One couldn’t fail to miss the latest surge by the media, both press and TV, to promote the findings of the market research organisation Nielsen with regard the ‘explosion’ in popularity of the vegan and vegetarian industries. Reports in the Times, the Daily Mail and the Guardian would have us believe that meat sales are in decline. They report on the as yet not realised amazing benefits, of a plant-based diet. I’m not sure when the term ‘plant based’ was first coined but the aim one assumes is to promote veganism in a more positive light. Not that that’s a bad thing, there’s no reason not to see veganism as a positive thing. Anyone electing to promote animal welfare, positive environmental change and contribute to helping the planet is to be commended. My problem with the current ‘revolution’ (as termed by Veganuary) is that there appears to be a moral grandstanding approach being taken by the ‘enlightened’ to coerce the wider population into changing the eating habits of centuries by forcing a choice based on right versus wrong, good versus bad, virtuous versus evil. Guess which side of those comparisons’ meat eaters sit!
Here’s a question for you. Do you openly read hunting magazines in public places? If so, are you conscious of who might be looking at you and what they might say? I would answer yes to both questions. I’m not worried about anyone challenging my choice though. In fact, I would relish the opportunity to have an open and honest debate about the perceived issue and their motives for trying to publicly shame me especially when I wouldn’t do the same to them. The mobilisation of national media is a worry, however. It’s no secret that the liberals within these establishments are far removed from the central opinion of the vast majority of the population, and as a result will gleefully preach about the immorality of our chosen food preferences.
Interestingly, for those of us involved in field pursuits, be it hunting, fishing, foraging or shooting, the negative impacts of intensive farming on animals, humans and the environment are not new or indeed misunderstood. We actively seek to promote wildlife, the environment and animal welfare. A side benefit from our actions is to ensure a sustainable supply of an ethically sourced healthy food, both meat and plant based. What’s more, we tend to conduct our endeavours locally and seasonally, promoting a positive effective to our environment. I’m not sure the same can be said for much of the vegan movement. Films such as Game Changer try to promote vegan foods as superfoods making super humans out of all who partake. What they miss are the negative environmental impacts that result in order to produce such food sources regardless of natural season or habitat globally and year-round.
For example, almond milk is available as a result of the true exploitation of bees driven across the USA to pollinate the almond trees, avocados give rise to corruption and miss-appropriation of water sources in South America to such an extent that local people are dying of thirst, and palm oil comes through the decimation of the forestry habitat of the now near extinct Orangutan in Indonesia. A balanced thorough investigation into the production of all plant-based food sources would likely identify many examples of negative impacts against wildlife, environment and local human populations. Buying a nicely parcelled super food with promotions of its ethical origin seems to exonerate the purchaser of the responsibility of its often-toxic existence. The same argument can of course be made for those who consume meat produced from intensive farming especially where poor animal welfare is simply seen as an inevitable side effect of scale production. 1 billion chickens a year in the UK never see the sun. Not the best life I’m sure!
There is no right or wrong diet, we do know that too much of anything is probably not good for us. We can kid ourselves that one is heathier than the other. We can delude ourselves that one has a greater morale awareness. However, it is not as simple as meat versus plants as health isn’t just based on what we eat. Exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, drugs, stress, education amongst many other factors all play a role. Food selection isn’t just a case of ingredients or constituents, there is a much bigger picture that needs to be seen. Unfortunately, it can only be understood by looking into the detail which includes the environment, the local economy, the local populations, the local livestock, the local vegetation. The key work here for me is ‘local’.
As with many of you reading this, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there is something uniquely delightful about eating a meal comprised from vegetables grown by your own hand, food foraged from the local countryside, meat hunted in a nearby forest, or shot on a nearby estate. All of which has a near zero carbon footprint, is ethically sourced, is incredibly healthy and tastes sublime. Let’s also not forget the health benefits of the physical exertion of the process.
Statistics based on values such as market share, uptakes, declines, economic benefit to the producer, seller and buyer, are all interesting but they are, at the end of the day, just statistics. They don’t look at the bigger picture or real benefits to the person, planet or environment. As the saying goes “lies, damned lies and statistics” is used to bolster a weak argument. I’m sure Nielsen operates objectively in its research which means it can’t look at the real benefits that the pro plant-based organisations claim it supports as they aren’t easily measurable. However, organisations such as Veganuary and the media will obviously use it as justification for the bigger moral position. Personally, I would prefer those institutions with the perceived power to define public opinion to concentrate more on the finer detail to produce the wider demographics to better inform the bigger picture.
Let’s promote the eating of locally produced food, sourced seasonally and ethically. Surely, by developing this form of subsistence, the net result will be better animal welfare. More thought on what and when we eat will lead to, a healthier diet, producing greater benefits to the natural environment, reduced carbon footprint and a boost to the local economy. High streets need our support or we will lose them, this might even result in a greater social awareness amongst us all, no matter what diet we follow!