With Charlie Moores and Jaime Newlin
“Veganism: The Final Frontier?”
by Charlie Moores
Talking Naturally (UK)
07 November, 2012
I became vegetarian (no meat, no shellfish/fish, no gelatine in puddings, and certainly no days on/days off) quite late in life. It took a little over forty years, Juliet Gellatley’s excellent ‘The Silent Ark‘, and the example of my partner and soulmate who’d been vegetarian since her teens to give up meat. I remember the moment well, staring down at the thin and fragile bones in a chicken korma in a hotel in India (after spending a day’s birdwatching of course). Suddenly I just knew that I didn’t ever want to have any responsibility at all for another miserable chicken’s miserable short life. Yes, the chicken would have been killed anyway, but it wouldn’t have been killed for me. And nearly ten years later I don’t regret the decision for a moment.
Yes, it was hard at first. I love the taste of all sorts of meat. I do believe that humans evolved to eat meat (not as much as we do now, but some nonetheless). But I don’t believe that animals are born simply to be killed so I can eat them, that sweeping the oceans clear of fish so I can have a ‘cod’ with my chips can possibly be ‘sustainable’ in any way at all, that intensive farming is morally right, that killing animals for sport (even if they’re to be eaten) is justifiable, or that humans can’t exist without meat in their diets.
I believe all of that very strongly.
My decision was also based on not wanting to fund animal-based industries. I wanted to be able to look a pig in the eye and know I wouldn’t be paying for it to die. I feel better for not having to make excuses to myself for doing what I fundamentally believe I shouldn’t: supporting an unethical pillage of the earth so I can eat a few slices of meat that I really don’t need.
For some reason though, veganism has always seemed a step too far. No animal products whatsoever. No honey, eggs, or dairy products. Vegetarianism seems quite normal, veganism seemed somehow evangelical and not for ‘people like me’. I had no idea why I felt that way. But then the badger cull came along and I sat down and really thought about it (Badger cull: who’s to blame?).
And now – more than a year later – I’ve thought about it again. Here’s the thing. Essentially veganism means giving up stuff that I really like. I’ve already given up a lot of food I really like. Eating – to be honest – is a little dull. I’ve never been a ‘foody’ but when I look in the fridge or the cupboard (and especially on the ‘snack’ shelves of the local shops) I rarely feel inspired by what’s on offer for a veggie. I can cope with that though. Better to be bored than backing industries I dislike with what little money I have these days.
But giving up custard doughnuts, milk in my tea, cream cakes, milk chocolate, cheese on the already very dull pizzas we eat…?
Before answering that though, let’s get back to the badger cull. Why are badgers going to be culled? Because they’re blamed for spreading Bovine TB to cattle. Btb causes losses to the dairy industry [RADBF: “bTB costs farmers and indirectly, consumers millions of pounds a year through loss of infected livestock and control of the disease”] and naturally enough the dairy industry doesn’t like that. The dairy industry has actually intensified enormously in the last few decades (as demand has soared) and that’s not been good for cows but should have meant more money for farmers. But it hasn’t. Prices at the farm gate have been driven lower and lower by consumers. Consumers like me. No wonder dairy farmers worry about losses to badgers.
Some dairy farmers (some, not many) think that the best way to maximise profits is to keep cows indoors all year and feed them on grain in vast ‘mega-dairies. That would be even worse for cows. Even now though the dairy industry is really no better (farmers might say no worse perhaps?) than the beef industry. Which I already won’t support. Female cows produce milk when they’re pregnant. They’re inseminated endlessly to ensure pregnancy until they’re worn out and killed and turned into low-grade meat products. Their calves are removed almost immediately so that they don’t drink the milk their mothers produce. The dairy industry doesn’t want male cows either. They don’t produce milk of course. Male calves are either slaughtered or kept confined and sold as veal.
It’s not nice. And now hundreds of thousands of badgers might be killed to ensure that the dairy industry keeps hold of its profits too.
If that seems very simplistic it’s because it is. Bottom line, badgers will be killed because the dairy industry believe they impact on their profits. It’s a simple link, a simple connection, and I believe that I’m – quite simply – a part of the process by buying the products the industry produces.
