Increase the peace – vegans and farmers can be allies

Vegetables at a farmers market. Photo: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via
Vegetables at a farmers market. Photo: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via
For too long vegans and farmers have been pitted against each other. LOUISE DAVIES from The Vegan Society calls for a move on from the angry rhetoric and acceptance of the benefits of a plant-based food system for the whole of society.

Compassion is a key word for vegans - and it’s always surprised me that people assume that our concern stops at the animals that we speak up for.

Another week, another media story about ‘the fight’ between the meat industry and vegans. This latest piece came off the back of a Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) report.

The report did include the odd questionable statement about veganism - but it really wasn’t the attack it has been billed to be.

The AHDB has likened veganism to “other youth tribes such as ‘gym bro’ or ‘craft beer nerd’” which is rather disrespectful of a lifestyle choice and philosophy.

Militant vegans

And there are unfounded questions about the health implications of a vegan diet. But to state that this report is the meat industry fighting back "after years of being harried by activist vegans" is rather over the top.

Indeed, there is much in the report for vegans to take encouragement from, and I particularly welcomed the fact that plant-based farming was presented as the opportunity it is.

We know that not all farms can make that transition, but those who can use their land to grow plant proteins could be farming in a more environmentally friendly, healthy and cruelty-free way.

This ongoing pitting of vegans versus farmers is becoming tiresome. I’m looking forward to joining farmers and food producers on a panel at Abergavenny Food Festival next month, but the title - Should the British farming industry be worried about the rise in veganism? - is again creating an unnecessary divide.

National media coverage this year has included headlines such as ‘vegans go nuts with threats to farmers’ and ‘farmers speak out about "militant" vegans’. It seems the media is intent on exacerbating the natural differences that exist between the two groups and latching on to any opportunities to divide us.

Support and community

The fact that is missing from all this hyperbole is that vegans eat food too. And we’d like our food to be produced by British farmers and for those farmers to have sustainable and fair employment.

Compassion is a key word for vegans - and it’s always surprised me that people assume that our concern stops at the animals that we speak up for.

As we approach the point of no return in the never-ending Brexit negotiations we will have very difficult choices to make as a nation around which farming practices we continue to subsidise, and which we see as anachronisms.

As vegans, we approach these difficult choices not with glee – ‘let’s see how the farmers like it now!’ – but with pragmatism, empathy and compassion.

Compassion is a key word for vegans, and it’s always surprised me that people assume that our concern stops at the animals that we speak up for.

On the contrary, as people who have chosen to put compassion at the heart of our lives, we feel a natural sense of support and community for people too. This rings true when thinking of the farmers who produce the fruit, vegetables, and legumes which form the backbone of a vegan diet.  

Sad truth

Things do need to change though, and the only question is whether that will be foisted upon farmers, or whether they will embrace the switch that is so obviously coming.

The systemic use of animals in our food production is not necessary, and is not sustainable in the long term. Our recent ‘Grow Green’ report which we produced in association with the New Economics Foundation illustrated this clearly.

A switch to plant based farming would be sustainable, healthy, affordable, and of course would remove animal slaughter from the food chain. 

The fundamental driver for policy makers, however, should be that our environment cannot continue to support the unfettered expansion of animal agriculture.

As environmentalists, we all strive to do our bit, either locally or globally. The sad truth though is that many of us will spend a good proportion of our lives working and campaigning on environmental issues, while ignoring one of the largest impacts we are creating – the food we eat.

Inexpensive and tasty

At the risk of being provocative, it is my sincere belief that the concept of a meat-eating environmentalist is an oxymoron.

In years to come, those who follow in our footsteps may well look back on us at the start of a twenty first century with wry smiles on their faces – puzzled that for all our good intentions, we couldn’t see the obvious solution that was right in front of us, literally on a plate.

Some argue that eating animals is ingrained in our culture, and we are always able to come up with convenient excuses to carry on doing it – ‘locally sourced,’ ‘ethically reared,’ ‘grass fed.’

These supposedly sustainable alternatives could not feed a growing nation. When we only get 12 calories back for every 100 fed to animals it becomes clear that eating plants is the real ethical choice.

Change can happen. You will all be familiar with the famous Gandhi quote: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

We as vegans have heard our share of laughter over the years, and it was a pleasant change from being ignored. Now, our challenge is to move out of the ‘fighting’ stage and on to the acceptance which we know is inevitable.

If you’re ready to start your vegan journey, a great way to get cracking is to take our ‘Plate Up for the Planet’ challenge.

We’ll send you recipes, hints, tips and advice for a week to get you started. More than 15,000 people have signed up so far, and many have never looked back once they realise how easy, inexpensive and tasty vegan food can be.

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Louise Davies is head of campaigns, policy and research at The Vegan Society. If you would like to learn more about veganism, sign up to the seven-day challenge here.

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