"I will not be told that I have no grounds to speak out about anything regarding saving our planet"
Veganism. A dietary lifestyle that is on the increase. There are many different reasons as to why people are choosing to adopt a vegan lifestyle in their diet. Animal welfare, health concerns and environment to name a few. In my opinion I would say there are a few different types of vegans. Some focus their veganism solely on their diet, whilst others span it across many other consumables. As a wildlife conservationist with a passion for wildlife and the environment, I am often asked whether or not I myself am a vegan. No. I am not. Whilst the former may offer a backwards parallel, I have my reasons as to why.
In this post I am going to focus on what I would argue is one of the main areas of veganism, and that is diet. The planet has recently undertaken a huge knock in the form of forest fires. We have seen the amazon ablaze and most recently the horrendous outbreak of bush fires in Australia. These events have thankfully kickeda lot of people into waking up to our planet’s cry for help. However, as a result, there has been an increased push from ‘militant’ vegans telling people that if they wish to save our planet and have an impact fighting against the challenges it is currently facing, they MUST stop consuming animal products. Whilst I appreciate that several forest fires are caused by increasing land availability for farming animals, I do not believe that halting the consumption of animal products will prevent further such events, including that of logging, from taking place.
Using cattle meat as the example. Let’s imagine the world suddenly unites and everyone stops consuming meat. With all the cattle currently in the world, no longer existing to meet the demands of the food industry, they now have a free life. A large majority of the worlds cattle are kept in cramped conditions inside factory farms to save space, right? Well luckily for these cattle, they no longer have to live their lives like that, because we no longer need to farm them, so they can be free. My question is where do we now put the cattle that were initially kept in such cramped conditions due to a lack of space? If we are going to become a vegan population, we certainly can’t leave them in there. We must provide them with a chance to live freely amongst the outdoors. So, it’s time to decide, where do we put all of the cattle, we are setting free? We cannot simply set them free anywhere, as not all habitats would be suitable, and those that are, could be at risk of serious depletion, which could further seriously impact the surrounding natural biodiversity in the area. An endless stream of grazing cattle would most certainly result in a change of land use and therefore habitat suitability to its native wildlife. Additionally, how do we ensure that the cows we now allow to live a free lifestyle, don’t reach carrying capacity of the area that they live in? Once carrying capacity is reached, we are talking about a high-density population living in cramped conditions with an increase in competition for space and food, and furthermore an increased risk of disease outbreak, which again, not only would impact the cow population but also the surrounding wildlife. I suppose one way of halting the chances of carrying capacity being reached would be to sterilise the cows and slowly wait for them to die out? Maybe.
I recently watched an interview with a vegan activist Lucy Watson (you can watch it here) and one key point stuck out to me. She was essentially asked her thoughts regarding the point that many people had made, that there simply is not enough space on the planet for us all to live on a plant-based diet. She replied with “if you think about the fact that there are 56 billion animals that are killed every year, and what are we feeding those animals? We are feeding them plants, right? Which humans could also eat, and actually if we GOT RID of all those animals, we would make a lot more space..”. The interview continues but let’s just focus on those two words for a moment. Where are we going to GET RID of 56 billion animals? What does that mean? Does that mean releasing them all? If so, I go straight back up to my earlier point that the planet doesn’t currently have enough space for its wild populations to thrive let alone to accommodate 56 billion farm animals roaming freely. Or maybe she means euthanasia, in which case I ask her the same question that she posed to a free-range turkey farmer, “what is a human slaughter?” (again, link to the full video will be provided here). What I found most frustrating about this was her pompous arrogance and condescending tone towards farmers who are focusing their efforts on actively trying to ensure their livestock have a good quality of life before they are euthanised.
It is at this point that I would like to make it VERY clear that I have no issue with someone’s personal choice to go vegan. This is not an anti-vegan post. I used to work with a wonderful lady who was vegan, and she once said to me “being vegan is simply about doing what I can” and that I fully respect. What I find incredibly frustrating, are the handful of vegans who believe that by not eating meat they have then right to undermine and condescend everyone else’s efforts and concerns towards combating climate change, animal welfare and aid in wildlife conservation.
The following is a fictional illustration of an all too frequently seen scenario:
Suzie is a militant vegan and believes the population must become vegan. Suzie is very vocal (in an unpleasant, disrespectful way) towards those that do consume animal products, but still give a damn about the planet – like Sally.
Sally is not a vegan. Sally consumes a small amount of animal produce each week, which is well balanced out with plant based and wholegrain foods. Sally also makes a conscious effort to keep her weekly waste to a minimum, and makes sure to only purchase sustainable, ethical, and cruelty free products. Sally also volunteers with her local wildlife conservation team, litter picking, managing habitats and carrying out flora and fauna surveys. However, regardless of Sally’s dedication towards the cause, Suzie frequently tells her she has no right to get involved with such issues because she is not a vegan.
This is the type of scenario I have an issue with. Its rude and ignorant, and if anything isn’t helping the overall cause. It’s essentially telling people if they eat meat they may as well not bother with anything else. If you ask me, Sally is having a far greater impact than Suzie and yet she is undermined, and often scrutinized for not wearing and adopting the ‘wildlife, animal loving, climate change activist’ label.
