Archive for earthlings

Why I’ve Adopted Veganism

Posted in Veganism with tags , , , , on November 25, 2011 by kokairu

A few months ago, I was discussing veal production with my extended family. The minor details of this conversation are fairly irrelevant (well, I hope they are, as I can’t remember them). The key aspect was when my older sister commented that the cheese industry and the veal industry are heavily interlinked (in short, for enough milk to be produced for cheese, many calves must be produced that have no other role to fulfil).

At the time, I was eating a largely vegetarian diet (I like the taste of meat, but as my partner is a vegetarian, I was naturally eating less of it), having adopted full vegetarianism a handful of times in the past. I had eventually developed the philosophy that there is no problem in consuming meat, as long as the animal(s) in question did not suffer prior to their death(s). I was drawn to free range meat in particular, but this dietary restriction was easy to ignore when I wanted to purchase something with ease from the small corner shop or eat out at a restaurant. After listening to my sister’s comment, it quickly spurred an entirely different take on my dietary choices.

I began to consider the implications of an interlinked meat and dairy industry. It’s not just the revelation that cheese is related to the slaughter of “cute wickle calves,” as anyone who knows me will be aware that one of my biggest gripes is upholding a strong moral code when it comes to cute animals but disregarding that mentality when it comes to those that are less pleasing on the eye. I just suddenly realised that to support one means to support the other; I began to understand the mentality of the vegan lifestyle that had been lost on me in the past.

In the weeks following this conversation, I did a number of things. On my next trip to the supermarket, I sought out foods that were free from animal products. I’d not decided anything for definite (and a part of me assumed that, even if I did adopt a vegan lifestyle, I’d give up sooner or later), but I was curious. Passing through the various aisles with my trolley containing fruit, vegetables, corn cakes and soya milk, my mind was put into motion again. So much cheese. Milk. Chocolate. Eggs. Chicken pieces. Pepperami. Meat feast pizzas. Cakes. All packaged up and ready to eat for our convenience. All these and so much more involve animal products… and in just one supermarket. How on earth could these things be so readily available to us without entailing a streamline that disregards the welfare of the lives that either are or produce these foods?

I also started to research meat, egg and dairy production in more depth. I watched as much of the documentary “Earthlings” as I could stomach. The image of pigs being kept in disgustingly overcrowded conditions and cows being hung upside down while their throats were cut (flailing in mad panic in the process), before the film cut to the more familiar and aesthetically pleasing image of a selection of packaged meat products on a few supermarket shelves, served to reinforce my earlier assumptions. I didn’t want to turn a blind eye to the stories behind these products anymore.

Yes, the horrible accounts of animal welfare that I referenced in this time would’ve used the most gruesome material possible. However, I do feel that there is little way of knowing exactly where your food comes from, especially when you buy from a supermarket (which is, really, the only place most of us can afford to shop at). When it comes to animal products, they have the added implication of intense suffering – and in turn, your purchase of those products serves to increase demand for that suffering. It is the latest point that embodies the core reason for my decision to go vegan: in reducing demand for food and drink that includes animal products, there will be less need to supply those products. In turn, less animals will undergo intense suffering, and in needing to keep less life stock, conditions for animals bred for their milk, eggs or meat could improve greatly. I am confident that my choices entail clear goals.

I do not uphold that we should all live on plant-based diets. However, if more people could sacrifice the norms of western meals (i.e. meat dishes, with a token cheese option for the vegetarians) in their food choices, it could lead to a better world for animal welfare. Do I wish, then, to promote veganism to others? Yes, of course I do. I’d like to think that this blog entry has covered that much. I do not, however, plan on pressurising my friends verbally on the matter. What good would it do anyway? It’s got to be your own choice, I’d hate it if people blindly followed my lead (the thought is unlikely and somewhat amusing).

So, a few months on, I suppose I am a vegan now. That is, I strive to live in this world without using animal products; I am not yet there completely, and may never be. Animal products are everywhere, and in some cases, I am not able to avoid using them. Or at least, if I were to take it to that extreme, I may as well go and live in a cave in the mountains somewhere, or kill myself to remove one more life that’s sucking the resources on this Earth dry. Forgive me when I say that I won’t be doing either of those things.

Wherever an alternative is available, however, I plan to seek it. This includes many toiletries (such as shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste), clothing (leather, wool, and silk are no no’s), and any product containing honey. Even where the animal product is a minute detail on the ingredients list, I will avoid the overall product. I actually think that, in some ways, it’s more important to boycott these foods than the more “obvious” things like cheddar cheese and standard mayonnaise. I say this because, where the ingredient is subtle, there is no pressure on the company to remove that ingredient, or investigate a more ethical source for it. For example, most wine is not vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter, which I never realised before recently. From a purely economical perspective, the wine maker may as well use the cheapest eggs available for the fermentation process; the consumer market that deliberately buys free range eggs over caged eggs will most likely be unaware that eggs were even involved in the wine’s production. There is no need for the wine maker to slap a ‘made using free range eggs’ note on the label at all; it would probably put a lot of people off, in fact.

Believe it or not, this is only a nutshell of my thoughts and feelings on the whole matter, but I think it covers the basics. There are a number of themes surrounding the questions that I’m usually asked, and most of these haven’t been covered here (with the exception of “Why?”). I shall summarise them in a list:

So, what WILL you eat?

