Why vegetarianism isn’t enough

Growing up I was always taught by my mum to be kind to animals. We never had less than 5 rescue animals in our home. My mum would put food out for hedgehogs, and tend to them when they were hit by cars. My dad even lassoed a starving german shepherd from the back of a moped. True story. I was told bullfighting and dog fighting was abhorrent, that vivisection was deplorable and that fox hunters were the scum of the Earth. My mother wouldn’t talk to our Australian cousin that shot kangaroos for sport.

But I never questioned why we sat down and ate animals for dinner every night.

As an adult I would move earthworms and snails from the path, lest they were trodden on, on my way to KFC. I never could stomach spare ribs or chicken on the bone because it reminded me that my food was once an animal; everything had to be reshaped and covered in euphemistic breadcrumbs. How could I exhibit such conflicting behaviour for so long?

It wasn’t until I was about 24 that I decided I couldn’t eat animals any more. So I became a vegetarian. But I still wore and even bought new leather, and cooked meat for others. It was half-arsed.

It wasn’t until I was 28 and I began to read more about animal rights that I started to consider veganism.

What did happen to all the boy chicks that are useless in egg production, and all the baby boy cows that don’t produce milk? What happens when the adults’ milk and egg production rates dropped off and they were no longer profitable? Do they live out their natural lives in retirement homes, a golden handshake for their years of sacrifice and hard work? No, they had the same fate as the animals that ended up in breadcrumbs.

I learned that animal products are morally indistinguishable from meat.

Millions of cows and chickens die every year as a result of the egg and dairy industry.

Baby boy chicks are gassed, or ground up and fed back to their parents. The female chickens have been bred to lay egg after egg, whether they’re free range or battery. No wild bird would use up precious energy on this travesty of a menstrual cycle.

Dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated from the moment they are fertile, their young ripped away from them so they don’t drink the milk meant to nourish them, often sent for veal production or simply bolt-gunned on the day they are born. Meanwhile their mothers mourn, locked in a cage for 16 hours with pumps attached to their nipples, machines sucking their grotesquely swollen, optimally bred udders until they bleed. And when they’ve been through this 3 or 4 times, they are strung up and slaughtered along with their meat-producing brethren. Many are pregnant when this happens, and the soft, velvety skin of their foetuses is used to make expensive leather gloves and bags. Dairy is the ultimate appropriation and commodification of motherhood.

Sure, you could argue that you could keep a cow on some land and milk her guilt-free, but as any mammal would, she would stop producing milk once her baby was weaned. We can’t allow that, we want her milk. And sure her pendulous udder is prone to infection and cancer because we’ve slowly deformed her through selective breeding, generation after generation to produce pints of the white stuff. But who wants black tea?

Maybe we could keep some chickens and take their eggs, they don’t need them? But if we stopped breeding for superfluous egg production the birds would start to choose their own mates and return to their earlier phenotype, and stop laying so many eggs. They don’t owe us anything.

The egg and dairy business is particularly brutal in the context of capitalism, where we exterminate the slackers and dispose of the males. But as adult humans, should we really be drinking milk from somebody else’s breast, someone who isn’t even the same species as us? Do we really need chicken ovulations on toast every morning? Especially when it comes at such a price.

We are keeping them captive and treating them as objects because we like their secretions, and it results in a life of suffering and a premature death. It doesn’t matter if the sticker says organic and free range; these labels are there to make people who don’t want to harm animals feel ok about harming animals.

Veganism is a commitment to refusing to treat animals as property, and it was very hard to accept as an animal lover and a vegetarian, that i was doing just that.

If you don’t want animals to die for your dinner, then you have to give up eggs and dairy.

I may not like the taste of vegan cheese, but the taste left in my mouth from my research into the dairy industry was far harder to wash away.

I implore you, do the research yourself, and if you care about what happens to animals, go vegan.


A visit from head office

Hello, I’m a business man, and I’m going to take the sales figures from January 2012 and January 2013, draw a line between the two data points, and consider this to be enough for evidence of a trend. I will not take into consideration any environmental variables, such as differing weather conditions and disruption to train services that might have affected business.

I’m also going to open 3 other stores offering the same service as your store within a 2 mile radius, and then wonder why sales at this store have decreased.

In addition, I will express disbelief at the suggestion that people might be shopping at the other new stores that are further away than this one, because it hasn’t occurred to me that they might work closer to these new stores and it might be more convenient for them, and I think that everybody just teleports home from their desks every evening, rather than having to commute, which might indeed involve traveling past aforementioned new stores.

During this entire encounter, I will fail to introduce myself to you or ask you your name, because I am far too busy ensuring that my every thought and behaviour is an act of metaphorical masturbation.

It is this skill set that means I deserve more money than you for doing my incredibly important job.

Good day.

Why I like science

Because it stops you acting on gut feelings. Because it regards eye witness testimony as the lowest form of evidence. Because it understands that we are fallible. Because it encourages questions. Because it doesn’t respect authority. Because it doesn’t take things personally. Because it insists that you rigorously check and re-check everything. Because it changes its mind upon the production of new evidence. Because it doesn’t have favourites. Because, although it is aloof and objective, it can give us insight into what really makes us happy or sad. Because it invites scrutiny and criticism. Because it doesn’t get offended.  Because it isn’t patriotic. Because it isn’t sentimental. Because it’s neither good nor evil, just descriptive. Because although its weak, human practitioners make mistakes, the remedy is more science. Because it regulates itself. Because it’s full of doubts. Because it knows that it knows nothing for sure. Because it works.

