As I said in my first ever post, the social aspect of going vegan has been by far the hardest and most challenging part. The decision to switch and making the switch was actually very easy. But the social side continues to catch me off guard all the time. I never expected my decision to go vegan to be questioned, attacked and ridiculed by so many people. I had no idea what a contentious issue it would be for so many people and how many tricky situations it would throw up – from friends, family, colleagues and the occasional complete stranger too!
I should mention of course that there are a huge number of people who have been remarkably supportive, encouraging and understanding of it too which is great. But I had naively thought this would be the norm… not the exception…
Things I’ve had said to me:
“You do know that your going vegan isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference”. This is one of the first things someone very close to me said when I told them I was going vegan. I was quite taken aback as, of all the reactions I might have anticipated, this wasn’t one of them. I’d hoped that it might matter to them at least as someone who cares about me and knows me well. On a more rational level – I also think it’s a very strange reason to give someone for not bothering to do something. Imagine if no one bothered to ever try and stand up for women’s right, or to end apartheid or any great or small social movement – I think we can all agree that even tiny steps, when strung together, make large steps and huge leaps – so of course tiny steps matter! I’d also hoped that this person might be curious to ask why I was doing it. The feeling of resignation and helplessness this statement purveys implies that they can easily imagine why I was doing it, but the fact that I wouldn’t make any difference was reason enough to not bother. This kind of apathy infuriates me and has always been like a red rag to a bull. Does recycling my yoghurt pot make any noticeable difference to land fill and climate change? No. But is that reason to not do what you know is the right thing to do? Of course not!
But were they right? Does it make a difference? Well firstly, it certainly makes a big difference to me – to my conscience, to my carbon footprint, to my reduced risk of getting heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol and osteoporosis, amongst many other diseases proven to be directly linked to animal products. Secondly, it makes a difference to the animals I have chosen not to eat – this has been calculated for a ‘typical British carnivore’ to be roughly 30 land animals a year or around 255 if you include fish. So yes, calculate that over the rest of my lifetime and I’d say that’s a pretty enormous difference! Thirdly, it raises awareness and certainly gets people talking; it makes a difference to the vegan movement. My choosing to be vegan is commented upon several times a day – and that’s still happening a year on – this undoubtedly encourages people to question their own food choices. In one year alone I have had more interesting conversations about climate change, global poverty, animal rights and animal welfare, the ethics of what we eat and how, industrial farming practices and slaughterhouse regulations and dietary health than I have in the rest of my life put together. I already know of several people who, because of mine and Ed’s commitment to veganism, have already cut down their meat, dairy and egg consumption and masses of people who have told me that they are much more committed to supporting only the very best, most sustainable meat and dairy producers they can.
“But I only eat the most expensive, grass fed, organic, free-range, heritage, sustainable meat, dairy and eggs I can – so none of this factory farming and cruelty stuff applies to me”. This comes up a lot. A LOT. I have a pretty conscientious bunch of friends – some boycott Unilever, most would never shop at Primark, some would always buy Fairtrade coffee, sugar and chocolate and most buy expensive meat most of the time. So I get this thrown at me a lot. I never know if I should just nod because they are not asking me a question – they are telling me that they are innocent in regard to any animal cruelty I might be pertaining to. So sometimes I nod (in a way which I hope isn’t that convincing and might encourage them to ask if I agree or not) and sometimes I’m braver and will say well sadly no, it doesn’t quite work like that. On the one hand – if you are determined to eat meat, dairy or eggs then of course please buy the least cruel, most ethical version that you can. But sadly, within the very best farming practices, within the most compassionate livestock systems, there are still huge problems.
