Is eating vegan the only way to eat ethically?
World Vegan Month has just come to an end: how did you fare? Did you manage to stick to the month-long Vegan pledge? I didn’t quite manage it. I’m not the only one, over ¾ of people who attempt a vegan diet don’t manage to stick to it. This is not surprising: going Vegan instantly, full time, is a big commitment that few find sustainable.
That said, it’s estimated that today, over half a million people in the world are vegan, and it’s a growing trend championed by celebrities like Lucy and Tiffany Watson. Veganism, largely thanks to social media, is losing its reputation for being extreme, faddy and impossibly strict. Even so, vegans make up less than 0.5% of the world population and omnivores or meat eaters make up approximately 96% of the world population.
There are a lot of reasons why people choose to go vegan: ethical reasons, health benefits, weight loss potential and the impact on the environment to name a few. Is it simply that these reasons are not well known or proven? Or does veganism simply remain inaccessible to the majority of us? Can we claim to be invested in health, animal welfare and the environment if we are not vegan?
Ultimately the answer is yes. If the whole world being vegan is the ideal, the utopia; then surely more of us eating less meat is a step in the right direction? Correct. Hence the rise of the part time vegan. Celebrities like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Pamela Anderson and Woody Harrelson have all dabbled in veganism, and have reputedly reaped the benefits. But what about the rest of us? It’s simple logic that the smaller the changes, the more sustainable they are, which is why more and more people are choosing to adopt a ‘flexitarian’, ‘part-time veggie/vegan’ or a ‘conscientious omnivore’ lifestyle.
Okay so you’re more likely to stick to it but can you still eat meat and claim to be an animal lover or an eco-warrior or a health nut? This is where it gets trickier.
Currently, six million animals are slaughtered every hour for food. 70-80% of these animals are factory farmed, which essentially signifies that the animals have been inhumanely or unethically treated. Animal products derived from animals that have been humanely treated are not only much rarer and more expensive, they are also more difficult to identify. Companies have adopted buzzwords and phrases that suggest that the animals have been humanely raised and slaughtered but in reality, mean nothing. Plus, humanely raised doesn’t necessarily mean humanely slaughtered. Buying meat ethically can be a minefield, but is possible. Websites and blogs where you can find advice on how to eat animal products ethically such as www.bicbim.co.uk are becoming more and more common and people are beginning to accept the idea that not being a strict veggie or vegan is okay.
Philosopher Michael Pollan even suggests that eating animals that have been raised and slaughtered humanely is preferable to not eating any animals at all. He takes issue with Paul McCartney’s famous line ‘If Slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarian’ and suggests that if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d create ethical farms: ‘The killing and eating is unavoidable, for without it neither the farms or the animals would exist’. It’s an interesting point, especially when you consider that these kinds of ethical farms would be smaller and more likely to be local, meaning the farmers would be more likely to get a fair wage.
The conclusion then, must be that any reduction in eating factory farmed meat is a positive, be it a long-term fix or just a step on the road to veganism. Who knows, if we all make smaller, more sustainable changes throughout the year, perhaps it will be easier to take the full Vegan Pledge next November.