CLOSING THE GAP: Veganism and an online spat

Feb 16, 2018 | Thoughtful Living

In my newsletter this week (not signed up yet? Do so here) I mentioned very briefly the online scuffle about veganism between Made in Chelsea’s Lucy Watson and food writer Ruby Tandoh. It started when Lucy tweeted: “If you’re against animal cruelty, like most people, then you should be vegan”. 

She does raise a good point: so often the gap between our values and our actions  is very wide. We say we care about the future of the planet but still take long haul flights a few times a year. We say we care about workers’ rights, but still buy from high street chains that don’t pay a living wage to the people who make the clothes. We say we care about our local high streets but still buy our books from Amazon. We say we care about animals but still eat meat, dairy and eggs on a regular basis. We say we care about stuff, but don’t make any changes that compromise our wallets or convenience.  

Having said all of this, I completely agree with Ruby, that opting to go vegan is a choice that can only be made from a place of  privilege. Yes, as Lucy said, vegetables are cheap, but the non-dairy alternatives to products most people would like to consume (milk, yoghurt etc.) are far more expensive than their from-cow counterparts. It’s not just financial privilege that plays a part either. There’s also the privilege of having the time to cook vegan meals and to research products and recipes. And of having a healthy enough relationship with food that you can restrict your diet in a certain way without emotional repercussions. Also, while I don’t believe anyone NEEDS to eat meat or even dairy, I do think that some people are healthier consuming it.

I also don’t believe that a vegan diet has the monopoly on ethics. Vegan alternatives can sometimes be just as bad for the planet as their meat counterparts. And what’s bad for the planet is ultimately bad for animals as well. Every almond, for instance, takes five litres of water to grow.  The affect of the West’s increased consumption of quinoa on countries like Bolivia, pushing the price of it beyond what locals can afford, has been widely reported. There’s also the food miles involved. Drinking cow’s milk from an organic local farm is arguably ethically preferable to drinking almond milk made from nuts grown in drought-hit California.  It’s not a cut and dry situation. The ethics of food are complicated, and constantly shifting. 

(I’d also like to make the, perhaps slightly petty, point that Lucy flies long haul a LOT. I mean she’s pretty much always in sunnier climes. And the carbon emissions she is responsible for directly contribute to climate change, which affects the habitats and lives of animals all around the world.)

However, I think everyone agrees that we do all need to eat less meat for the sake of our planet and ourselves.  It’s pretty much the only way we’re going to be able to feed our growing population, and animal agriculture is the biggest industry contributer to climate change   (18%, transport is 13%).  It’s responsible for 91% of the Amazon rainforest destruction and cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane a DAY. And while I don’t agree everyone can go vegan, I do believe that almost every meat-eater can reduce their intake. 

Personally, I’ve been vegetarian for over a year now (although I do very  occasionally eat fish). I’d been going back-and-forth between vegetarianism and meat-eating for a few years beforehand, but made a real commitment the morning after watching Cowspiracy. This  was also the morning when I had to carry a duck to be slaughtered (on the sustainable farm in Italy – not, obviously, in London). I could feel how alive and how scared it was, and felt very strongly that if I couldn’t stomach being part of killing an animal, then I shouldn’t consume dead animals.

 I’m also now consciously trying to reduce the amount of dairy I consume.  I’m aware that the dairy industry is just as brutal on animals as the meat industry. Calves are removed from their mothers less than 24 hours after being born, cows are slaughtered when they no longer produce milk, and male chickens are killed at birth. Dairy cows also produce just as much methane as meat cows, funnily enough! 

It’s very easy when you go vegetarian to rely on animal products for your protein,  and I definitely do. I’m experimenting with being fully vegan for three days a week, as a way of encouraging myself to find alternatives, try new recipes, and get out of the habit of consuming dairy. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, I have slipped up on occasions, but it is making me be more conscious of how much I consume, and that is the whole point.  I’m not aiming to go fully vegan (I don’t think I could ever give up butter. Or cheese. Nor do I want to), but I would like to eat less. 

This is the first part of a new series of blog posts I’d like to write about closing the gap between my values and my actions.  I’m not aiming to be 100% perfect on anything, but to just get a tiny bit closer. I’ll look at ethical consumerism (clothes, cosmetics, and food in a bit more depth), but also slow living and minimalism. All things I believe in, and say I believe in, but sometimes (like everyone) fail to act as much as I could on. 

A few things I’ve found useful being part-time vegan: 

Oatly Drink Barista Edition: One of the things I found hardest about having fully vegan days was my morning coffee. I hated all milk alternatives in it, until I tried this one!  It’s so creamy, and doesn’t make the coffee taste weird!  

Rude Health Almond Drink: It’s only 1% almonds  and they’re all grown in Europe.

Booja-Booja chocolates and ice cream: Bloody delicious. Bloody expensive. Worth it. 

Fresh India by Meera Sodha: This is a vegetarian cookbook, but there are a lot of vegan recipes in it. It’s probably my most used cookbook EVER. Everything I’ve cooked from it has been delicious. 

Deliciously Ella cookbooks : Her sweet recipes in particular are delicious, although she really does like her dates!  Her savoury recipes tend not to be too expensive to cook, or use too many ingredients.

How to Eat / How to Cook by Anna Jones: My second and third most used cookbooks! Vegetarian, with quite a few vegan recipes. Always good.  When I fancy something sweet and creamy on a vegan day, I often make her 4pm hot chocolate which always hits the spot. 

I’d be really interested to hear if there are any values you have, that you’re not perhaps acting on as much as you could? Are there any small changes you could make?