1. The culling of millions of baby male chicks every day! I worry I’ve repeated this too much on this blog already – but I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable. I will go on repeating it until it stops happening. Chick culling is the process of killing newly hatched poultry for which breeders have no use. Due to modern selective breeding laying hen strains differ from meat production strains. As male birds of the laying strain do not lay eggs and are not suitable for meat production, they are generally killed soon after they hatch.[ Most of the male chicks are usually killed shortly after being sexed. Methods of culling include cervical dislocation, asphyxiationby carbon dioxide and maceration using a high speed grinder. If you don’t believe me – watch this footage which was videoed under cover in a UK hatchery in 2010 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6i2zg-dkOs
2. Male dairy calves – about 100,000 bull dairy calves were killed in the UK last year because we have no need for them. They are no good as dairy calves obviously and the demand for veal isn’t big enough to provide a solution. A further 11,000 are estimated to have been shipped abroad to be turned into veal in France and elsewhere. The life of a dairy cow is one you wouldn’t wish on your very worst enemy – regardless how humane the conditions they are kept in are. They are impregnated roughly 6 times, pretty much back to back, (with a long steel rod which artificially inseminates them – which is the equivalent to rape to you and I), each time their calf is taken away within the first week or so and they are then forced to produce at least 4 times more milk than they would naturally for their newborn calf. We then steal this milk of course – this milk which we in no way need. Another amazing myth of the dairy industry – what a clever marketing campaign it is that has the world believing you need to drink cows milk in order to maintain healthy teeth and bones. Complete rubbish! Cow’s milk actually depletes the calcium for your bones and increases your chances of developing osteporosis. Read this article here for more info: http://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/
3. Animals raised for meat and slaughtered at a horribly young age:
Cattle – should live to 25 – 30, typically killed at 1 – 2 yrs
Sheep – should live to 15, typically killed at 3 – 10 months
Pigs – should live to 15, typically killed at 3 – 6 months
Chickens – should live to 10, typically killed at 6 weeks
Egg-laying hens – should live to 100, typically killed at 18 months
Turkeys – should live to 10, typically killed at 12 – 26 weeks
I’m not sure how slaughtering them this early in their natural life cycle can ever be justified as ‘a good life!’. Is that how we would describe the life of a child who dies under the age of 5? (the equivalent in relation to our life expectancy here in the UK). No. We call it a tragedy. We say they’ve been robbed of their life. We say their life had barely begun. What a cruel loss!
4. It is still a grossly inefficient use of resources – meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 1,000 litres of water and 1kg of potatoes for example uses 287 litres of water. Beyond this, consumption of animal products contributes to global warming, pollution, land degradation, deforestation and loss of biodiversity – in other words, all the major environmental problems we face today.
5. Sheep and cattle (however loved they are) still produce a huge amount of methane emissions (meat eating is responsible for at least a third of all biological methane emissions. Methane is produced by bacteria in the stomachs of sheep and cattle and is released through the animals’ bodily functions. Yes farting and burping! Molecule for molecule, methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and the livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of those greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than all the world’s transport put together – yes really! All planes, trains, cars, buses and boats!
6. However responsibly and ethically you try to eat – you are still contributing to the demand for animal products – and so long as the world population continues to grow, the methods via which we are able to produce these products on the scale that is needed are only going to get further and further away from the nostalgic, happy farm images that we like to keep in our minds. Industrial farming is the only way to supply this growing demand and I hope we can all agree that factory farming is just plain unacceptable!
7. However humanely you try and slaughter an animal – however fastidious your methods and controlled the environment – it is still slaughtering an innocent animal for no good reason (other than it tastes good…!). I just don’t think it can ever be right to purposefully take another animal’s life for such a self-serving purpose. We do it because we can and that’s it. It’s the most appalling demonstration of the abuse of power and I honestly think we will look back in 30, maybe 50 years and be absolutely disgusted by what we turned a blind eye to and allowed to happen.
“You’ve grown up hunting, shooting and fishing so how on earth can you suddenly turn around and say you’re vegan?”. I can understand that given my upbringing it might be more surprising that I have turned to a vegan lifestyle. But the idea that your past should somehow prevent you from using your brain to make your own informed choices is rather frightening. If that were the case then most of my generation would still be going through pregnancy on 20 fags a day and a bottle of gin; smacking our children as an effective form of discipline; making racist jokes at dinner parties; calling each other spastic and mongs as harmless putdowns; and believing in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy!
What is the point in having a brain, after all, if it is not to question and to continually seek the most honest truth you can? How would anyone ever learn from their mistakes or other peoples’ mistakes otherwise? Isn’t this the whole point – to question, to learn and to evolve as best we possibly can? Inevitably this means that occasionally you decide that you disagree with some of the things you may have been told as a child – and that’s ok!
