Rambling on about veganism
I thought it's about time I wrote a few words about veganism, and what it means to me.
This is a personal thing... if you ask a hundred vegans to define veganism, you'll get a hundred different answers. Here's mine.
The "too long, didn't read" answer
Veganism is not a diet. It's not a lifestyle choice. It's a word which describes my respect for animals, their lives, their feelings, and their collective suffering in this world. Veganism is my pledge to reduce unnecessary suffering, by making small changes to how I live my life.
Humans have long depended on animals. For food, obviously, but also for clothing. For thousands of years, the "food and clothing" thing could be justified because life was tough. Using animals in this way could mean the difference between life and death.
Owls predate rodents. Foxes take chickens. Our ancestors fished and hunted game.
But we humans have moved on, and there's no need for it now.
It's fanciful to believe that we can end all suffering, because the world doesn't work like that. There will always be suffering, for people and for animals. But we can choose to reduce unnecessary suffering. And we should.
Animals aren't very different from us. They live their lives, they gather food to sustain themselves. They sometimes work together, and sometimes don't. They raise young, and care for them.
But why do we value some animals, but not others? Why are cows revered in some countries, but enthusiastically abused in other parts of the world? Why are dogs considered friends here in the UK, but eaten elsewhere? Why do we profess our love for bees but take their hard-earned food?
Honestly, it's a mystery to me.
It took me a long time to realise this: you can't claim to be an "animal lover" if you also abuse them. Saying "yeah but I love my dog" isn't good enough.
What does this mean for me?
For me, this means I won't eat animals, and I won't consume animal products which are the result of abusive farming. No meat, no fish, no milk, no cheese, no eggs.
Cows don't magically produce milk because they think it's their duty to us. Chickens don't lay eggs because of a sense of Brexity national pride. Happy cows and patriotic fish are a stupid myth. Why would I want to support this cruelty?
In practical terms, I won't consume anything which obviously contains fish, meat, eggs or milk. I confess that I don't scrutinise the fine-print on everything I buy - my eyes aren't good enough for that. But if the packet only says "may contain traces of", then for me it's fine.
Why? It's all about money.
To quote Deep Throat, you've got to "follow the money". People (thankfully) rarely abuse animals for fun. Most animal abuse is justified as "farming", and if it weren't for money, then they wouldn't do it. (I'll ignore, for now, the close connection between farming communities in the UK and the hunting of animals for sport)
The most powerful weapon I have is money, and I'm determined that my personal consumption won't support animal abuse.
Many organisations have made obscene amounts of cash from animal abuse. Every McShit Burger, every KFC chicken wing, has contributed to the cheapening of animal life. But however horrific those companies records are, I can still applaud them for selling cruelty-free alternatives, because they recognise that times are changing.
In a perverse way, spending ten quid on KFC's Finger Lickin Vegan does more for animal rights than spending that same ten pounds at your favourite vegan cafe.
I guarantee that inside Greggs HQ, inside Burger King HQ, there are dashboards somewhere which compare the company's income from plants versus meat. Every pound spent on plant-based food - even from these fucking awful companies - nudges the needle in the right direction.
McDonald's hasn't suddenly developed a conscience, or realised the mistake in their decades of supporting cruelty. Producing their McPlant burger is a savvy business decision, not an ethical one. That doesn't matter. By conspicuously supporting cruelty-free food, we can slowly starve the abusive farming industry of money and change the world for the better.
Following the money has an impact on other things too, like leather. I wouldn't buy leather shoes today, or lease a car with a leather interior - because my money would be indirectly supporting the leather industry. But I do continue to wear a leather belt that I've owned for more than 20 years. That damage was done a long time ago, and there's nothing good to be gained by throwing it away.
How are vegetarianism and veganism different?
When I was vegetarian, I consciously thought about what I was eating. I worried about cross-contamination when ordering food from a cafe - would they use separate pans for meat? I hadn't yet made the connection between money and cruelty.
I also was too focussed on animals terrible deaths, to produce meat, and hadn't given much thought to the years of cruelty they suffer during their lives (particularly in the dairy industry). In many ways, dairy is more cruel than meat.
What about my kids?
I've been careful to talk about "my personal consumption", rather than claiming that I never buy any meat or dairy. My kids do consume animal products - and I'm OK with that. If I want my personal choice to be respected, then I need to respect theirs too.
We've always been honest with the kids, but have also been careful not to preach to them. We've encouraged them to do their own research, think for themselves, and to challenge what they're being told - including things told to them by us, their parents.
They know I carefully choose what I eat, but they haven't yet tried to explore why. They will ask, one day, and when they do I'll be ready with some honest answers.
First published 15 April 2022