Being vegan isn’t about restriction, it’s about liberation, from a food system that’s systemically broken, poisonous, and unsustainable.
Everyone comes to veganism via their own path. Our reasons are as individual as the person. But they generally fall into three categories – environment, animal welfare, personal health. Most sit across all three buckets to varying degrees.
My reason was out of desperate concern for animal welfare and still remains the main driver for my choice, but almost as equally now is the environmental impact industrial animal farming has on the planet.
I’ve always loved animals, my dog was my best friend growing up from cradle to classroom, he was never not by my side. There were also cats in our house but I was definitely a dog person back then, now I’m totally more cat. Growing up in Yorkshire I was fortunate enough to watch cows graze in fields behind my house, and even more fortunate not to know about abattoirs. One of my earliest memories is bottle feeding baby lambs. So, I bloody love animals and, like most people, grew up eating them because that’s what was put on the dinner table. I never thought about not eating animals, why would I when all my friends and family ate them. I still have very fond memories of my Nan’s steak and kidney cobbler, and my Mum’s spicy spareribs. Roasted stuffed hearts appeared regularly for Sunday lunch, and braised liver with onions was one of Mum’s mid-week favourites, along with spaghetti bolognaise (never out a jar).
The first time I questioned eating meat was in the late 90’s. For those that remember, Mad Cow disease AKA Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) broke onto the mainstream media having been under the radar in farms since the 80’s. I heard how it affected cows so tried my hardest not to see any images on the news of these poor animals crazily stumbling around on their knees unable to walk (hence the ‘mad cow’). But it was futile, news of the disease was everywhere. Four million cows were slaughtered, and 177 people died from the human variant of the disease (vCJD). British beef was banned by many countries and there are still question marks over its safety today (did you know?). But what broke my heart and what I struggled with was that it was all our fault. It landed firmly with the farmers for feeding their cows ‘meat and bone meal’ made from remains of cattle that had developed the disease, along with sheep infected with scrapie (a similar disease in sheep). The Government should never allowed this practice to be legal. Shoppers weren’t without fault, they demanded cheaper and cheaper meat, forcing farmers to source high-protein cheap food. Everyone was complicit in the murder of these animals. Each night the news showed clips of huge burning piles of cows, the numbers kept rising and rising. Unsurprisingly I haven’t eaten beef since. You simply cannot trust our food system, not when the Government prioritises the economy over public health. And there’s an endless list of businesses that cut corners to save on margins for as long as they could get away with it. We see it time and time again.
Foot in Mouth
After BSE came Foot in Mouth disease in 2001. Started on a farm in Sunderland, the farmer illegally fed his pigs unprocessed ‘pig swill’. This stuff is as tasty as it sounds – restaurant food waste – think chicken carcasses, oils, animal offal, you name it, the poor pigs were chowing down on it. Eventually it was thought the infected meat waste was most likely illegally imported into the UK for the hospitality trade hence the ban on all future pig swill. The farmer received a 15-year farming ban. Doing the maths that rogue farmer is probably back selling bacon to our supermarkets – a sobering thought. This outbreak though was even worse than BSE as it affected now only cows, but also pigs and sheep, resulting in the slaughtering of six million animals to stop the virus spreading. Again, scenes of burning animals piled high hit the 6 ‘o’ clock news. Reading about it now whilst fact finding for this post, I’m surprised anyone eats meat after what happened. This was the second mass-culling of farm animals and that was it for me. I can let something go once, but twice? Oh-no. Forget it. I’m out.
It’s clear the UK meat industry is out of control. We’ve seen that some farmers clearly do what they want and it only takes one to bring down the whole system. Supermarkets are the middlemen and they have no idea what’s going on in their supply chains, as realised by the horse-meat scandal in 2013 when horse meat was found in products labelled as beef. I’m already fully veggie by this point but I’m thinking, this is the one, surely people aren’t going to continue eating meat after a third meat disaster, oh, wait…
Although these outbreaks didn’t affect chickens I became more aware of overcrowded ‘broilers’ where a chicken lives for six weeks versus six years under normal conditions. Where baby male chicks are thrown straight into the mincer, without a second thought, ALIVE! Where they are over-feed so they can’t walk anymore, living with no natural light, walking around in their own muck – you get the gist, so chicken is off the list too.
I was happy following a vegetarian diet for a decade or so before I started to learn more about the dairy industry. Where calves are separated from the mother at birth with both animals crying in distress for days. And how the life of a milk cow is considerably shorter than it should be (five years versus 20 years) because she’s constantly pregnant, CONSTANTLY. Not to mention the male calves that are isolated for a few months, scared, and alone fed a low iron diet without much room to move so their meat remains tender. So this got to me and that was the end of diary. No matter how much I love cheese, I cannot support an industry that treats a sentient being in this way. They have feelings, they have brains, we aren’t the only ones aware of what’s going on.
I’m sure none of this will come as any surprise to you, and I encourage you to click on the links in the post and read more about these issues. Once you start to really think about our food system and how we farm animals, how we treat other living beings, is that something you are OK with?
I’ll write more posts on these issues but most importantly I’ll highlight the many alternatives available. Being vegan isn’t about restriction, it’s about liberation, from a food system that’s systemically broken, poisonous, and unsustainable.