Oct 12 2013
    The case for veganism is clear but why do I find it so hard to make the leap?

    The case for veganism is clear but why do I find it so hard to make the leap?

    I’m staring over the cliff of veganism. But I’m unable to jump.

    I use this metaphor wisely because – to me at least – the shift from vegetarianism to veganism seems like a vast step change.

    Those that are already vegan will be unsympathetic – it’s easy! you get used to it! don’t be so weak! Put your mouth where your, er, mouth is! – but those who understand that the distance from carnism to veganism is traversed not by logic but by slow emotional acceptabce might understand my hesitation.

    I am torn more that I want to admit to you. I’m ending this year, I’ve seen the misery, isn’t the obvious next step veganism. Clearly I should end this journey in tears of rage eating a tofu burger.

    So why the uncertainty?

    On the one hand the case for veganism is painfully clear.

    Every cow bred for milk, whether on an organic or intensive farm, is ultimately disposable. After a few milking cycles they are waste products, their life used for the aesthetic pleasure of a splash of milk that is ultimately is no more necessary to our functioning than a fur coat.

    It was only recently that I understood – that I bothered to understand – that every male calf born to a dairy mother is essentially unwanted. Oh yeh…I suppose it is! And lets not talk about laying hens… To eat dairy is to promote an industry that necessitates a huge amount of slaughter.

    When I asked my undercover guide to the pig farms which practice he thought worse, eating meat or dairy, he said:

    ‘The pain in meat is more obvious. You are eating a slaughtered animal. But in some ways the pain in dairy is worse. I was undercover in a dairy farm and watched as a calf was taken away from it’s mother at one day old. The mother locked her head around the calf to keep it. She was screaming. For five hours after its child was taken away she screamed. They came back to hit her head but she continued to scream. I saw her eyes’

    There is that connection with the eyes again.

    Only connect, only connect.

    Cheese, cooking and relationships

    On the other hand veganism is one hell of a major life shift. Probably not as much as a shift as losing your mother at day 1 but indulge my weakness for a moment.

    It’s no small matter that I don’t – or can’t – eat wheat. Of the last five restaurants I have been to (yes, we do go out) only one had a single dish on it that I could have eaten as a vegan. Pasta is out, couscous out, sandwiches out, an impulsive meal with friends is out.

    It is also a serious challenge for Ann and more than a little strain on our relationship.

    Rightly or wrongly she makes the food in our house. She is a wonderful cook and although more than sympathetic to my year long project (she puts up with my travelling nobly) she is not by choice a vegetarian she is by choice her own person. So for me to banish the dairy from my life has a vast impact because she is committed to cooking for us. She is a painter of flavours. I have already seriously depleted her palette by removing the white of wheat, the red of meat and if now the yellow of dairy then she is hampered in what she loves to do.

    Veganism, then, would be my choice but her burden. And it has never been my attitude to force my views on anyone.

    I don’t like telling all this to you but I feel I need to be honest. I hate the fact that veganism is still a huge challenge but perhaps if I can understand my own resistance in the face of seeing so much suffering I can understand why so many other compassionate people don’t engage at all in issues of animal rights.

    The process of shedding our cultural habits is a slow one. Even when one knows the arguments, sees the pain, understands the moral position, it takes time for the truth to percolate down to our guts.

    This worries me.

    Next – I am back on the trail of the pigs. This time I follow live export trucks from Spain all the way to Italy.

    How bad is the journey? Are drivers obeying EU law? And what about the pigs?

    Post divide

    Aug 15 2013


    How many animals does one ‘save’ (or not kill) by being vegetarian?

    What would happen to all the cows if the whole world went vege over night?

    Does it really matter?

    Is vegetarianism healthy?

    And will I really never be able to lick the hot grease off a fine  piece of morning bacon again? (I can hear the vegetarian’s vomiting over their keyboards)


    I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply no argument against vegetarianism.

    Not one.

    It is more compassionate than a meat diet, healthier (in almost all cases) and far more ecologically friendly. Those that argue against it are either wrong or foolish (there is the odd person that physically can not deal with it, granted). And yet … I’ve eaten meat most of my life, even for most of this year of so called ‘help’. This is what interests me. When there is so much wrong with meat why is there so much meat eaten? Are we all bastards?  I don’t think so.

    Right from the start of this project everyone on my blog kept hounding me to become vege. But I resisted. I didn’t want it to be an intellectual decision which I’d later reverse but something that came from my heart – that beating pound of flesh in my  meaty chest.

    After seeing enough suffering the transition happened, rather undramatically, and meat fell off the menu like a leaf  in autumn. And now that I’ve been vegetarian for a  while I feel very different. Not in my body :  that still creaks and farts, but rather I feel more sane in my mind. Dare I say it, I feel more at peace? It’s been surprisingly easy to adapt.

    But why is it so hard for the wider society to accept the change?  As China and India become more economically powerful their meat consumption goes up (in the main cities of China people eat as much if not more than in Europe). The number of farm animals being killed each year is rising rapidly (only 15 years ago it was some 10 billion less at 50 billion)

    Let’s look at some basic Q and A’s about vegetarianism.  Forgive the cursory, sometimes stupid glance, but a blog demands tofu to be cut into bite-sized chunks.



    1. How many animals a year does one ‘save’ by being vegetarian?

    According to a scarily nerdy website called countinganimals (‘where nerdism meets animal rights’) the number of animals ‘saved’ by being vegetarian (or more accurately, the number of animals NOT killed) is rated incredibly high.

