VEGANUARY BY CATHY BELL
It seems like Veganuary is causing a stir amongst farmers and people such as Lord Deben (or John Gummer as he used to be called). Gummer was the Minister for the Environment who famously tried to feed his four-year-old daughter a beefburger during the BSE (also known as Mad Cow Disease) outbreak in 1990. Thankfully, the child only took a nibble and one suspects that was only of the bread roll that the burger was encased in. As it turned out, however, BSE was transmissible to humans in the form of CJD (Creutzfeldt -Jakob Disease) and, sadly 177 people in the UK are known to have died after contracting it. So, here we have a man who was willing to play Russian Roulette with his child’s health in order to prove the point that eating meat (in this case beef) was a good thing.
And, he is at it again, having a go at vegans saying that they (we) are “muddying” the debate on climate change to support an animal rights agenda. I am no expert, but I would imagine that the opposite is true, i.e., it is crystal clear that eating red meat in particular is harmful to the environment. A statement from The United Nations claims that “the greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals every car, truck, bus, ship, aeroplane and rocket-ship combined. There is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decline in the scale of animal agriculture”. Therefore, to suggest that vegans such as myself are using the environmental debate to promote animal rights issues seems a quite desperate attempt to turn attention away from the real issue which is that global agriculture is harming the planet. And, furthermore, what is wrong with having an animal rights agenda? As a vegan (for well over twenty years now), I believe that meat eaters don’t quite understand what motivates veganism, from my experience, it is a mixture of things such as health considerations, animal welfare and concern for the planet, but also it is instinctive, it feels right to me. Having said that, it goes both ways and I admit that I am not fully understanding of what it means to be a meat eater, it feels alien to me but I would not claim that “meat is murder” or try to discourage anyone from eating it. However, I would prefer if there was less consuming of meat since it has been proved that it harms the environment. We vegans have been the butt of criticism and rubbish jokes over the years (especially during my early years of veganism). I remember complaining to the Spectator magazine about remarks directed towards vegans by the outspoken columnist Rod Liddle which went beyond humour and were offensive. Also, the food critic William Sitwell’s comments made in the Waitrose Food magazine saying he was up for “killing vegans one by one”. He had replied to a request to feature vegan recipes by telling the unsuspecting inquirer that the way to integrate vegans within the magazine was to “expose their hypocrisy, force-feed them meat and make them eat steak and drink red wine”. Sitwell was forced to resign following these comments and rightly so. I have a sense of humour; however, some people go too far.
Now vegans are fighting back – not by throwing nasty insults at carnivores but by launching initiatives such as the already mentioned Veganuary which advocates the idea of trying to eat mostly vegan meals for a month. Of course, UK’s farmers have launched their own campaign whilst accusing Veganuary of promoting “misinformation and false truths”. They claim that their We Eat Better campaign is not competing with veganism but rather trying to encourage people to buy British meat and dairy produce. Personally, I don’t see what difference that would make but the main point is that, even if they say they are running a “fair” campaign, they are actually making scandalous comments regarding the motivation behind Veganuary and accusing the organisers of lying.
On December 31st 2021 Sandra Higgins co-founder of Go Vegan World challenged John Gummer’s claims in an interview on Talk RADIO. She said, “far from being bogus, vegan’s claims with respect to diet and climate change are evidence based. She also challenged the assumption that eating British products are acceptable because of the low rate of GHG emissions from animal agriculture in the UK saying that “it is important not to forget that it is a global problem facing all of us”. Higgins believes that, if press reports attributed to Gummer are correct, “he shows scant understanding of veganism”, meaning that he confuses the issue of animal rights with the climate change and environmental harm that is partially a result of animal agriculture (and this has been proved using scientific based evidence). She argues that if Gummer was concerned about the plight of farmers, he would he would encourage them to “transition to a sustainable plant-based system of agriculture based on veganic methods”. Of course, in the real world, this is not going to happen overnight, that is, people who enjoy their meat, dairy and eggs will not suddenly go vegan. However, with the evidence that is crystal clear and not “muddying” in any way, it has to be acknowledged that steps to encourage veganism should be given a chance and not rubbished by people like Gummer whose track-record on issues regarding red meat are not to be trusted.