By James Clark Ross
Hello, mate. Are you busy? Can we have a quick chat? Just about veganism. Excellent.
Look, I completely understand that you’re curious when it comes to my diet but, to be honest, I’m a bit fed up of being asked the same questions time and time again. So it would be quite nice if I could quickly take some time to respo—
Can I just check whether this is an important message? Oh, for fuck’s sake. That’s the third time I’ve been tagged in that meme this week! Sorry. I’ll continue.
Wait. What are you doing? Please give back my lunch. I’ve already checked that it’s ve—happy? And we’re meant to be the annoying ones.
Anyway. Let’s begin. This might be my only chance.
‘Would you eat roadkill?’
Jesus wept. Why on Earth would I do that? It’s the remnants of a poor pheasant that was mangled by a car. You’re sick.
It died instantly, you say. It’s clean and it’ll rot in the road otherwise. Hmm. I still won’t do it. Can you imagine the confusion my poor subconscious brain would suffer from?
‘If you were on a desert island, would you eat meat?’
Right. To start with, when would this ever fucking happen?
What sort of desert island is this? Is Richard Branson, bored of privatising the NHS, going to facilitate my stay on one of his? I survived a plane crash? Ridiculous. The sheer number of survivors following the plane crash in Lost was the most unrealistic event during its six long and farcical series! Whatever. Let’s go with it. Let’s melt our minds with some desert-island philosophy.
I’m alone on a small, baron, and remote island, whose main attraction is nothing more than a solitary, fruitless palm tree. Miraculously, there’s a supply of water and there are wild boars roaming the lands, which I’ll have to kill and eat if I want to survive.
Hold on a minute. If there are animals on this island, what the hell are they eating? I’ll have some of that please!
I see. You’re forcing me to choose between life or a gruesome, drawn-out death via the route of starvation. Arse hole. When it finally comes down to it, then, I guess I’ll have to survive. Is that what you wanted to hear?
‘Where do you get your protein from?’
Good question, doctor. A question that has baffled countless brilliant minds for generations. How does this mythical and magical nutrient seemingly evade so many vegetarians and vegans? I appreciate your sincere concern.
Breath. Calm down. You used to ask this question too.
Sorry, mate. That was too sarcastic. In short: pulses, cereals and grains, and nuts and oily seeds. Granted, that sounds pretty crap when you say it like that. In practise, though, my meals today were peanut butter on toast and porridge with jam, nuts, and seeds; three-bean soup; Thai curry; and various snacks and fruit. This took my protein intake comfortably over the 61 g recommended for my weight.
But protein is just one of the many nutrients we need. NHS professionals state that ‘You should be able to get most of the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.’ It’s even been demonstrated that vegans are likely to live longer. That’s even more time to annoy you.
‘What do you actually eat?’
No, I don’t eat grass. That’s very funny though.
There’s so much information out there. Let’s Google local restaurants for inspiration. Look at the screen. You’re not looking! Shall we just order a Chinese—which can easily be vegan FYI—and move onto the next question? Finally—your attention.
I know an Anglo-Saxon meal consisting of meat and two portions of overcooked vegetables is close to your heart and I know patriotism is back on the menu; however, the culinary world really can be your vegan oyster. With a drop of imagination you can easily adapt the pasta, roast, chilli, and curry dishes you currently eat. Furthermore, there are pretty much alternatives or substitutes for everything and, from experience, any competent restaurant will cook us something if we ask. Even Sainsbury’s can provide a vegan lunch to go.
You’re not even listening. Great. This non-exhaustive list has made me exhausted anyway. If you’re struggling for ideas, just buy a good cook book or browse the internet for vegan recipes or something.
‘What do you miss most?’
Not having to answer these questions. Seriously, though, I never think about meat in the context of eating it. In fact, the idea of eating is attached to a negative connotation. My response is disappointingly boring? I don’t care. Being categorically told that I must miss steak is boring.
‘You’re not going to be upset if I order this, are you?’
No. Go for it. You might as well join the millions of others.
‘Would you keep your own chickens for eggs?’
I appreciate that you’re not trying to kill me this time but why do you keep trying to make me consume animal-based foods? I don’t want any!
Fine. Can I save some factory-farm chickens and look after them? Ohh. Why not? My answer is ‘no’ then. Well—okay then—if they’ll be content, maybe. But I can’t guarantee that. By limiting where the chickens can roam, what they can eat, and how they develop social pecking orders I’d be inhibiting their instinctive desires.
‘How will you know when you meet a vegan? They’ll tell you.’