Let’s just say that I consider myself to be a Sally; I am not a huge meat eater. I don’t eat pork or lamb, I very rarely eat beef, and sometimes I eat chicken. I am not a vegetarian, but I genuinely love Quorn. Quorn beef, Quorn chicken, even Quorn pizza, and my love for vegetables is unquestionable. I don’t eat eggs anymore (by this I mean as a single food item – to clarify I still eat foods that contain egg… like cake) and I drink coconut milk and consume soy yoghurt. I do eat cheese, but I keep that to a minimum because who wants bad cholesterol. So, to sum that up I’d say I have quite a good balance when it comes to my diet, putting very little pressure on both animal and plant-based products. I only use cruelty free beauty, skincare and now cleaning products, and have significantly reduced my consumerism for fast fashion. This year I am challenging myself to go 100% sustainable in this department. I have adopted and rescued many animals, putting an eye watering amount of money, time and emotional investment into rehabilitating them. I am known for being that annoying person that will stop you in your tracks and send you to the recycling bin, and I avoid single use plastic where I can. I am a country park ranger. My job sees me dedicated to wildlife conservation and habitat management. I have a BSc with Honours in wildlife conservation. But, no I am not a vegan. And again, to be clear, I have no issue with someone choosing to adopt a vegan lifestyle. But I will not be told by Suzie’s condescending tone, that I have no grounds to speak out about anything regarding saving our planet (and nor should other Sally’s).
We are now going to imagine that we have found a humane, non-detrimental to eco-systems and their biodiversity, solution to the 56 billion farm animals we are going to “get rid of”. The planet is completely on a plant-based diet. Is it possible, without deforestation, to grow enough crops each year to sustain us? Taking into consideration the obvious need for crop rotation to avoid the disastrous, and hard to bounce back from consequences, of soil depletion. Do we have enough land to do that? Or would we be in need of large factories growing genetically modified crops to meet consumer demands, to avoid deforestation? Would that then mean the quality of our food, which already is tainted by fertilisers and pesticides, will decrease further? And will that be good for our health? Ultimately, we don’t have an answer for this yet. So, what is the answer?
I don’t at all disagree that our food consumption is having a negative impact on our environment. However, I don’t believe that tipping the scales to a plant-based society is the answer. The main problem with our planet is its lack of balance, in all areas, but especially when it comes to humans and their consumption. Think about the amount of food that goes to waste every single day. We are a greedy, selfish species, unlike most in the animal kingdom who only eat when they need to. They don’t go around killing loads of animals to just let them go to waste. They kill what they need to survive. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this, but the majority of the animal kingdom lives in a harmonious balance that is the circle of life. I speak more on this in a post about my thoughts on conservation which you can read here, but ultimately what I’m trying to say is that it’s not humans eating meat that is the problem. It’s that we eat too much of it.
Farmers must meet the demands of animal produce, which resultingly compromises the conditions in which the animals are kept and also the quality of the products we are consuming. If we were not such a greedy species, we could reduce the demand, reducing the pressure on farmers to make such a quick turnaround, increasing the quality of life the animals receive and the quality of the products we are consuming. Going completing plant based still has its detrimental demands on the planet. The avocado craze has has caused deforestation in many areas due to the demand placed upon farmers to provide them. I would also like to add that in no way do I condone factory farming. I opt for free range meat where possible.
The answer is simple, we must get the balance back in check. Balance our diets and reduce the unnecessary consumerism we take part in. We should not be aggressive to each other. If you want to be angry, focus it towards large companies or global leaders who really do need a kick up the arse, and that have the power to really help install big changes. And the protesting in such a manner that does nothing but annoy people must also be stopped. All it does is turn people away from listening to what they really need to hear. We should be banding together to support everyone’s changes and journeys towards a greener lifestyle. Not shooting them down because they don’t fit into the mould that certain individuals deem correct. It has also created a label that many associate with negative connotations, harmfully impacting a huge amount of the vegan community that don’t partake in such vocal declarations. Many of whom are also being targeted for not being vegan enough. Excuse me?? The planet needs unity. Not more division.
I am fully aware that this post homes in on only one large part of what it is to be vegan, and I am not ignorant to the extent of it, such as using cruelty free products etc where possible (something I am completely for and partake in). I am also completely aware that not everyone who is vegan takes on such a militant post (shout out to you Rhian!), and I hope I have made it exceptionally clear that I am not attacking those that choose to live that lifestyle. I have made a number of disclaimers that that should make this clear, however if you have taken offence, it may be a case that the shoe fits and you’re not fond of the shoe.
The main aim of this post is to finally answer the question as to why I am not a vegan, and to encourage those of you who are starting your eco-friendly path but aren’t vegan, to carry on and not be put off by anyone who is telling you your efforts are void and that you’re voice doesn’t count. I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who is TRYING in whatever area to help save our planet.
And lastly if you are someone who has been putting others down for their dietary choices, please reconsider when going to do so in the future. After all, we all require medicine at some point in our lives, as do our pets, which is a product of animal testing. Harvesting grains kills small mammals in the process. If we were to nit-pick at the veganism you sit on your ‘moral high ground’ with, we can easily ask the question, can anyone truly be 100% vegan?
I’d like to end on a positive note, reiterating the quote taken from my friend “being vegan is about doing what I can” – let’s all do what we can, to be more conscious, and to support others in such an endeavour. Together we can make a change to increase the lifespan of our planet. It’s time to bring back the balance as much as we can. It’s time to unify. Vegan or not, lets do this.