Skool of Vegan

Skool of Vegan is a new initiative aimed at trying to get people to look at their eating habits and attitudes towards animals in a more critical way.  Their mission statement is: ‘Because making the connection is child’s play’.   It certainly makes for some uncomfortable reading and I admire their original approach.  Whether you like the drawings or not its hard to deny the underlying truth and i think they do a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of what we teach our kids.  I think it’s probably a little too heavy handed for most people’s taste and therefore I doubt they will reach people in the way they’d like to.  Perhaps a less aggressive tone might have spoken to more people…?  What do you think?  Here a few…

'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play

'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play

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What to tell the kids…?!

I’ve been reconsidering what to tell the kids when it comes to eating meat, dairy and eggs.  So far the subject has not really come up as our three girls are only 5, 3 and 2 weeks so haven’t really noticed that mum and dad avoid animal products.  But they are beginning to ask questions – not just about what we eat but about food in general.

Up until now I have always been very quick to say that Ed and I certainly don’t impose our beliefs on our children and they can eat whatever they want.  So if we’re out and they choose the chicken sandwich then we buy it.  At school we haven’t put them down as vegetarian as we wanted them to have the choice each day as to what they eat.  I didn’t want to be seen as a pushy mother imposing her ‘extreme views’ on her poor kids… but recently this has started to sit uncomfortably with me.

For example, last week we were walking down the Northcote Road past an Argentinian Steakhouse.  There was a giant cardboard cow outside promoting some offer or other and Arcadia (5 yr old) asked me why there was a cow outside the restaurant.  So I explained to her that it’s a steak house and steak comes from cows.  She asked me whether the cows were dead or alive and she asked me who killed the cows.  I explained that the cows were bred for their meat and killed at a slaughterhouse when they were big enough to eat and then the meat is bought to the restaurant where it is cooked and eaten by the customers.  She looked absolutely horrified.  And I didn’t say it with any tone in my voice whatsoever – I just explained the process to her.   She asked me why someone would want to kill a cow?  I said because they taste nice and people like eating meat.  Still she looked horrified.  I don’t want to eat cows mummy she said.  Ok well you don’t have to eat cows if you don’t want to.

Then we were watching Finding Nemo last night and again Arcadia asked me why people take fish out of the sea.  I explained to her that when people eat fish, they have been taken out of the sea or out of a fish farm where they have been bred specifically for people to eat.  Again horrified.

girl with turkey friend vegan thanksgiving Our children have zero desire to eat these animals and are horrified when they discover what they have been eating… until we brainwash them into thinking it’s ok!

You get the picture.  The problem is that by the time children start to ask questions they have already started to learn that it is ok to eat animals. because everyone at school is doing it, on tv, all around them etc.  So what sits uncomfortably with me is that already she is looking at me as if to say ‘well why have you been letting me eat fish and sausages and chicken?’.  ‘You know that I wouldn’t want to had you explained to me what they are’.  Because kids haven’t yet learned from other people the crazy illogical idea that it is ok to eat pigs and cows and sheep and lambs and chickens and pigs and other poultry but that it’s not ok to eat horses and dogs and cats etc.  They are equally horrified at the idea of eating any of them.  Until we teach them that it’s ok in some cases.

So surely as a parent, my job is to equip her with the information that she needs in order to make an informed decision and then it is up to her what she does with it and I must respect her decision whatever it is.

But when do I start this?  With my oldest clearly 5 was too late as she is already really confused as to why I haven’t explained this to her before.  So do I start explaining to Indigo what different meats are before she’s started asking me prescient questions? So when we’re ordering lunch and she says she’d like a beefburger I should say are you sure you want to order that honey?  You know that a beefburger is made from the meat of a dead cow… I immediately feel like a psycho pushy parent.  But why?  All I’m doing is explaining to her what she’s about to eat.  I’m only giving her fact.

little girl turkey compassion vegan thanksgiving Children are appalled at needless slaughter… until we deceive them by telling them it’s ok, they’re meant to be eaten, we need to eat them for protein – complete rubbish!