How beautifully contrived: a vegan probably won’t want to contribute to the holier-than-thou stereotype by apparently standing on a soapbox and responding to your point with upsetting truths. Your conscience will avoid cognitive dissonance and you’ll reach a state of psychological harmony. No conflict: no problem.
What? I’m not telling you how to live your life. These are your questions! Let’s just ignore the fact that I only ever mention my diet when I have to or if I’m prompted to by folly such as this, shall we? I’m being self-righteous? Oh, I see. Last week you called me a ‘weak, pale, anaemic hippie who hangs out with Edward Cullen’, yesterday my diet was nutritionally inadequate, and today you can’t even trust me to buy a sandwich from Tesco. Yet it’s me who’s being self-righteous.
Have I offended you? Why are you suddenly being so sensitive? I know why.
‘Don’t you shop at Primark and own an iPhone?’
Look! Someone’s trying to do something good! Drag him down through some other, completely separate means to show the world that he’s not perfect!
Yes, a company in Apple’s supply chain strung safety nets outside a factory to prevent suicides, indicating the severity of the poor work conditions. Yes, a garment factory for Primark collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people. You’re right. You’d also be correct in saying that the growing demand for quinoa, a vegan favourite, in the West is pricing out locals from eating their staple food and that purchasing Fairtrade tea doesn’t guarantee fair pay for farmworkers nor that these farmworkers are even adults. But these are separate issues! However, they are genuine. So, you beautiful people, let’s constructively discuss them and educate and encourage each other. We can all benefit from being wiser and more compassionate—with our purchases and beyond.
‘Aren’t you eating their food?’
Brilliant. Assuming you’re being serious, we would actually reduce the demand for plant-based foods, such as cereal and soybean, if we ate it ourselves! The process of animal farming is energy inefficient: for example, a kilogram of beef can require 20 kg of grain. Besides, we can’t even properly feed our own species. There are 800 million people without sufficient access to food and 82 % of starving children live in countries where plant-based food they could eat is fed to animals that’ll be eaten in the West. Yet it’s me who’s the bad one for ‘eating their food’. Piss off, mate.
‘You do know that a vegan diet harms the environment too, right?’
Of course the impact of growing plant-based foods to animals is nonzero. My impact on Earth was guaranteed to be negative ever since the event of my birth and for that I’m sorry! It’s true that the lives of mice, voles, birds, and the other local inhabitants of requisite land will be affected by farming. All I can do is minimise my impact and hope that, collectively, we can reach an environmental equilibrium. Animal agriculture, on the other hand, is on another level.
Every year billions of animals are bred and slaughtered for the sole purpose of consumption and in 30 years there’ll likely be almost ten billion of us. It’s been estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation, has destroyed 91 % of the Brazilian Amazon, requires 70 % of the world’s fresh water, and generates five tonnes of waste per U.S. person per year.
‘Plants have feelings too.’
You have that annoying grin on your face again. Something tells me that you’re being facetious; but I just can’t tell anymore. Whatever.
Although plants are more complex than we generally give them credit for, the capacity to feel pain (and think) is most probably beyond them. Of course, if they could suffer, I’d have to reconsider my stance but my aim would remain unchanged: to minimise the impact of my diet on the welfare all beings as much as is reasonably possible.
So I’d choose not to starve. This isn’t even the first time that you’ve attempted to hypothetically kill me today!
‘Surely animal prefer farms to the wild.’
What makes you say that? What about the cows you don’t see grazing against an idyllic country backdrop during those country drives! And now you’re trusting Lidl to depict faithfully the lives of all turkeys! I give up.
Nope. Sorry—I’m back. Feed, energy, and land are scarce. I’ve got chills because our species is multiplying. Both of these factors will force our means of production to become even more intensive. A 35-day old broiler chicken can probably bench-press more than me, for Christ’s sake.
In these unnatural conditions animals pose harm to each other. Instead of reducing the demand that forces them to exist in these stressful environments we dock their tails, reduce their teeth, castrate them, remove their young, debeak them, control lighting, and transport them alive. I’d argue that shelter with limited space and shit food in restricted supply are barely substitutes for a natural life, through which natural instincts can be stimulated.
Unsurprisingly, more light is shone upon these conditions when human interests are concerned. The World Health Organization (WHO) now considers antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health and its systematic overuse in animal agriculture is accelerating the process. A pertinent article by the Guardian recently highlighted the growing concern.
What are you on about now? Animals kill each other in the wild? I know! But wild carnivores kill out of necessity. We possess the ability to reason. Use it, damn you!
