The Vegan Dilemma

My childhood was spent in a largely contradictory household, and one which I think is pretty typical of the Western family. We were animal lovers, as I mentioned in a previous post, our house was always positively swarming with an array of small furries, from rats to poodles. I was bought up to support animal welfare charities before human causes, and to go out of my way to play a pro-active part in animal rescue. It's a love that's deeply engrained upon my conscious soul, and strengthened by a wonderful education in the natural world, primarily from my Mother. I can identify birds with reliable accuracy, name insects like a pro, and my knowledge of dog breeds appears to know no bounds. 

However, I also grew up in a carnivorous household, and not even one which paid any attention to where it's meat was coming from. I don't criticise my parents for this, on the one hand, each to their own, and on the other, we were living in a relatively remote rural community in The Fens where vegetarians and black people were about as common as syphilis. Potentially, it just wasn't on their radar. I've never spoken to my Mum about why exactly it is that she isn't a vegetarian, or vegan, and yet feels so passionately, so she says, about animal welfare. I have no idea why I was brought up with these alarmingly contradictory ideas about the world, but I suspect a lot of it stems from a form of voluntary ignorance, a refusal to educate one's self of the truth and to just pop finger's in ears and hum a tune until people stop pointing out the hypocrisy of the entire situation. As I see it, people fit into four larger categories (though of course there is a finer network of sub categories within this structure.) These four categories are:

Careless Carnivores: These people eat meat, as well as other animal products such as dairy, eggs and honey. They'll buy meat from the supermarket, often dictated by what's on offer, and don't consider or research where their meat has come from, or how it got to their plate. They may even willingly purchase eggs from caged hens, and wouldn't buy organic milk because it's more expensive. They also wear (or even covet) leather, furs and other skins, as well as wool, silk and the like. These people have probably never checked the products that they use to clean their houses or their bodies, to see whether they contain animal products, and wouldn't be all too bothered if they did. They use products, again both cosmetically and in the home, which are tested on laboratory animals. They may also enjoy animal sports, such as dog or horse racing.

Conscious Carnivores: These people eat meat, as well as other animal products, but are more "fussy" about where they source these items, and are willing to spend more to reduce the suffering of animals for their dinner. They'll buy organic meat, not just for the health benefits for them as a consumer, but because force feeding animals a highly unnatural diet pumped full of unnecessary antibiotics is against their moral coding. They buy free range eggs, or perhaps even keep their own hens or buy eggs from someone locally who does. They shop at Farmer's Markets, like their food to be traceable, and avoid things like "cheap chicken". These people are less likely to wear animal products, although they may still choose to wear wool and silk, but are far less likely to opt for real furs. These guys may also be making more "cruelty free" choices when buying cosmetic or household products, and avoid those tested on animals, though they may not be too concerned about whether these products contain animals. They may or may not enjoy animal sports. 

Vegetarians: I think we all know this one, but vegetarians don't eat meat. Some veggies may still eat fish and seafood, and are thus referred to as pescatarians, pescatarians and vegetarians may have any number of reasons for their decision not to eat meat. Vegetarians, whilst not eating meat, do still eat animal products such as dairy, eggs and honey, though will generally avoid anything of the animal's body, such as gelatine, or rennet. A vegetarian won't necessary make informed decisions about the animal products they buy, but if they've given up eating meat on animal welfare grounds, then they are less likely to buy eggs from caged hens, or non organic eggs and dairy, they're also less likely to knowingly buy products that have been tested on animals, and they usually don't wear animal products such as leather and fur, but will often still wear animal products such as silk and wool. They may or may not enjoy animal sports. A vegetarian diet doesn't have to mean an especially healthy one either - remember, there's nothing to stop a vegetarian consuming vast quantities of sugar, but their diet mainly consists of vegetables, fruit, grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, eggs, dairy products, and rum.