I’m always amused at how people bang on about how appalling it is that children these days have no idea that milk comes from cows and sausages come from pigs.  When it’s absolutely no wonder!  I’m amazed when kids (that haven’t grown up on a farm) have the slightest clue where their food comes from because most adults are in total denial of it.  Every length is gone to to deceive and mislead us – through advertising campaigns and marketing ploys.  Words such as free range, organic, grass fed etc allow us to believe these cattle are living lovely lives before being humanely slaughtered…

The truth is a little different… We might all know that beef is from a cow – but most of us don’t know the reality of the miserably short life that cow has endured.  Most beef calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, castrated and dehorned with no anaesthetic, transported to ‘fattening sheds’ where they are fed on high-protein cereal feeds (largely made up of soya which is responsible for most deforestation of the rainforests and a huge environmental concern – also cattle belch and fart out between 100 and 200 litres of methane a day, a gas which is 24 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is the largest contributor to climate change – bigger than the entire transportation sector combined!!!), and then taken for slaughter between 10 and 12 months of age.  Pitifully young when you think that they would live happily for 25 odd years if left to live out their natural life in peace.  At the slaughterhouse, the cattle are stunned (often ineffectively) using a captive bolt pistol before being shackled by the leg, strung up and having their throat slit.

In the UK, dairy cows are most commonly kept in pastures during the summer months and indoors in the winter. However, the practice of keeping the cows indoors all year round is becoming more popular; this is known as zero-grazing. Cows naturally produce milk after giving birth; for their children, not for human consumption. However, dairy cows are subjected to the same amount of cruelty as in any other intensive farming system so as to constantly supply humans with milk. Maximum production is paramount to the farmers and therefore, the cows produce between 20 and 50 litres of milk each day; around ten times the amount her calf would suckle. 10 TIMES!  I am breastfeeding at the moment and the thought of being rigged up to a machine and have 10 times as much milk leached out of me is unimaginable.

To take full advantage of the excess milk which cows produce immediately after giving birth, the calves are usually taken from their mothers within the first two days of birth, causing suffering, anxiety and depression for both mother and child, as the maternal bond a cow has with her calf is very strong. Under natural circumstances, the calf would suckle for anywhere between six months and a year. Like humans, cows produce milk for the benefit of their children and therefore only lactate for around ten to thirteen months after they have given birth. The cows are therefore re-impregnated approximately 60 days after giving birth to continue the cycle of milk production. In addition, the cows continue to be milked whilst pregnant; a process which causes them extreme discomfort. Once the dairy cows are so worn out that they have produced all the milk they can, they are sent to slaughter, usually at around four or five years of age; the average natural lifespan for a cow could be as long as 25 years. Their meat often ends up in low-grade burgers or pet foods.

Some of the infants that are taken from the dairy cows are, like their mothers, destined to become milking machines for human consumption and profit. However, approximately half of the calves are male. Some of them are killed as infants for cheap meat; however, as the offspring of dairy cows are not purposefully bred for meat, they are rarely suitable for beef production. Prior to the BSE outbreak, a large number of these calves were transported to continental Europe for used in the veal industry.

Anyhow – enough – I’m getting waylaid.  My point is that a lot of this was news to me and I was bought up on a smallholding in a farming community and thought I was one of the ‘educated ones’ when it came to animal agriculture.

So my new plan is to try and educate the kids in as transparent and honest a way as possible, without trying to persuade them in any way of what choices they should make.  It’s kind of hilarious that I feel like a pushy mother for considering telling my children the truth about this.  It just goes to show that the truth is pretty horrifying and it’s that I’m nervous of.  I don’t want my children to feel the same confusion and anger and sadness that I do that people continue to eat animals when there is absolutely no need for it, no excuse for it.  It is an indefensible, totally unethical and cruel practice which has no place in our society any longer.