When I hear people say, ‘I can’t give up bacon/steak/fish, I like it too much’ I understand how hard it is. I really do. But at the same time I think of the huge loss of life, the loss of land to grain that needs to be grown to feed farm animals, the wild fish caught to be ground up and fed to fish in fish farms, the methane released into the atmosphere, the vast amounts of water the food industry needs. But – when confronted with the reality of the dairy industry, the same release of methane, the same water being used, the same grains fed to essentially the same animals, the use of those animals until they can’t be used anymore and are disposed of, and of a badger cull I loathe – more and more my saying, ‘But I really like cheese’ sounds nothing less than a perfect echo of that same meat-eater who despite all the evidence of the damage that meat production does to the environment and the animals it devours won’t give it up because they really like the taste of bacon…
Do I really need milk in my tea? Can’t I live without custard doughnuts (actually I can probably live far longer without them)? Life without cheese – hmm, that’s a real problem, but not insurmountable (of course not). And do I really want to feel, however minutely, that I’m partly responsible for the deaths of British badgers?
There are no clear answers, no absolute solutions, I know that. These are complex issues. I’m fully aware that one person’s actions very, very rarely change things very much. But this is now much more about how I feel, about what I know is right, than attempting to change the world by putting rice milk in my morning cuppa. It’s about feeling today the way I did when I looked at those tiny bones nine years ago.
The final frontier? I’m going to have to cross it soon, I really am.
Just read your very good essay on peering into the vegan chasm….
One thing that surprised me in your comments was the assertion that the veggie food is dull and would get even more dull if one went vegan.
Is it possible that the UK (which most Yanks think of as a sort of enlightened vegan-friendly nirvana compared to the USA) that you are missing out on some of the stuff that a lot of US vegans are starting to take for granted? For example, speaking of pizza and cheese, we just went out to a pizza joint last night and got a womping big, and very good, vegan pizza complete with vegan cheese, with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and artichokes on top. The cheese was very likely (although I didn’t ask) a soy cheese brand called Daiya, one of several competing brands here in the USA. Mind you this occurred in TEXAS (the butt of half of vegan comic commentary) and as far as cities go, El Paso, where the aforementioned pizza was consumed, isn’t even on the vegan map of Texas compared to Austin, Dallas, Houston etc. (Of course, the 600 mile space between Houston and El Paso is decidely un-vegan, but even some “forty-mile towns” like Marfa in west TX, for instance, are showing some vegan activity these days.)
I would further add, by way of encouragement, that the biggest and most exciting growth sector in cook books and in food products in the last maybe ten years has been vegan books and items. It’s absolutely a booming field. The amount of seductive vegan food has exploded in the last decade, up to the point where I for one am kind of reacting against it… I (as a long term vegan) am actually looking to “dull down” my food habits, and to get away from the constant vegan-foodie frenzy and the cooking of endless batches of vegan cupcakes, vegan pastries, vegan extravaganzas and such and to learn to not only eat vegan but to eat low fat vegan and less processed and much simpler and more local. I’m aiming at (personally) a sort of lentils and yams base with a bunch of greens and fruits on top, and a lot of peppers thrown on top for amusement.
Given that my better half is now the “interim” president of the local veg society, and that I am the family (and events) cook, my dreams of getting away from pastry duties and from other “foo-foo” vegan food production are probably a pipe dream, but still, for me individually, simpler and “duller” is where my ambitions are.
My point in saying this is to point out that there is no need to be bored with vegan food. No need at all… it is the most happening food scene on the planet right now, and the quality of recipes and available products has skyrocketed recently.
Perhaps in your new rural digs, in the heart of traditional agriculture, some of this news has not penetrated. But I assure you, it is happening. The usual meat fare that might have been missed twenty years ago is duller than dishwater compared to the international fiesta that modern veganism provides.
I would encourage you to jump into the vegan pool, the water isn’t just fine, it’s fantastic….
It can, however, be a bit expensive (depending on how much amusement you require), and may of course not be very high profile in your particular neck of the woods. But hey, it’s England, and here in Texas we are completely convinced that you guys over there are living in real vegan civilization…
So if you think your vegan future is to resign yourself to dullsville, to resign yourself with a sigh to the righteous but severe straight and narrow, then you are fortuitously mistaken, and you seem to be missing out on a large portion of vegan culture, people, communication, websites, books and such.
Anything I can do to help, let me know. I’ll work up a list of cookbooks and such in the next few days, which maybe you could look at reviews of on Amazon.com, to get a feel for what you may have been missing.
At some point, if you do the vegan thing successfully, as the years roll by you will probably get to the point of thinking “maybe I should be a bit more frugal, local, un-processed, etcetera etcetera”. Which is good, when it comes.
But first, check out the international food fest that is modern veganism. Have some fun with it. There’s plenty of fun to be had as a vegan. In fact, too much fun. Modern veganism’s problem is no longer one of providing a seductive enough competition to the meat addiction…it’s one of overkill and of toning down the constant foodie-overdrive in order to move on to further environmental and health refinements. But before you get all serious and back to business about it, allow yourself some time to revel at the vegan party.