Featured image: Frequently asked questions to vegans—answered.
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, you say. Hmm. I still won’t do it. Can you imagine the confusion my little, 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 anyway? Is Richard Branson, bored of privatising health services, going to facilitate my stay on one of his islands? 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 practice it’s better. Consider my meals today: peanut butter on toast and porridge with jam, nuts, and seeds; three-bean soup; Thai curry; and various snacks and fruit. That took my protein intake to comfortably over the 61 g recommended for my weight.
Besides, protein is just one of the many nutrients we need and healthcare 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.
P.S. Gorillas are vegans most of the time.
'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 alternatives or substitutes for everything, pretty much, and, from experience, any competent restaurant will cook you something if you ask. Even Sainsbury’s provide a vegan lunch-to-go.
You’re not even listening. Great. So far 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 flesh is attached to a negative connotation in my mind, shockingly. My response is disappointingly boring? I don’t care. Being told categorically 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 hundreds of 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? Ooh! Why not? My answer is ‘no’ then. Well—okay then—if they’ll be content, maybe. But I can’t even 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 by keeping them on my property.
'How do you know when you've met a vegan? They'll tell you.'
How beautifully contrived. A vegan won’t want to contribute to the holier-than-thou stereotype now because they won’t want to stand on a soapbox and counter to your point. And so your conscience will avoid cognitive dissonance as you sit in a state of psychological harmony after delivering that hilarious joke without hearing any upsetting truths. No conflict: no problem. Amazing.
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? Actually, 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 employees’ abject work conditions. Yes, a garment factory of Primark collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people. Yes, purchasing Fairtrade tea doesn’t guarantee that farmworkers are being paid fairly nor that these farmworkers are even adults. You might also be correct in saying that the growing demand for quinoa, a vegan favourite, in the West is can price out locals from eating their staple food. But these are all separate issues from animal farming! However, you’re right, they are genuine issues. So, you beautiful people, let’s constructively discuss them and educate and encourage each other more. We can all benefit from being wiser and more compassionate with our purchases and beyond.
'Aren't you eating their food?'
Brilliant. Assuming that you’re being serious, we would actually reduce the demand for plant-based foods, such as cereal and soybean, if we ate them ourselves! The process of animal farming is highly energy-inefficient, comparatively speaking: the scarce amount of food, water, and land we have access to could be put to much better use. We can’t even properly feed our own species as there are 800,000 people without sufficient access to food. Many 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 the is nonzero. My impact on Earth was guaranteed to be negative ever since the event of birth. For that I’m sorry! I agree that the lives of mice, voles, birds, and the other local inhabitants of requisite land are inevitably affected by the farming. All I can do is minimise my impact and hope that, collectively, we can reach an environmental equilibrium. Animal agriculture, you must admit, is on another level, though.
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; yet we’re gorging. 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. Sweet Jesus, the future looks bleak. Fret not: a vegan diet is probably less detrimental to the environment!
'Plants have feelings too.'
You have that annoying grin on your face again. Something tells me you’re being facetious. I 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 probably beyond them. Of course, if they could suffer, I’d have to reconsider my stance. But my attitude would remain unchanged: I want to minimise the impact of my diet on the welfare of all beings as much as is reasonably possible.
So I’d still choose not to starve, funnily enough. 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?
Okay but they’re just the animals you see on country drives. Dear Lord, what about the ones that aren’t peacefully grazing in front of an idyllic country backdrop! For Christ sake, think outside the box. Look what you’ve done: you’ve forced me to turn to our Lord and Saviour for hope! Now you’re trusting Lidl to faithfully depict the lives of all turkeys? I give up entirely.
Nope. Sorry—I’m back. As I said, food, energy, and land are scarce and I’ve got chills because our species is multiplying. 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 fuck’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 their natural instincts can be stimulated.
Unsurprisingly, more light is shone upon these conditions when directly human interests are concerned.
Oh, now you’re the listening.
The World Health Organization (WHO) now considers antibiotic resistance to be one of the greatest threats to global health and its systematic overuse in animal agriculture is accelerating the process. A pertinent article published by the The Guardian recently highlights a 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: if an animal—let’s say a chicken—was killed painlessly, could we justify killing and eating it if we bred another one that led a natural and content life after it? 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. Then again, why not just keep both chickens alive?
'We're top of the food chain.'
Okay. Firstly, in the past we needed to do kill to survive: undeniably, there were conflicts of interests between humans and animals with regard to key aspects of an arduous life 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 status of other species. We don’t like to think that we’re a subgroup of animals that also happen to inhabit Earth—perhaps because acknowledging this fact limits how much we stand to gain. In principle, this behaviour is similar to racism and sexism. So watch what you say.
I have a thought experiment for you. Please justify why the pain inflicted upon countless animals (e.g. intelligent pigs) should never be felt by profoundly disabled human orphans for the same hypothetical gains that exploited and slaughtered animals provide. Both profoundly disabled human orphans and pigs feel pain and neither can demand their own liberation. You ought to justify the orphan’s suffering too.
When we define a capacity that only human beings possess in an attempt to render us unique we’ll likely oversee our special protection be withdrawn since we can quite easily extend our protective ringfence so as to include other species too.
Certainly, we can observe differences in qualities between species—for example, our superior reasoning power can’t seriously be doubted—but it doesn’t follow that we should not afford each animal with equal consideration. Pain is felt across our divisions. 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 may be 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 but 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 huge, ruthless industries 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.
I dedicate this post to those braver people before me who confronted more obstacles—usually other humans—in their time but who remained dedicated to the cause. 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you win'. Unfortunately, this isn't a game. I credit the following for many of my views: Animal Liberation, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014), Earthlings (2005), and, most importantly, fellow vegetarians for demonstrating, to my prior disbelief, how easy it all was.