I’m sad that they are going to see what lengths people will go to, what lies people will tell themselves, in order to not have to take a stance and go against the grain and do the right thing.  It isn’t easy and it does make you question people’s morality but it is also an extremely valuable lesson.  You cannot assume that just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ it’s ok.  You must learn to question things, carry out your own research, draw your own conclusions and continue to evolve and grow as your own person.

‘What Would Happen to All the Animals if Everyone Went Vegan?’

 

This question is one of the more annoying I think as it implies a great concern for the animals that they have somehow concluded it’s better to continue raising for slaughter than to stop eating them and risk not having them all around us adorning our green fields.  It goes to the very heart of everything that is wrong with out attitudes towards eating animals.  We have these wonderfully old-fashioned images in our heads of happy cows and chirpy chickens spending their days lolling around in deep green meadows and we think that represents everything that is British and wonderful. ‘Jerusalem’ starts playing in our heads at full tempo – but trust me, go and have a look where your last steak, bacon rasher or chicken breast came from – and the dark satanic mills will more likely spring to mind than England’s pleasant pastures seen!

Thus is the power of advertising!  And it’s just such a naïve and ignorant view that it’s really frustrating how out of touch we are.  Over 99% of meat in the States is factory farmed and the UK is heading the same way!

If any of us saw what was going on behind factory farm fences and slaughterhouse walls I’m not sure we’d hold such a nostalgic scene so close to our hearts!

 In answer to the question above – here is a brief outline of what would happen.

As we reduce the number of animals we are eating, fewer pigs, turkeys, cows, sheep, fish and other animals will be inseminated for breeding so fewer animals will be raised for slaughter, which means less killing and suffering.  Less animals means less demand for GMO corn, soy, alfalfa and other feed grains, and thus less deforestation, monocropping, and pollution. As this continues, there will be more food to go around, and also monocropped land can be returned to being critically-needed habitat for wildlife, whose populations are being decimated by the habitat loss caused by grazing livestock and growing feed grains.

As the vegan trend continues, streams will come back and run cleaner. Birds, fish, and other animals will start to thrive as there will be less toxic pesticides and fertilizers needed, and the oceans, which we are devastating, will slowly begin to heal and replenish. As studies continually demonstrate, livestock production is the main driving force behind global warming, and so this also will decrease. In addition, by eating less animal-based foods, people will be healthier physically as they eliminate the toxic fat, cholesterol, and animal protein that drive obesity, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, and drug dependency. People will become healthier emotionally and spiritually as they feel better about their food choices.  Less people will be forced to work in slaughterhouses which can only be a good thing for them!

The devastating mass extinction of species that is going on right now will slow down. To raise and slaughter hundreds of millions animals daily for food on this planet, we are forcing hundreds of species of animals and plants into extinction every week. Because of our appetites for a few species of birds, mammals, and fish, we are destroying the Earth’s genetic diversity, and it seems absurd to be unconcerned about these tens of thousands of species, but to care only about the few that we’re eating. In any event, the animals we raise for slaughter today for food lived freely in nature for millions of years and could do so again. The animals that we most intensely farm for food and products, such as turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, and fish, are all doing just fine in the wild (aside from being hunted and having their habitat destroyed!). They would continue to do so, and this is also true for pigs, sheep, and goats, which even today have substantial wild populations. There is no reason to think that the animals we are eating and using wouldn’t be able to return to their natural lives living freely in nature—they already are!

Cows are the only possible question—their progenitors, the aurochs, were forced into extinction in the 1600s, but it is certainly conceivable that cows could be reintroduced into central Asia and Africa where they lived for millions of years, and with time would return to the ecological niche they inhabited before we tore them from their ancestral homelands.

So, it’s a refreshing question to ponder. It’s remarkably uplifting and heartening to reflect on “what will happen if we all stop eating meat, dairy products, and eggs?”   There’s really nothing except our culturally mandated, deeply-ingrained, and deluded habits of routinely abusing animals for food.  Each one of us has the power to stop eating animals and it will take us a small step closer to a happier, more sustainable, more compassionate, peaceful world.

The Vegan Inquisition…

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

Why Vegan?