    My jaw has hit the floor. If these numbers are right I would have done more good by working as a banker for a year but eating tofu than doing this year to help.  Calculations are not just based on how many animals we eat but how many animals die as a result of the farm industry. Many citations are given and the calculations are in depth. However, the data is from the US (where they eat almost twice as much meat as in Europe) and by an animal rights person so the numbers might well be skewed upwards. They are:

    30 Land animals

    225 Fish

    151 Shellfish

    = A vegetarian saves more than 406 animals a year. MORE THAN ONE A DAY.

    Other estimates put the number at a lower figure of 100 animals a year. I will go into this in much more detail in my book but nevertheless the impact of changing diet is clearly huge on the farm population. For the weeks that I have been vegetarian I am going to afford myself a conservative number of animals saved on the right hand panel.



    2. Why does vegetarianism matter?

    Ok here are the basics.


    1) cows and other farm animals fart out more harmful gasses than ALL transport  in the whole world, including aviation. And I thought I was bad…

    2) meat is an inefficient way to feed the planet. It takes over 12 times more grain to produce enough meat to fill a person up than it does to just feed the grain to the same human. Cut out the middle-cow. Keep in mind, however, that food quantity is not the only cause of poor nutrition, lack of access and political nonsense gets in the way too. Still – meat cost the planet.

    3) One of the key factors in the extinction of species by man is our need for more land for farming and the resulting habitat destruction for other animals. The destruction of wild land for farm grazing is a cause of extinction in the listing of 171 species.

    4) It takes 2500 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. It takes 220 gallons to make a pound of tofu. Do vegetarians get to miss a hose-pipe ban?



    1) 75% of all the 67billion farm animals killed each year in the world are in intensive farm systems. That means they are over crowded, under-cared for, separated from mothers at a young age, killed often brutally.  There is a temptation, if you are middle class and western, to think that the nice local organic butcher reflects a global shift towards local compassionate food. Bullocks. Intensive farming is on the up and as long as profit and unit cost are pitted against animals and suffering, the latter loses. More animals killed in less time with less resources. The cry of pain from those billions of animals, even if you consider all animals as massively inferior to humans, dwarfs any single event of human misery.

    2) Do we have the right to kill ANY animals for our pleasure?



    See below




    3. What would happen to all the cows if we went vege over night?

    They would go insane and take over the world. This is a stupid hypothetical question which isn’t worth indulging. It won’t happen. If we went vege less demand would mean less intensive breeding. A more relevant question might be ‘if we are all vege none of those animals would have existed, therefore we should eat meat, no?’.

    Ah…but considering that 90% have a crap life in intensive farm systems then that’s not so persuasive There is a more reasoned argument for the existence of animals that are kept on good organic farms with high welfare standards. But does this mean we have a right to kill and eat them? Read Peter Singer.





    4. But we’ve been eating meat for 2.3 million years!

    We’ve also been without electricity, the wheel or shower gel for most of those 2.3 million. Just because we’ve done something one way for a long time don’t make it right.




    5. But it’s dead already!

    So is your grandmother. This is not an argument to eat meat. It might have 2% validity if you find some roadkill and decide to make mole-soup.  It doesn’t wash with farm animals. No, you don’t kill the lamb with your bare hands but buying it from the supermarket still causes – …oh this is stupid point, I’m not continuing.




    6. Many animals hunt other animals. Eating meat is natural!

    Aggression, rape and murder are also prevalent in the natural world. So, for that matter, are earthquakes and genital warts. Nature doesn’t always know best or else my car would stop rusting. The point of civilisation is to widen our circle of compassion and act more, er, civilised. We no longer need to kill our neighbour if he steals our land. We simply go to the police and then pee through his letterbox.



    7. We need protein!

    This is a  myth. Hardly anyone, at least in Britain, suffers from protein deficiency caused by lack of meat. Even meat eaters get most of their daily required protein from the vegetables and grains that they eat. Meat does give protein, but vegetarians can easily get what they need



    8. Vegetarianism is unhealthy!

    There’s mounting evidence that eating meat, especially red meat and processed meat can contribute to heart disease and some cancers. There’s also ample evidence that many vegetarians are totally healthy, if not more so. Many experts claim that vegetarianism can make you thinner and live longer. But others argue against it.  You have to accept that many vegetarians are hippies too. Because vegetarians tend to be morally aware they are also more likely to be smarter about their food, better at exercising and less likely to inject heroin which skews the picture. This last bit is not science. Some vegetarians could do with eating vitamin B12 and some people probably don’t do well on the diet, just like some people don’t do well with wheat or reading The Guardian.



    9. Can’t we just have happier farms?

    Ultimately farming – however well managed –  rests on the assumption that humans have a right to eat and therefore control and abuse animals. That right is born out by power not by logic. No animals have a say in this. However, as long as farming exists we must demand that it is compassionate. This is why organisations like Compassion in World Farming both exist and are essential, and why so many people that work there are vegan.



    10. OK. You are persuading me. Do we have to give up all meat?

    Meat eaters tend to be binary. It’s either 80 hamburgers a week or nothing. You are either a vegetarian or a meat eater. (And people who eat fish are fake vegetarians). This is nonsense. It’s as valid to cut down your meat as it is to cut down your smoking. Try and eat less if you can.



    11. Will I really never lick a piece of bacon again?

    Never again. Meat tastes damn good. But I bet human flesh does as well if its in a fine burrito with a deceptive label. Just call it horse meat or something. People will gallop to it.



    Post divide