“We are designed to eat meat and evolved to do so over thousands of years so veganism isn’t natural”. Yes we have eaten meat for a very, very long time. But we don’t live back then. We live now – today. And today is what we should base our choices around food on. And today we know that we have absolutely no need whatsoever to eat animal products so why on earth would we? It tastes good, everyone else is doing it and we’ve always done it just aren’t good enough answers. Not when there is animal cruelty (and far far worse!), environmental disaster and our health and our children’s health at stake.
“If you care about the environment so much then how can you drive a car or travel on an aeroplane?” This I found hilarious – the suggestion that it must be all or nothing. You couldn’t possibly care enough to make some changes and not all the others! Imagine saying to someone, just because they recycle their jam jars and cardboard boxes, that they should really think about living off grid or walking to work barefoot… Or to someone who grows their own tomatoes and cabbages that they should really stop buying coffee that’s been grown in Ethiopia or tea from Uganda. Surely “well done, I wish everyone would recycle as conscientiously as you do” would be a more positive and supportive reaction.
“What about your shoes, belt, wallet, watchstrap, jumper, hair dye, nail varnish, car tyres….?” It’s extraordinary how many people’s first reaction is to attack and pick holes in anything you might not be doing vegan rather than encourage you in what you are doing. Presumably they must be feeling attacked or judged in some way to feel the need to attack back in so curious a way. Why else would their reaction be one of such an aggressive and attacking nature? Imagine if someone said to you “I’m trying to read more as my New Years Resolution” and your reaction was to immediately say “but you don’t have your book with you right now so ha, you’re clearly not that committed”. Your reaction would be considered suspicious, unkind and frankly very odd. People would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps you were feeling a little competitive or inferior for not having this resolution yourself.
Incidentally I have changed my watchstrap, my wallet, my handbag, my trainers, my flip flops, my belt and various other every day items to animal free versions (and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy saying “well yes actually these are all entirely animal free”) but that’s not the point. This reaction tells you a lot about how uncomfortable people are having these issues laid out in the open. On some level we all know that there is a lot of unnecessary suffering and cruelty that goes on in order for us to enjoy pork chops, leather shoes and make up that’s been tested on animals. We’d just far rather not think about it and let it continue to go on behind abattoir walls and factory farm fences – out of sight and out of mind. Vegans bring attention to this and people are not always very comfortable with this.
“You can’t have this – bad luck!” This is another rather curious reaction you get quite a lot – firstly, yes I can. There are no rules – just a succession of choices. I can eat whatever I like – I just choose not to eat that. And why would someone who normally would say, (say if I had an allergy or something), ‘oh poor you, you can’t have that’, now choose to gleefully try and rub your nose in it. It usually seems in these instances that someone is leaping at anything that reassure then that veganism is unenjoyable, miserable, boring – anything that helps to rid them of the lingering doubt, somewhere deep below, that maybe it is a more humane and compassionate and environmentally friendly way to live…. or maybe they’re just not very nice and take joy in seeing people not be able to partake in what they are partaking in.
“Why are you vegan?” I know that this is a very normal question and you should expect to be asked this if you’re going to ‘swim against the tide’ and be vegan but it still strikes me as strange each time someone asks me this (often at the table as we are eating a meal – them meat, me not) when surely a far more obvious question would be “why are you eating a dead animal when you have absolute no need to?” or “why are you eating a dead animal which you know must have suffered in order for you to eat it”.
I have no idea what the best way to answer this question is and will continue to struggle to come up with an answer that’s suitable for every time this question is asked – which is a lot! I suppose that it depends on the situation and the intent of the person asking it. If someone is genuinely interested then I would probably recommend saying something pretty general like “various things led me to do some research and that led me to being vegan – I’d be happy to talk to you about it in more detail if you’re interested or give me your email address and I’ll send you some info”. If someone is clearly on the defensive, attack or ridiculing you in some way – then there’s no point in engaging with them, no matter how much you’d love to sit them down and make them watch the documentary Earthlings from beginning to end, or show them a video of the millions of baby male chicks that are macerated alive every day just so that they can enjoy plump chicken breasts or take them on a tour of a slaughterhouse facility or take them along to see a cow when her calf is removed so that we can steal her milk or any number of issues that you hope would make anyone with an ounce of humanity and compassion question eating meat – the best thing is to avoid it altogether and change the subject entirely. I’ve learned enough over the last year to promise you that unless someone is remotely sincere in their questioning, there is absolutely no point in discussing it for a minute. I now just usually limit my answers to “I’m vegan for lots of reasons ranging from climate change to animal welfare and I also feel a zillion times better physically for it so it seems to suit me very well” and leave it at that.