A ‘vegan’ is someone who chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products.  So no meat, dairy or eggs.  Vegans try and avoid buying any animal fur, real leather, wool, angora, alpaca, silk and down.  They will try and avoid any cosmetics, beauty and cleaning products that have any animal derivatives in them or which have been tested on animals.

So the big question – Why?

question

My biggest fear about ‘coming out’ as a vegan was how my mother was going to take it.  I was desperately worried that she would take it as a personal insult and a rejection of her values and the way in which she raised us, which it absolutely is not.  So to soften the blow, I decided to write her a letter.

Here’s what I wrote…

Dearest Mother,

I am writing to you because I am too scared to tell you what I am about to tell you in person!  I don’t think you will agree or understand why I’m doing it but I do want and need you to respect and support it if you can. 

I’m not gay, I’m not pregnant, I’m not joining the labour party (but will probably vote for them…), I’m not joining a cult, I’m not starting a revolution, I’m not getting a divorce, I’m not converting to Islam, I’m not getting my nipples pierced or my knuckles tattooed… but……………….. I am…………… going to try and adopt a vegan lifestyle. 

This came about first of all through talking to a vegan friend of mine who spoke very passionately and articulately about it and made me want to go and find out more for myself.  Secondly, the horse burger furore recently made me realise how ridiculously arbitrary it is that we happily eat pork, lamb, beef and salmon but are horrified by the thought of eating horse, dog, rhino or goldfish!  And then Lent is coming up and I wanted to eat more healthily.  So all of these things led me to do lots of reading around farming practices around the world, climate change, meat production and consumption, dietary needs etc and I was horrified by what I learned.

Below I have tried to cover most of the reasons why I’m doing it without blabbering on too much.  But the biggest, overriding point I think is that we don’t need to include any animal products in our diet whatsoever.  We can get a perfectly healthy, nutritionally balanced diet from plants alone.  So even if you’re not totally convinced by the arguments below, you don’t need to even risk being wrong so why do we? 

I really hope that you don’t take this as a personal attack on everything that you bought me up to believe in.  This is not a rejection of your values.  This is not remotely personal.  This is not an attack on farming and farmers!  This is an ideology which seems to make sense to me and black and white numbers which don’t.   

So please don’t be disappointed in me or embarrassed of me but try and be proud of me for having the guts to try to do the responsible, compassionate and decent thing (even if you don’t think that it is). 

I love you and I feel sick with fear at how hard this will be both physically and socially but also quite sure that this it’s the right thing to do.        

  1. Farming livestock is incredibly wasteful of natural resources:

–          Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) uses 30 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. 

–          More than 260 million acres of U.S. forests have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals, and the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals.

–          Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, they only produce comparatively small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. This is why more than 70 percent of the grain and cereals grown in the US are fed to farmed animals.

–          7kg of grain will feed 10 people for 1 day. Or it can be used to produce 650 calories of meat.

–          It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons – so you save more water by not eating a pound of beef than not showering for 6 months!

–          Between watering the crops that farmed animals eat, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning away the filth in factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry uses half of the entire water used by the US each year.

 It’s a massive contributor to Global Warming and climate change.

–          raising animals for food is the second most significant contributor to global warming.  (Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together cause the vast majority of global warming. Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions).

–          The meat, fish and dairy industries directly contribute to all the major environmental catastrophes facing our planet. The number of farmed animals in the world has quadrupled in the last 50 years, putting an incredible strain on the environment. Food production no longer nurtures land; instead both animals and soil are pushed to their limits and beyond in an effort to satisfy the voracious appetite of the Western world.

–          The current buzz word is ‘sustainable’ and yet modern agriculture is anything but sustainable. Rainforests are still being chopped down at an alarming rate either for grazing or to grow crops to feed to animals. Oceans are being destroyed by overfishing, which is devastating entire marine ecosystems, while coastal fish farms are causing extensive pollution and wildlife decline.