‘We put them here in the first place!’
Alright, God. Calm down. How does breeding fellow animals for a particular and arguably unnecessary purpose justify their mistreatment on a mass scale? Ask yourself this: are the lives you’re going to provide these animals with going to be worth living? Let’s be frank: the answer is probably no. The likelihood is that these animals are going to be born into a cruel, callous world dictated by human interests.
Nonetheless, a good adaption of this point would be as follows. If an animal—let’s say a chicken that we assume can’t contemplate the future—was killed painlessly, could we justify killing and eating it if we bred another one that led a natural and content life? Irrespective of how improbable both cases are, the sum of both lives would lead to net welfare. Irrationally, I want to save Chicken 1 but I can’t think of a good reason to do so, for Chicken 2 has more to gain.
‘We’re top of the food chain.’
Okay. Firstly, in the past we needed to do kill to survive: there were undeniable conflicts of interests between humans and animals if one considers aspects such as limited food and threats to safety. But we’re not savages living on the savannah anymore. We effectively rule the planet and have the opportunity to embrace rationality to do what is right. Is our success at dominating the planet an excuse for exploiting it?
My impression is that many of us act as though we’re special and entitled simply by virtue of being human. That is, we attribute intrinsic dignity and intrinsic worth to ourselves in order to lower the relative status of other species. We don’t like to think that we’re a subgroup of animals that also happen to inhabit Earth. Is this because acknowledging this fact limits how much we stand to gain? In principle, this behaviour is similar to racism and sexism.
To those people, define a characteristic or a capacity that only human beings possess which renders us unique.
Further, attempt to justify why the pain inflicted upon countless animals (e.g. intelligent pigs) should never be felt by a permanently and profoundly disabled human orphan for the same arbitrary gain. Both feel pain and neither can demand their own liberation.
Certainly, we can observe differences in qualities between species—for example, our superior reasoning power can’t seriously be doubted—but that doesn’t mean we’re unable to afford each animal with equal consideration. To quote Jeremy Bentham: ‘The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’
‘I’m going to double my meat consumption to negate your positive impact.’
I thought we were making ground then. I hate you sometimes. That being said, the joke is on you. You might be joining 2.1 billion other people in being obese and suffering even more from increased risks of various cardiovascular diseases, colon and prostate cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Sorry/not sorry.
‘But aren’t humans designed to eat meat?’
Apologies in advance—can I be that guy who answers your question with a question? Thank you.
Why does it matter what you were ‘designed’ to do?
Put your pitiful canine teeth away. Oh, you’re scowling at me. I’m going to take advantage of your slip in defence by asking you yet another question: if you insist on eating meat, do you really need to eat so much?
‘I respect that you’re a vegan but I couldn’t do it.’
Why not? I commend your honesty but this fact only slightly lessens the crime.
‘You’ll never make a difference.’
Sentient animals are treated as resources and, as such, have been monetised by a huge, relentless industry to serve the now-trivial desires of our guts. Just play the game and give them less money. The more meat you buy, the more you demand, the more profit companies make. This encourages more ‘production’ and so on. Further, you’ll be demonstrating to others that following a vegan diet is entirely within the realm of possibility. In turn, you may even encourage them to follow in your not-so-carbon footprints…
I’m feeling optimistic now. Push for change with me!
This whole conversation has been pointless, hasn’t it?
‘What is the most difficult part of being a vegan?’
Without a shadow of a doubt: you.
Still here? I hope this post hasn’t come across as sanctimonious. As I alluded to above, I often asked the same questions to vegetarians when I was routinely eating meat. As a passionate and committed sportsman, for example, I thought I wouldn’t function without animal-derived protein. Equally, I enjoyed the meat I ate and so my compassion for all leaving creatures was suppressed by my wilful ignorance. But I was being dishonest to myself: I turned a blind eye to the unquantifiable suffering and unquestionable damage that we, as a species, are causing. This was an easy positon to maintain, though, since my stance was held by many others. Yet, after a small amount of research and with some stubbornness and encouragement from elsewhere, I became a vegetarian over four years ago. Approximately a year subsequent to this I became a vegan. Physically and psychologically, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been (admittedly, there are many variables to consider). I wholeheartedly recommend considering the change.
I dedicate this post to those braver people before me who confronted more obstacles—usually people—in their time but who remained dedicated to the cause. ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you win’. But, unfortunately, this isn’t a game. I credit the following for many of my views: Animal Liberation, Cowspiracy, Earthlings, and, most importantly, fellow vegetarians for demonstrating, to my prior disbelief, how easy it all was.