animal products.” While this is true to a degree the true definition of veganism is hard to pin down but, by paraphrasing and combining various sources, a better, more accurate definition of vegan would be: “Living without the purposeful exploitation of animals.” That  seemed like a philosophy I could get on board with. However, after seeing variations of the vegan mantra a conundrum arose within my own mind. What is the true definition of ‘purposeful exploitation’? This is, of course, open to interpretation and thus my mind was disconcerted yet occupied with this problematic ideal. Does it really matter if the “animal” is not self-aware? Can one exploit a mosquito? What about pests? Is it OK to cull pestilent animals like foxes, or rabbits for the sake of the many lives one would save by removing these invasive species from our land? What about animals that don’t have a ,what we define, as a brain? Those species that have a simple genome are more likely to function like an organic robot, by simply following it’s biological programming rather than by making intelligent, informed decisions. Let’s look at something akin to a mollusc or an earthworm; if it doesn’t have the evolutionary sophistication to know it’s being eaten, can we eat it?  I started thinking about chickens. I don’t eat chicken, but I eat their eggs. If, say, I have five chickens in a well-designed and spacious coop, with plenty of high grade food, clean water, security, warmth, company and so on, is it really exploitative of me to take their unfertilised eggs and make a delicious quiche out them? The chickens don’t seem to mind, they are well fed, they are safe from predators, they have warmth and comfort and in return for their lavish, safe, happy life I have provided for them, I simply take a few of their eggs away for a snack. Are we sure this is exploitation or rather a form of symbiosis? They clean up my food scraps, provide fertiliser for my garden via their poops, and provide me with food, company and entertainment; in return, they get well fed, well groomed, safety, security and the longest, healthiest life they could ever imagine. (If they even have the ability to imagine) How is this not vegan? It is not exploitation, it is a trade-off, and it is symbiotic!

From there I started looking into seafood, molluscs such as oysters and muscles. Technically they are an animal, but with such a simple genome can we even consider them sentient? Do they even feel pain or do they simply respond to stimuli? There are certain plant species capable of higher functioning than an oyster so why can’t I eat molluscs? Yes, technically they are animals, and technically if I were to end their life by eating them I have exploited them, therefore I cannot be a vegan if I eat molluscs. But as I mentioned they can’t feel what we know of as pain, they have no sentience, they are not self-aware, they simply respond to their biological programing, and they are very healthy and super beneficial for the oceanic environment, often referred to as the filters of the sea. I couldn’t find a reason NOT to eat farmed molluscs, thus my veganism came to an end.

Over the next year I started re-introducing meat, such as Kangaroo, back into my diet. Kangaroo’s are most definitely sentient but currently, despite there being almost no news coverage, they are in plague proportions, devastating the landscape, eating themselves and other native species out of house and home. All kangaroos are hunted not farmed, killed instantly with a headshot and harvested humanly. The meat is highly nutritious and extremely delicious. Eating kangaroo does not violate my new set of ethics and thus is back on the menu. From here, armed with my new philosophy, which was very much akin to my old, ‘game meat only’ philosophy, it was easy for me to make the transition back to meat. I still don’t eat dairy or farmed animals, at least not often. Occasionally a bit of butter might slip into a store bought meal, or a friend might cook something for me that unknowingly to them contains an ingredient I would otherwise avoid. However, I will eat it happily while perhaps having a friendly conversation about dietary choices.

It is still a struggle finding game meat which is why I have had no choice but to become… a hunter. Circumventing the strict gun laws in Australia, I instead picked up a bow. I have been shooting for over a year now and got my first kill a few months ago. I have been targeting small game, such as rabbits until my skills and knowledge gets to the point where I can take down larger animals such as goats, pigs, deer and so on. Again I only intend to remove pestilent animals from the Australian environment of which there are many. Since getting my first rabbit I have shot, killed, harvested and eaten several more. It’s hard to explain to people my desire to become an accomplished hunter, but I still try to educate and inform my friends and family via friendly discussions, fun blogs, silly YouTube videos which I make with my cousin and so on.

CHECK US OUT ON YOUTUBE BY CLICKING HERE!

Gone are the days of militant, aggressive verbal assaults on my friends and family when it comes to food. I have pushed too many people away via this method and at the end of the day, it doesn’t work. Instead I now try to inform and educate by leading by example and not with extremist actions. My diet is mine, I wish more people took to it, I hope blogs like this will educate and enlighten people, but if not, that’s fine with me. It didn’t used to be fine, but it is now. I ended up here, dietary wise, all on my own and other people need to figure it out for themselves too. I have been influenced by many different people over the years and that has helped shape me but ultimately the battle inside my own mind and the victory that came shortly after was mine and mine alone. I have gone full circle and now satirically refer to myself as “post-vegan”, although the technical term would be “selective omnivore”, a term which sounds as douchy as it is. I don’t like labels, but if I had to have one regarding my diet, I would call it “The Choo Roo Diet”, or the “The Choo Roo Philosophy,” ethical eating and happy, sustainable living. This time last year I was a miserable vegan music teacher, now I am an ecstatic bow-hunting lumberjack, and I am loving every second of it!

-Jakob Xiao Paul Brunnbauer 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

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