–          The most powerful step that we can take as individuals to avert global warming is to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

  1. I am doing this for animal welfare reasons.   Factory farming methods and standards around the world are sadly not what they are in Herefordshire and most of the UK!  I imagine if most of us spent a day inside an abattoir we would be vegetarians before we could get out.  And I don’t think sadly it matters whether you buy locally farmed, organic, free range or not – all meat consumption is increasing demand for meat and I don’t want to be a part of it any longer.  If animal welfare was my only concern, then I could certainly ensure that I only buy responsibly farmed meat and dairy produce but unfortunately this is just an aside to the far greater and more urgent environmental reasons listed above, and so is not a solution.  

And there are other things I hadn’t ever realised which I suppose are incredibly obvious when you think about it – I just never really had:

–          Most dairy cows are forced to have a calf every year (which in itself seems rather cruel considering their calves are taken away within a day of being born so that we can have the milk). 100,000 male dairy calves (in the UK alone – so don’t even think about US stats!) are killed shortly after birth each year as there’s not enough demand for veal.

–          30 to 40 million male chicks (UK alone) are minced alive or gassed every year (this is completely legal and approved by both the Humane Slaughter Association and the RSPCA).  I’ve seen the videos and it’s unbelievable! 

The effects of livestock farming on global poverty I also hadn’t understood previously:

–          There is more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population yet there are more than billion people starving to death. Obviously there are various other factors at play here, including political corruption, farming subsidies, grain stores etc but our overwhelming demand for meat is largely responsible also. We funnel huge amounts of grain, soybeans, and corn through all the animals we use for food.   If we stopped intensively breeding farmed animals and grew crops to feed humans instead, we could easily feed everyone on the planet with healthy and affordable vegetarian foods.

–          If this trend continues, the developing world will never be able to produce enough food to feed itself, and hunger will continue to plague hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Author George Monbiot, writing in the U.K.’s The Guardian, explains that there’s only one solution: “It now seems plain that a vegan diet is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue”.

–          This trend will contribute to continuing malnourishment in the developing world, global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and species extinction because more animals mean more crops are needed to feed them: the planet cannot feed both increasing human and farmed animal populations.

–          So if we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more ‘energy-efficient’ and generally lessen our environmental impact, we must also examine the most important factor of our personal ecological footprint: what we eat.

Loads of love,

Me xxx

So that was nearly a year ago and those were my main reasons for making the change.  I can now add several other points to that list, including;

Habit…

I’ve come to see that our attitudes towards different animals are completely arbitrary and nonsensical and are merely a product of our upbringing and what we become used to – habit!  We are used to seeing dogs, cats and horses as pets and wouldn’t dream of eating them and yet we look at cattle, sheep, pigs and chicken as food because we have been bought up to view them that way.  When my girls (aged 4 and 3) are around animals they don’t make this distinction because it’s not a human instinct – it’s something that we learn.  They don’t look at a pig and see food any more than they do when they look at a puppy – and quite rightly they would be horrified if I said “right poppet, pass me that knife would you, mama wants some bacon!”.  Of course over time we become used to this process and we accept that animals need to die in order for us to thrive because we are told that we need milk and cheese for calcium and strong bones (not true), that we need meat for protein (not true).  The only reasons we eat meat are that it tastes good, everyone does it and we’ve always done it.  That’s it!  And they are not justification for doing something that we instinctually know is wrong!  We have just become so desensitised and switched off to the fact that millions of animals are being slaughtered behind closed doors so that we can have pepperoni on our pizza and steak frites.  Yet there are very few people I know who are entirely comfortable with the idea of killing an animal – everyone would like it to be as painless and humane as possible and some are happy to do this themselves to ensure that it is, but it’s still not something anyone enjoys doing and if you did you would be referred to a psychiatrist to be looked at.  So once you step outside of what you have grown to understand and know and look at it with fresh eyes, it is startlingly clear that the only reason we are able to be part of something so cruel and unnecessary is because we have been taught it from a young age by those we respect and admire.  This is how the horrific events in history came about and I just don’t see how we can say in one breath that gassing people alive is evil beyond words and in the next say that it’s ok to gas millions more baby male chicks alive just so that we can eat chicken and eggs.  I’m sorry to draw the comparison but I think its worth making.  When you are brainwashed into thinking that doing something utterly unthinkable is necessary and acceptable then we are capable of behaving in a way we wouldn’t imagine possible otherwise.  Slaughtering animals for no good reason is no different as far as I can see.  Just because you’re not the one doing it does not make you any more unaccountable – if you’re consuming the products then you are merely paying someone else to do it for you.