One of the great things about veganism is that you get to discover a world of food possibilities that break the mould of your standard fish and chips. I naturally do have to prepare most of my own food now, but in doing so, I can pretty much whip up many standard meals with alternatives to meat, egg and dairy products. Quorn products are off the cards, as they contain egg, but Mrs Linda McCartney offers vegan alternatives, and I have discovered the world of Frys and Redwood foods, which are both stocked in Holland and Barrett. Redwood, in particular, offers some Gourmet chicken-style pieces that are to die for: the meatiest meat substitute there ever was. A lot of people nitpick this and say that it’s pointless to be a vegetarian and yet try to find meaty-tasting products, but if you’re abstaining for ethical reasons, you do like the taste of meat, and you’ve grown up with meat as a standard part of most meals, I don’t think that argument really stands.

Other alternatives for standard ingredients include egg-free pasta, soya milk (no, really, if you buy the unsweetened kind, it actually tastes like dairy milk), rice milk, vegan pesto, and egg-free mayonnaise. The aforementioned are all found quite easily.

The world of tofu is another that I’ve dipped into lately. It’s a great food: it offers a completely blank slate to work with, and it absorbs any flavour thrown at it. It can also be cooked in so many different ways to achieve different textures. This morning, for example, I had scrambled tofu on toast. Sounds disgusting? Well, it has the texture of egg and can be flavoured with whatever you like… and it didn’t come from a hen’s backside, either.

Sadly, eating out is somewhat challenging. But there are ways around it – restaurants are used to catering for a whole manner of dietary requirements, and are usually willing to provide what they can. Grabbing food on-the-go is near on impossible, but I just need to be organised and make food in advance. This saves money, too.

How will you get your <insert nutritional element of meat and/or dairy here>?

Many people wrongly assume that veganism isn’t healthy, and that you’re cutting out essential vitamins and minerals from your diet. Whilst it’s an understandable misassumption, this one does annoy me a bit. We’ve had it drummed into us that red meat contains iron, milk contains calcium, and egg contains protein. This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that these foods are the only sources of these compounds. Calcium is found in a number of plant-based foods, including almonds, cabbage, tofu and oranges, and is supplemented in most soya milks for good measure anyway. Iron is found in beans and lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and flaxseed. Protein is found in anything living, but is especially prominent in plant-based milks, tofu, rice, nuts, seed, and whole grains.

Funnily enough, the two trickiest components to acquire from natural plant-based sources are rarely brought up in normal conversation. These include vitamins D and B12, which would normally be found in abundance in the foods that I’m electing to cut out. Vitamin D is, of course, acquired from sunlight via the skin anyway – something that, I’m told, is easier for me because I am about as pasty as they come before hitting ginger territory. Vitamin B12 is found in nutritional yeast flakes. And, low and behold, they are both added to most soya milks anyway.

Vegans do, on average, live longer than non-vegans, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that they plan their diets more thoroughly.

Won’t you miss <cheese/cakes/smoked salmon/whatever>?

Every now and then, I get a craving for something that I can’t have. But what I miss the most, I think, is convenience. Yeah, a quarter pounder with cheese would be delicious right now, but mainly because I could grab it quickly from a fast food outlet in passing. If I were to head home first, get the Frys veggie burgers out of the freezer, cook them, and add some dairy-free cheese alternative to the top before serving, I’ve almost got the real deal anyway – it’s just not nearly as greasy!

I’ve also (unintentionally) conditioned myself to associate animal products with an image of what may have gone on to get that food to where it is, be it on a plate or on the shelf. Earthlings will do that to you – and it’s significantly less appetising after that notion.

What about free range products/local produce?

When it comes to supermarket foods, I’m sceptical about what “free range” means. Regarding chickens, for example, “free range” does not automatically mean “well kept.” They often have their beaks cut to stop them pecking one another, as the conditions can still be overcrowded. With eggs, “free range” only guarantees that the hen was “free range” at the time that the egg was laid. What will happen to the chicken when its “egg-laying days” are over (at approximately 2 years old, well below the expected natural lifespan of a hen)? It could easily then be kept in the same old harsh conditions to later be killed for meat. You just can’t know, which relates to the first couple of paragraphs in this article – the inseparable link between meat produce and dairy/egg produce.

Regarding locally produced eggs, where you may see for yourself that the hens are kept in good conditions by the lady down the road, I may be tempted at a later point. I also may choose to keep hens myself one day – not for their produce, but because I think they’re lovely pets. Hens do lay eggs on a regular basis, with or without a cockerel present. It’s almost like helping yourself to a natural bi-product – they would not be used for anything otherwise.

There are, however, still counter-arguments. From having kept chickens before, I am aware that they uphold some concept of what an egg is. After all, they lay several in the same place before sitting on them. I remember when one of them laid her first egg, and she spent ages trying to cover it up with straw. You could therefore argue that we don’t have a “right” to their eggs. I don’t uphold this one firmly, however, as they don’t seem to show distress when you take the eggs away. I also don’t like projecting human emotions onto animals, because it’s clear that they see the world differently to us.

There’s also the point that the African Jungle Fowl, from which our domestic chickens descend, lay half the eggs in a year that domestic hens do. This is because the latter has been bred extensively to lay as often as it does – not a particularly fair outcome, considering that laying an egg certainly looks uncomfortable at best. It’s a similar case with wool – domestic sheep only need to be sheered because they’ve been bred to grow their coats to that alarming an extent. In the wild, they would malt like other furry or feathery creatures.

Do I offend you if I still choose to consume animal products?

Not at all, as long as you respect my choices. That’s not to say that I want you to go out of your way for me – I will always be happy to provide my own food, either before or during social gatherings. Restaurant choices are easy – we’ll just go to Pizza Express, and I’ll order my cheeseless vegetarian pizza!


So, now you know. I may update and add to this article at later points as I see fit.