Vegans: At the opposite end of the animal-friendly spectrum, sit the vegans. Vegans not only avoid meat, but also the use of any animal products in their lifestyle, or the undertaking of any activities which lead to or include animal suffering. Unlike vegetarians, vegans do not consume eggs, dairy, honey, or any other product that comes from an animal of any description.Vegans also avoid cosmetic and household products which have not only not been tested on laboratory animals, but that also contain no animal products, and they do not wear animal products such as leather, wool, silk, fur or feathers. Vegans do not partake in or watch animal sports, nor do they generally visit zoos that trap live animals, or partake in animal based entertainment such as circuses or seafront donkey rides. Like vegetarians, vegans aren't automatically healthy, and are just as prone to diet based disease and obesity as anyone else, but their diets consist predominantly of vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses, seeds, nuts and alternative products developed for the vegan market. 

Bizarrely, my parents, they who would dedicate their last breath to saving an animal in need, fell in to category 1, the careless carnivores, and still do. It is very difficult to work out why. 

Now I stand upon a precipice, I'm about to turn twenty seven, animals are still very much a passion of mine, I have two cats, I sponsor a cat pod through the RSPCA, I will always go out of my way to help any animal in need, whether a parrot or a grizzly bear. I cry huge, fat tears when I hear stories of animal cruelty and I'm that person who pulls over her car and starts yelling at a guy in the street for smacking his dog. I am also intelligent enough to know that it makes no sense, therefore, for me to rely as heavily on animal products as I do, considering the fact that these products involve a great degree of animal suffering, something I'm vehemently in opposition to. 

At this present time I would say that I fit very much in to Category 2 above, the concious carnivore. I eat meat, but as often as possible I buy from a known source, where I know the lifestyle enjoyed by the animal prior to slaughter. I buy meat from local butchers and farmers, eggs from a local farm, honey from a local beekeeper, and dairy from... the supermarket (but I do buy organic!). I'm discarding more and more of my usual household and cosmetic products in favour of vegan products. I'm opposed to animal testing, but I also know that those animals killed to make soap were not compassionately treated, probably at any point in their lives, so vegan cosmetics make sense to me. I do own clothes made from animal products, a few leather bags, a suede jacket and a wool coat. However, I can't help but think that I'm just refusing to face up to the truth about my product using habits, because it's more convenient for me to be ignorant, and tell myself that I'm a lovely person who is willing to spend more on grass fed, organic beef, and less on wine. In "this day and age" (everyone loves a generic phrase right?) it's not true to suggest that humans rely on meat as part of a healthy diet; vegetarians can get more than enough protein from eggs alone, and for vegans, there is a serious protein punch in lentils - not to mention a whole host of nuts and seeds. 

There are things I've just decided not to think about, like the disgusting (and I mean downright revolting) state of the dairy farming industry. I don't want to upset anyone, but regardless of whether your milk is organic or otherwise, cows need to be calving in order to produce milk. The excess calves born as a result suffer one of two fates - the males become veal (there you go careless carnivores) and the females are reared by feeding machines, on an artificial milk protein, to fall in to the cycle of giving birth and producing milk themselves. If you're a vegetarian, but you drink mass produced milk, then you might as well eat veal - a market which only exists as a result of the fact that you drink milk. A cow, incidentally, can not produce enough milk on her own to keep up with demand. The milk that you buy from a supermarket comes from a cow who's been pumped full of hormones in order to make her produce ten times more milk than she would to feed her baby. Not only is this cruel (inevitably leading to painful mastitis infections in her udder) but it's just... gross. Those previously mentioned carves by the way? Taken from Mum at less than a day old, literally within hours of birth. I sit back as an animal lover and realise that I am 100%, entirely, totally not OK with that, and it's not OK either for me to just go on denying that this happens. This is not just in a minority of farms, this is standard, every day practice. A cow has a life expectancy of about twenty five years. A dairy cow lives to approximately five. What's the point in not eating mass market beef but still buying milk every few days? Really?

