I’ve seen some slanging matches going on on Social Media, with Vegans and Livestock farmers spitting acid at each other. It’s so wrong and unnecessary, it really isn’t a black and white issue and in fact diverts energy from finding sustainable solutions. This whole argument of ‘you’re not perfect so why should I change my ways’ thing. None of us are perfect, but we desperately need to tackle climate change and that includes developing sustainable agriculture.
We should all be celebrating Veganuary, so Happy Veganuary folks. There are two main reasons. Firstly that vegans are doing a lot to help make living on this planet more sustainable and for those thinking about transitioning to a vegan diet a month to try it and for support to be available is great. Secondly, the vast majority of meat eaters, like 99.9% of people should substantially reduce their meat consumption. To do that people need to learn how to make vegan meals and that isn’t easy. Yes, we also need to cut out flying and using cars so much, but we all have to eat.
If, like me, you grew up in a traditional “meat and two veg'” home it is quite a transition. Most of my meals when growing up where meat based, so removing this central feature of meals is a challenge, it’s about finding combinations of tastes and textures to produce enjoyable vegan meals. From there comes a need to ensure a balanced diet and that involves quite a bit of knowledge about nutrition, that most people don’t have to start with. It takes a lot of effort.
Beyond that there is the social elements, where people disrespect your dietary choice and the fact that eating out with friends is always a pain in the arse, though it is a lot easier these days. People should not be attacking vegans for being pioneers in food sustainability as vegans do a lot more ethical shopping than most people do, even if occasionally the world isn’t perfect and they need to import soya beans from some rather unsustainable sources.
On the other hand, there are some from a more extremist angle who are activists who protest at farms and hassle farmers, but they are a minority and actually are symptoms of the main problem. The main problem being that since probably the Second World War, there has been a growing disconnect between food producers and consumers. Agriculture rapidly industrialised, without social consent for some of the developed practices and we now live in world where the majority of people buy almost all their food pre-packaged in the supermarket, often with little idea about how that food got to be there.
Yet, these farm-gate protesters are also at fault. Farmers are not to blame for this whole mess. Most farmers care about the land they farm and want to farm in as sustainable way as possible. However they need to earn a living and to do that they have to do whatever the broken food market tells them to do, which has been to intensify, despite all the environmental damage that causes. Farmers, Vegans and the rest of us shouldn’t be fighting each other but instead work together to sort out the broken food market and support anyone who is taking things forward in a positive direction.
Recently, finally, at long last, we are starting to see some promotion of sustainable meat production. The problem is sustainable meat production has been neglected for so long and is so far behind the vegan movement, which has it’s own labelling systems, supply chains and support groups, which sustainable meat lacks.
I grew up in rural Wales, surrounded by upland sheep farms and yet became vegetarian at the age of 15, not because I thought the farmers who were my classmates were terrible people, they are certainly not. It was my discovery of factory farming and a realisation that this was simply wrong in animal welfare terms and sustainability and finding a way of only eating local sustainable meat seemed far to challenging to me at 15, so I went Veggie. I’ve never been vegan for more than a few days at a time (I just have a serious blue cheese fetish), but about fifteen years ago I decided to eat meat again, as I felt educated enough to make informed decisions about sustainable, ethical meat sourcing and it’s been incredibly hard work. I should point out that I’ve never thought that rearing animals for food is morally wrong, though I respect people who have that view. It may be that a lot of people are tempted to veganism because of concerns about animal welfare, health or sustainability and there is a sensible compromise to consider for these people who don’;t have the moral imperative to go 100% vegan, but it needs better support.
Yet with no ready made framework, no labelling system and no-where to go to for support. Purely to make my life easier, my initial rule was organic meat only as it was and regrettably still is the only reliable labelling system for ethical meat consumption. It means meat is very expensive, so you can’t eat much of it and really the price makes it a genuine sustainable market, rather than the generally broken food market.
From there I worked out when I could eat locally produced reasonably sustainable lamb and beef from butchers and very very occasionally get hold of a chicken. Why is eating sustainable meat important? Because if we want to maximise sustainability and look after the soil, which is degrading horribly in almost all agricultural systems, some livestock farming is sustainable and supports soil sustainability and low consumption of meat may actually be healthier. Recently there has been a growing awareness of how bad processed food is for us, yet fresh meat doesn’t seem to have such issues with it from a health point of view.
We are blessed in Wales with land that isn’t great for arable farming, but is great for ruminants, cows and sheep and to move to a fully sustainable system I don’t think there is a necessity for a single farmer to stop lamb or beef production or for such radical change that is needed elsewhere on the planet. However flocks may need to be a little smaller and the land managed in new ways (or a rediscovery of old ways). The food market is broken in much the same way the housing market is, we need to pay more for our food and less for our housing and in that way create a real food market and a real housing market, which maintains farming traditions, rural incomes and gets Wales to be sustainable.
It is crazy for people who eat meat every day to complain about vegans as that diet choice of everyday meat (and often processed meat at that) is far less sustainable. As I’ve said to get to sustainability, as a species we need to eat a lot more local, seasonal, sustainably produced food. Some have suggested having “Reganuary”, where sustainable regenerative agricultural practises are supported. Why not combine the two, start making vegan meals and then reward yourself with some local sustainably produced meat, that will actually taste a lot better and have more nutrients in it!
It’s just been so challenging over the years to be ‘holding the fence up’ with one wellie in a muddy field and a sandal in a vegan shop. I get so frustrated with vegans and farmers attacking each other when we need come together and share ideas to find solutions to create sustainable communities and ways of living that don’t wreck the one planet we live on.
Like so many arguments these days, we only hear from the people at the extremes, the livestock farmers and the rearing animals is wrong vegans, whilst the majority of people with no axe to grind struggle to get listened to ast all. This happens with the Brexit debate too.