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Kim Schulze

The Anti-Vegan Movement

2011-10-18 09:14
I'm going to sporadically slot it "I’m not a vegan" in this post. Just to remind you.

Some would say "vegan is all the rage" at the moment, suggesting that veganism, like Atkins, is some kind of diet fad that will fade with time. Vegetarianism certainly didn’t. Much like religion, I'm not really 'bovvered' what your preferences are, as long as you don’t expect me to agree.

 [I'm not a vegan]

My colleague, Grant Nash, is a very dedicated and genuine vegan – upon which I shall later elaborate. Since he switched over, first to meat-free Mondays, then to vegetarianism, and finally to full-on vegan, the response to his lifestyle choices has fascinated me.

We meat-eaters seem to violently defend our omnivorous choice against vegans, as vigilantly as Catholics resisted the push of the Protestant church. We start spurting out obvious reasoning, like, "animals were put there to eat", "where do you get protein from?" and "you shouldn’t need to take supplements for your vitamins!" When we all really know the truth is that vegans put far more thought into what goes into their bodies than we do. Let’s be honest, most of us don’t have a bloody clue what we’re shovelling into our gobs. And we don’t care. As long as we’re not fainting or vomiting afterwards, we just consume.

 [I'm not a vegan]

It’s the manner in which I’ve seen people react to Grant’s choices, particularly on Twitter, that got me thinking about this at all. They get REALLY ANGRY. And they really don’t like that he’s made this choice. It seems, to them, that his choice to not eat meat is somehow betraying "the natural order", and thereby threatens the meat-eater's way of life. We meat eating folk do love our vleis. I can’t imagine a world without bacon, fillet and biltong. Another truth is that the vegan’s ideal is indeed to do just that – stop our dependence on mass-produced meat products. So maybe the die-hard meat fans should be resisting Grant and his fellow vegans like an invading army.  

 [I'm not a vegan]

If you don't know, the difference between vegetarians and vegans is that vegans don’t consume animal products of any kind. This includes milk, cheese, gelatin or eggs; they don’t wear leather and obviously fur. I’ve chatted to Grant about his way of life, and there are three basic reasons why people become vegans:

One of them, Grant’s main motivation, is that vegans believe in compassion. As a Buddhist, this is obviously very important to Granty. They stand against the treatment of animals in slaughter houses, the way they're kept when they’re alive, and even the fact that we kill them for sustenance.

Which leads to the second reason: using animals as resources. If the image of all those human bodies and babies being farmed for energy in The Matrix freaked you out – that’s exactly how most meat products are produced. Animals are kept in tiny (and I mean as big as their bodies) cages for their entire lives. Cows are fed more protein than they themselves provide after slaughter. You could feed more people off the cow feed, than you can from the cow. This resource-driven farming also ties into economic and ecological impact. The power, water and energy that’s used in meat farming far surpasses that of plant farming – despite how much water you may think is needed to keep plants alive. From a sustainability point of view, plants are cheaper, both to buy and to produce.

The third reason is, of course, health. And this is where the 'normal' omnivores have a go. It doesn’t seem 'natural; that we should live without proteins that come from meat. Grant referred me to a research project done in China, that proves that a plant-based diet resulted in nearly no diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer or heart problems.

 [I'm not a vegan]

When an awful video emerged of pigs being horribly abused in a slaughter house in the UK, a lot of people responded to Grant's comments about the issue. And mostly, they said "ya, but not all abattoirs and slaughter houses are like that". But you have to ask yourself: how do you know? We don’t vigilantly check where our meat has come from. Just because it says "organic" or "free range" on the packaging doesn’t mean your chicken or piggy had a huge field in which to frolic, nor a humane death. Have you visited the farm which your meat comes from? I think 98% percent of us would say no. Me among them.

The WAY we defend our eating meat seems like an admission of guilt. That in truth, we actually know that animals aren't treated well. How many of us would be actively involved in raising, slaughtering and then eating our food? Not many, I'd wager.

I watched a few episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, where his friend, Janet raised two calves to be served as veal later on the show. In later episodes, Ramsay himself raises a few lambs for the same purpose. There’s at least some respect in that. Firstly, that they know exactly what’s gone into that cow/sheep, and how well its life has been lived. But I know that I would be unable to nurture a living thing for so long, only to see it die and land up on my plate. I wouldn’t be able to eat it, I'm sure.

And that’s sort of the vegan argument: if you can raise and slaughter an animal, and then eat it with a clear conscience, fine. Because truthfully, most of use couldn’t. Most of us can’t even eat damn kidneys or tripe, knowing what they are. It’s like we don’t actually look at a steak and see a cow. Crumbs, I don't. I don’t want to. I’d rather believe that my steak grew on a tree and was plucked at its ripest, thrown on a grill and smashed in my face, guilt-free.

But it's not.
On the other side, I have to reveal, I’ve seen Grant and two other colleagues who live the vegan way, lose a helluva lot of weight over the past year. But, it has been that gradual, slow weight loss which most dieticians would say is the healthier, long-term way of both losing weight and being healthier. And all three of them insist the weight-loss has balanced out, and that they’re full of beans. I’ve got to say, they are constantly bouncing off the walls, despite being a bit paler. I suppose if you try it and feel tired and faint, maybe it’s not for you, or maybe you’re doing it wrong.

I have to think that we, as human beings trying to improve ourselves, improve our treatment of other people and the world itself, have got to start considering these things. If we could all comfortably and ethically say we know EXACTLY where our meat comes from – and I mean all of it, from eggs to lamb to beef – we’d probably improve the lives of the animals we eat. It’s like being an adult: taking responsibility for how you live. There are angry people everywhere begging us to be accountable for how we exploit the earth and its resources – we ignore them too. In fact, this whole argument likens to turning a blind eye to so many other injustices in the world: poverty, inequality – most of us prefer to carry on living without having to think about how we could possibly make a difference. Either because we don’t think we can make a difference, or because it seems like too much hard work.

Charity starts at Home

Despite this seemingly very pro-vegan argument, I know that I cannot go without meat. As an O positive blood type, I’m apparently very dependant on protein. (Another jolly excuse it seems.) And I simply don’t want to go without meat – I like it. That argument likens to a child’s logic of why he doesn’t want to eat his veggies, or why he doesn’t want to go to school: "I don’t wanna!"

So, like you, I'll carry on pretending that someone will eventually save Zimbabwe, that our government will eventually come up with an effective plan to battle poverty, that Libya’s new government will be much fairer than Gaddafi, and that animals were put there to eat. Just seems like far too much effort to try anything else, huh?  

Maybe we just need to grow up.

* You can hear Kim every weekday from 9am - 12pm on 5FM for more candid opinions and hilarity. For extra sass and some profanity, follow her on Twitter: @KimSchulze

Read more on:    5fm  |  kim schulze  |  columnists

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