“Why would meat taste so delicious if it wasn’t meant to be eaten?”
My daughter’s cheeks, I guarantee you, would taste divine but that does not justify me slapping them under the grill and making myself a cheeky sarnie! (geddit?) Can ‘it tastes good’ honestly ever be an adequate justification for the unfathomable number of animals killed every year for our pleasure? It’s estimated to be around 150 billion animals a year worldwide. Shall I say that again? 150 billion. No I have no idea what that means either. A lot. Alottalot even. 150 billion. 150,000,000,000. I’m afraid that something tasting good just isn’t a good enough answer to justify the way we treat animals the world over.
In ‘Eating Animals’ there’s a paragraph which shows I think rather well, what an odd thing this is. It says, how would people react if someone said “I’m really horny, I’m going to go and shag an animal”. We’d all be horrified – not just because it suggests a perverse sexual tendency in that person but also because we all (I hope) abhor the idea of an innocent animal being raped. Yet we barely bat an eyelid when, because “it tastes good”, we slaughter and eat animals by the billion the world over. Surely being raped is preferable to being slaughtered and eaten? Or maybe not… I don’t think either sound particularly good so I’m happy to have absolutely nothing to do with either atrocious and cruel act.
“Where do you get your protein?” People love to ask this. It’s another example of the total bullshit we have been raised to believe – that you NEED to eat meat in order to get enough protein in your diet. Total rubbish! If you’re eating a healthy balanced vegan diet it’s actually quite hard not to get all the protein you need. There’s protein in everything – even potatoes! particularly good sources of protein are all soya products such as tofu and tempeh as well as quinoa, millet, pulses such as lentils, peas and beans, oats, nuts and seeds and of course all whole grains.
There are many more which I haven’t listed and perhaps I will continue this posting another day…. but I think that is plenty to digest for now…. all thoughts very welcome!!!! x
This was definitely a good read. I agree with you 100% on everything you said, cracked up after reading the part about your daughters cheeks.
I’m struggling with knowing what to say to people when I finally tell them I’m a vegan. I don’t want it to start a debate – it annoys me that it has to be a conversation, I don’t go around asking people “Well, why are you a meat eater? I could never do that!”
Thank you! I know, it’s a really tricky aspect of being vegan. People just assume you must be an overtly judgmental and moralistic bore so immediately try and attack what your doing or hastily leap to their own defense. I think really simple things like the language you use when speaking about these issues helps. Rather than saying when ‘you’ eat meat, say when ‘we’ and when people cast inaccurate aspersions at you rather than respond with an explanation just ask them why they think that way. Answer questions with questions – that always helps diffuse situations and shows people that you don’t think you have all the answers; that you are just trying to figure out what you are most comfortable with.
I would never be embarrassed about saying your vegan, although I think the label ‘vegan’ is the cause of much of this social stigma. It’s still viewed as an ‘extreme’ lifestyle. Sometimes I prefer saying that I’m avoiding eating meat, eggs and dairy and that seems less contentious.
It’s not easy though I agree entirely. But the more we can have these conversations and the more people lean into the vegan lifestyle then hopefully the less it will be seen as extreme and the more it will be seen for what it is – the logical and rational way of eating for any informed and compassionate person.
The other thing I’d add us that quite often I’ll have what seems like a pointless debate with someone one day and then a few weeks later they’ll tell me quite proudly that they’ve eaten much less meat recently or have swapped to soy milk or something. So even when people seem to be aggressively defending meat eating, some of what you’re saying will longer on… X
Thanks for your reply.
Good points – I had my first comments about it today from a few family members and just kept my responses short and sweet for now! Will definitely take your advice on board x