Health

About 3 weeks in I noticed my energy levels improving.  I hadn’t had low energy levels before but suddenly I had buckets of energy and didn’t have those peaks and troughs throughout the day (which I’d always contributed to coffee, carbs etc).  My bowel movements changed dramatically – without wanting to paint too full a picture, I became much more regular (same number as number of meals) and they were what Dr Gillian Mckeith would describe as “marvellous in every way!”.  I’ve got clearer skin, I sleep better, I have a higher libido, think more clearly, feel more positive and I feel much happier in general.  I also lost a stone quite quickly (within about 3 months) and haven’t lost a pound since so my weight stabilised very quickly.  And I’ve never eaten more food or more carbs so all those potatoes and rice I’d been avoiding previously to stave off those extra pounds seems to be twaddle when it comes to me.  I’m 5ft 10″ and did weigh between 10.5 and 11 stone (BMI of around 22) and now I’m between 9.5 and 10 stone (BMI of around 19).  How much of this is psychosomatic and how much is real I have no idea – but the bowel movements and the weighing scales don’t lie!

Finances

Our weekly food shopping is much cheaper also as meat and cheese are jolly expensive (especially if you’re trying to buy organic, grass fed, free range etc).  Replacing those items with more pulses, grains, fruit and veg is much better for you and much cheaper.

Mindfulness

Because being vegan is something you’re aware of regularly throughout the day – every time you have a drink, a snack, a meal etc – I’ve found that the constant reminder of your principles and values and the constant opportunity to exercise personal choice has made me much more mindful in other aspects of my life.  I feel much more aware of the effects that our choices make and have found myself being much more proactive than I ever used to be – buying local and organic as much as possible, camping holidays instead of a flight abroad, switching to a mooncup, installing a composting bin, taking the bus instead of driving places more often, being more inventive with leftovers than I used to be, having less baths and quicker showers, supporting an independent coffee stall instead of Starbucks, buying second hand as much as possible, supporting ethically minded companies more etc.  The list goes on and of course I’m not saying I always make these decisions – but certainly a lot more than I used to and I think of the impact of my decisions every time I set out to buy something.

Social debate

The social side of veganism I have found by far the hardest challenge.  I’ll talk about in more detail in another post but there have been lots of tricky situations – many of which I’ve handled terribly!  I had not foreseen what a hugely contentious issue it would be for so many people and I certainly hadn’t accounted for how many people would take my being vegan as some sort of personal attack on their lifestyles and choices (which it certainly is not!).  More of that later… but on the plus side, I have had so many engaging, fascinating, heated, passionate, enlightening conversations over the past year that even if I were to give it all up tomorrow, it would have been a really worthwhile experiment in that regard alone.

Marriage strengthening!

I don’t think I would have got through the first year if it wasn’t for Ed doing this too.  I would have crumbled at the first dinner invitation or disapproving gaze from an aged aunt…!  Thank goodness we both felt exactly the same way about it.  We’ve debated it endlessly and continue to do so and it’s been a really fun and engaging project for us to share together.  We’ve changed our style of cooking entirely and our cupboards are completely unrecognisable from what they were a year ago.  We’ve spent weekends experimenting with recipes and evenings scouring out the best vegan food in London.  We now spend less money on food (both at home and out) but more time planning and experimenting and more time in the kitchen together chopping, preparing, cooking and chatting.  So I’m really grateful for having the perfect teammate and also very aware of how much harder and less enjoyable it would have been on my own.    So thank you – I love you so much and am so bloody relieved we seem to be leaning in the same direction! x

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