So if I'm going to give up dairy because I just don't want to be contributing to this industry any longer, where does it end? Eggs. I bloody love eggs. I wrote a whole post recently about how good eggs are as part of a healthy diet, and I still stand by that. If you are able to buy eggs from happy, cheerful hens, then good. They might be your own chickens (lovely!) or those from a local farm. But ask questions, be inquisitive. Eggs from supermarkets, including free range and organic, and those from companies with names like The Happy Hen Co. etc. are, more often than not, far from being "free" at all. Male chicks, for a start, are of no benefit to the egg farming industry. Male chicks therefore are promptly disposed off, sometimes their necks are swiftly broken, sometimes they're put in to black plastic sacks and they suffocate to death, but either way, they're a "waste product" of our egg industry. One of the greatest cons of egg marketing that I've found is that retailers and producers are very keen to state that their hens have "natural light"... a hen in the dark won't lay, so of course they have light. Natural light is cheaper than artificial light and these farmers want to make, not spend, money, so yeah, the roof will be glass. But at night - the lights come on - and they stay on. Most egg laying hens live in 24/7 daylight, be it natural or artificial, to ensure that they lay as many eggs as possible, basically by not sleeping. This is true also of those that have an open door during the day. If you have an image in your mind of "free range" chickens running free on a beautiful rambling moorland farm, laying their eggs amongst the gnarled roots of antique oak trees - you're a nob. To be considered "free range" a chicken just needs to be free to leave it's caged environment, if it can leave and enter a concrete yard in which to stretch it's legs, it's eggs can still be packaged as free range. Bumping up the retail price and resting lighter on the consumer conscience. If you can not buy eggs from chickens that you ACTUALLY KNOW - then don't buy eggs. End of.  

I'm not going to go on and on, about why I don't think I ought to eat lamb, or turkey, or pork, or honey, or jelly, but using the two examples above, I don't see how I can say that I have strong and passionate beliefs about animal welfare and continue to consume animal products. It's a bit nuts really. It's a real dilemma for me at the moment and one which I'm really scratching my head over. 

Reasons not to give up animal products:
  • the production of non animal products, such as grains, are responsible for the deaths of far more wild creatures, primarily through loss of habitat, than farmed creatures who are kept or killed for animal products. Technically - I should also give up anything which is farmed, in any form, on Planet Earth.
  • It's just pretty inconvenient. Eating out will be a pain in the arse, eating at friends houses will be a pain in the arse, I myself will become a pain in the arse. 
  • I will worry about whether I'm getting everything that my body "needs" from a vegan diet.
  • Vegan products, particularly household products, are more expensive than budget brands which are rarely vegan.
Reasons to give up animal products:

  • I'm a true animal lover and vehemently opposed to animal cruelty. I would step in to stop someone from burning a cat alive - but will gladly buy a joint of pork in circumstances where this may well have been the fate met by the pig in question - and that makes zero sense.
  • There are lots of great vegan alternatives available. This morning, for example, I breakfasted on not one, but two bowls of porridge oats made with non-dairy oat milk, vegan chocolate and pecan nuts, for lunch I'm making curried butternut squash soup.
  • Dairy gives me zits anyway.
Please talk to me on this one - leave your comments below or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook, I'd love to hear from meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike on how and why they came to make the choices they did, and how they defend their decisions in the face of negativity - and what they order when they go out for pizza - that matters. 

1 comment:

  1. My partner is vegan and I'm nominally an omnivore, although our house is completely vegetarian and the only non-vegan thing I regularly eat is cheese. Where we live (Leicester) vegan options are increasingly easy to get in pubs and restaurants and we eat an incredibly varied and tasty diet both at home and when eating out. Living with a vegan has made me a better and more inventive cook and baker, and I now only eat meat on very rare occasions (perhaps once every few months?). Despite becoming increasingly concerned about dairy farming practices, I can't find it in me to give up cheese as vegan alternatives just don't measure up, for me.