Vegan thoughts

Mildly irritated by the now-constant assumption that “Vegan” and “Understands farming” have to be mutual opposites, and that all vegans have to constantly be at war with pastoral farmers, and seeking converts.

 

So, my pitch, since people keep basically asking that this be set out like some kind of stall. I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1997. I went vegan on my second “attempt”, after a previous try in 2008, which didn’t work due to needing to live off mostly vending machine chocolate and milky tea whilst working in a teaching lab.

**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I honestly consider that being vegan or being carnist (Or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or fruitarian, or following a religious diet) are basically irrelevant personal choices, and that many people will pick a diet based on similar morality which looks totally different to someone else presented with the same operating criteria. There is no moral absolutism on who is doing the “right thing”. It’s no better or worse to make food choices based on how many animals were killed to make the meal, or how the workers at harvest and processing were treated, or to only buy things from the corner shop where the owner doesn’t mistreat his dogs, or to not buy goods imported from (Regime), or to only buy food that’s produced locally, or to only eat roadkill or culled meat, or to only eat supermarket waste, or to only eat at restaurants where the staff keep their tips, or to only eat food that you know you can share with your housemates.

 

**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. People’s dietary choices are constrained by their financial or geographical location, by their cultural expectations. It’s no better or worse to decide that you want to eat something to continue your grandparents’ food traditions, or to feed yourself cheaply enough that you can put away a fiver a week, or to pick food based on what your kids will eat as well, or on what will keep without needing to go in the fridge, or to eat something because it reminds you of somewhere or someone that you love, or to pick food based on it being a cheap and pleasurable way of improving your day.

 

**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I know that people pick their diets based on their health, whether they need low-adhesion, low-fibre, low-fat, low-sugar, low-FODMAP, high-protein, high-fat, short-peptides-only, TPN, a rush of sugar to get them out of bed with the first can of Irn Bru, a rush of sugar to keep them out of a diabetic hypo, a ready meal or instant mash because it doesn’t take hand strength, instant noodles because they don’t take washing up, hot jam doughnuts because sometimes all that will keep you sane is comfort food, or the exact same bowl of rice every day prepared in the exact same way because it’s all that’s safe.

 

**I know that a lot of people see someone else choosing not to eat animal products as a threat, or as a moral challenge, or as a bit of one-upmanship. It’s not, at least not in my case although I am certain that some people do it purely to be holier-than-thou, because someone will try everything eventually.  Most people seem to get some sort of near-orgasmic rush of pleasure from consuming meat or dairy products (Either that, or they’re all lying when they say “Oh but a bacon sandwich? Really? Not even slightly tempted? How can you not want a bacon sandwich, one bite and you’ll be down the chicken shop at 2am, eating out of a bucket…”) – I don’t, and I never have as far as I can remember. I’ve never really prized creamy, cheesy, fatty flavours, or soft or juicy textures; As an adult I’ve grown very fond of coconut fat,  but the thought of the traditional “vegan converting” foods like fudge sundaes or bacon-double-cheeseburgers does pretty much nothing for me. I eat plenty of “frivolous” stuff (But really, why do we have to assign moral value to foods anyway?) but they all tend towards being sugary and sour, or spicy – fizzy cola cubes, bubblegum flavoured stretchy not-exactly-liquorice, Skittles, achaar pickles, vindaloo with whole hands of ginger, deep fried mirchi bhaji stuffed with stuff. Stuff like that. I basically have the tastebuds of a seven-year-old. Where animal products do give me greater benefit than they would to the average person, I still use them (I believe that some of my pills have lactose as a binding ingredient, and even though my bike leathers are secondhand, they’re still leather). I feel like it’s a waste of an animal’s life to give its meat to me, who won’t appreciate it, as opposed to giving it to someone who feels that a meal is incomplete without it, or who badly needs the easily-digestible protein and fats.

 

**I know that a lot of people who have chosen not to eat animal products see people who’ve chosen to eat them as morally backward. Those people are, if not outright idiots, then at least ignorant and probably acting in bad faith, other than maybe a tiny few who really do have a mental illness that should probably be treated with some kind of CBT in order to allow them to interact comfortably with the rest of society. You can’t have grown up in the UK and pretend to be completely shocked and scandalised by seeing a packet of sausages in a communal fridge. There is no great moral benefit in pretending to have a fainting fit every time you pass someone wearing a fur collar or putting milk in their coffee. If it really does horrify you to the point of nausea to see someone making a fry-up or eating a block of cheese, concentrate hard on your own reactions, identify that another person eating meat will not personally harm you, and (if you really can’t control it) calmly move away from the situation. Screaming and lashing out and crying and generally making a scene won’t help, at all.

 

**I know that most pastoral farmers care about the welfare of their animals – I’ve stepped in to help at enough calvings and lambings, and have put down more than my fair share of ducks and chickens who’d either passed their laying prime, or who’ve just been destined for the table. I still believe that it’s a waste of the farmer’s good work to expend energy on trying to sell their meat, eggs, or milk to me, since I’m unlikely to enjoy eating them. Wool, hides, horns, bones or feathers, I will happily buy by the bucketload since I always have a use for them. As I write this, I’m sitting with my feet on a deerskin rug which I tanned myself, from a hide which was otherwise going to waste at the local butcher’s (Most small butchers who process game don’t have the facilities or client base to use the skins, and will gladly give them away to anyone who can reliably pick them up. The same applies to antler and large bones which are great dog treats or carving blanks, depending on their condition).

 

**I know that arable farming also kills animals and damages the local ecosystem, as well as having poor human rights records – But I don’t think that I could reasonably afford to eat enough good-quality meat to significantly reduce the amount of grains and vegetables that I eat, and it’s debatable whether humans suffer more in picking crops under a gangmaster, or processing cattle in a slaughterhouse.

 

**Most arguments about veganism boil down to classism – Either that the “Ignorant working class” should bow to the superior knowledge of their enlightened middle-class vegan counterparts, or that the “Pigshit thick coddled townies” should gaze in awe upon the superior wisdom of their salt-of-the-earth rural meat-eating farmers. Neither is 100% accurate (A hill farmer in Yorkshire doesn’t necessarily know more about the environmental or human cost of prawn farming in Vietnam than his London-based vegan adversary) and honestly given the nature of global trade, of how poor the accountability trail for so many foodstuffs is (Unless you know the farmer, you don’t know that your “British beef” is really British – It could just have been slaughtered or processed here, and that’s even before we get into food scandals), and how deeply emotive and based in what feels right rather than what is logical the notion of what is or isn’t wholesome food is, there pretty much can’t be “One right and true Objective Picture”.

 

**There doesn’t seem to be much conclusive proof either way for whether a vegan or a carnist diet is better for the majority of healthy adults, and a lot of studies have been skewed either by picking the most health-conscious vegans (the type who plan meals, take vitamin supplements and measure their blood pressure) or by picking the least health conscious carnists (archetypally, a commercial driver who eats at Big Lil’s Cafe for breakfast every morning and then doesn’t eat anything but strong coffee until nearly midnight). Or vice versa – There’s plenty of vegans who live on instant ramen and bourbon biscuits, and plenty of carnists who carefully measure out their steamed chicken breast portion (the size of a pack of playing cards!) and match it up with brown rice.

 

**The paradox that the only vegans you ever hear about are the annoying shouty ones really isn’t helping anyone.

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