Shine your shoes, Guv’nor?

I work in London in the financial district, where I regularly interact with people who appear to ‘work’ in banking, and who hand me business cards which have esoteric job titles like Accounts Manager or Director of Marketing Operations on them. They are always Director or Manager; these firms don’t appear to have any junior staff. Maybe they don’t get lunch breaks or business cards because they are all slaves, I mean, unpaid interns.

I’m not sure what it is these bankers do, they mostly seem to wander around with small paper bags filled with pseudo-health foods, and bark into their iPhones that they are very busy when in fact they are in my shop buying energy gels to sustain them for the 5km JP Morgan fun run.

Now I don’t believe in free will, which is a subject for another post, so I don’t blame anyone for their behaviour, and of course I’m generalising, but it is very, very difficult to like these people. The fact that they have ended up in the finance industry says something about them and their ideals. Of course, some of them may not be happy there and will get out; maybe those are the ones who are nice to people who work in shops.

They have a practiced air of ambition; they speak in clipped, demanding tones, sometimes not even using full sentences, presumably to show me how efficient and competent they are.

“Shorts!” is one of the things I hear most often. I reply, “sorry, did you mean, ‘excuse me, I’d like to buy some shorts?’, because what you actually did there was shout a noun at me. Or are you playing a word association game? HATS!”

I’ve become largely immune to it, but something I saw recently really made me want to smash things.

It was a shoe shine stand. In Broadgate Plaza. Bankers were sitting down, having someone shine their shoes. Why should this bother me more than any other service people pay for, like having their car washed for example? Because shoe-shines are symbolic of the class war that has plagued British history. I imagine the business man returning home, and a 7 year old, sooty-nosed boy clambering out of his fireplace.

There is something obscene about it, something Victorian and offensive. Something Tory. And what makes it even more offensive, is that these people are not even that wealthy or posh. But they like to think they are, and they want someone to get down on their knees, and clean the dirt from their shoes.

They actually think they work hard. They actually think their job means something, and that they are contributing to society. They think they are better than you and me, and they want you to clean their shoes.

Maybe I’m being unfair. I used to have a well-paid job and a nice car, I used to think that meant I was doing well, but I was wrong, and I never paid anyone to clean my shoes.

The tag-line for the shoe cleaning business is:

Let the shine on your shoes let the world know where you stand…

On the backs of the proletariat.

Clean your own fucking shoes.

Ad Hominem

I am frequently on the receiving end of ad hominem arguments and attacks.

When I talk about trying decrease the harm I cause through veganism, people immediately become defensive. I understand why people are uncomfortable with the corollary of my argument, that they are causing harm by not being a vegan.

The most banal response is “what are your shoes made of?”. Since becoming a vegan, never have I had so many people express an interest in my footwear.

I wear shoes that do not contain animal products, but even if they were made of baby seals, this would not make my argument any less valid, it would only make me more hypocritical.

Sometimes people like to point out all the other ways I am causing harm in my life; that I work in a shop that sells Nike products, or that I eat soya, which is bad for the environment. I admit that I am uncomfortable with selling sports wear made in sweatshops, it is not consistent with how I would like to live my life, and I am leaving that job as a result. But this doesn’t make my points about veganism untrue. Soya may be bad for the environment, but as between 80% and 98% of it is fed to livestock, I won’t lose sleep over that one. The crux of the argument seems to be that I am not causing zero harm, so therefore I may as well torture and kill animals.

A recent ill-researched, inflammatory article about quinoa production blamed vegans for the plight of poor farmers in Bolivia. Even if the article were accurate, it is not only vegans who eat quinoa; we make up 0.3% of the UK population, I don’t think we are responsible for any food crises.

Yes there are issues with how crops are grown, but we should deal with those issues by improving standards of crop production, not defaulting to eating animals. The scientific consensus is that you can feed more people on less land using fewer resources on a vegan diet.

On other occasions I am told that by buying vegan produce from shops that also sell animal products, I am supporting the business and therefore responsible for animal suffering. It’s true, Waitrose doesn’t compartmentalise the profits it makes, and when I buy peppers, the money could go towards cheese production, but don’t blame me for companies supplying products that you demand. Of course I would like to buy all my produce from vegan businesses and stock-free farms, but there are not enough vegans for such businesses to be commonplace. You can remedy that.

My sincerity is questioned at every turn, and when there is the slightest suggestion that I am inadvertently causing more harm than I thought, the gloaters point their fingers and cackle, “look at her, she tried to be kind and she failed”. But at least I tried, and I’ll continue to try. I will try to be exemplary.

A vegan friend once told me she was tired of the ad hominem attacks on her that omnivores used as an excuse not to give up animal products. She said “what are they going to do, follow me around until I do something wrong and say, you messed up, I can eat this burger now?”

Perhaps my failures salve their consciences.

I try to be kind and compassionate, and sometimes I fail. I just wish that people would exhibit as much moral sensitivity with respect to their own behaviour as they do to mine.