To Meat or not to meat

If you’ve been following my blog you know I am pretty much an omnivore. I love eating and I’ll eat most everything (at least once — though I admit to not being keen on insects),

That does not mean that I have (personally in my diet, as opposed to just philosophically) not struggled or experimented with both vegetarianism and veganism. My experiments last for a while, and then they fade; usually because I’m craving sausage or brisket or some such gustatory delight. I am troubled by the fact that producing meat is as wasteful of resources as it is. I admit that. Yet, like most of us (statistically), when push comes to shove it’s easier — a lot easier — just to go to the grocery and buy what’s on offer and not worry about whether I’m getting all my necessary nutrients as is necessary with a true vegan diet.

That said — I honestly think that each year I get closer to being willing to cast away from the meat-eater’s wharf and set sail on a sea of veggies.

Which, I suppose is why this article resonated with me more than I expected it to do. Enjoy.

My beef with vegans says more about me than them

David Mitchell

Veganism suddenly seems to be everywhere. Here’s why I’m finding it so vexing…

Speaking as a meat-eater, I find it annoying how many vegans there suddenly are. I suspect a few other meat-eaters feel the same. Do you, some meat-eaters, if you’re really honest with yourselves?

It’s not a good look, I realise, to appear annoyed with groups of people living their lives in the way they choose without harming others – and, in the case of vegans, taking the not-harming-others to considerable lengths. Nevertheless I’m going to stick my neck out (also not a good look) because it’s true. I’m not asking you other meat-eaters to do the same. You never have to seem annoyed, just to privately ask yourselves whether you find all these vegans slightly annoying.

If you do, then the obvious next question is why. Well, there are lots of reasons: for example, some vegans seem so radical and preachy and angry. Though actually, again being honest, I don’t really mind that. I quite like it. It makes it easy to discount them as weird, which was my view about veganism in general before I started finding the number of vegans annoying.

Now, I’m definitely going to continue eating meat. That’s decided. I don’t like change and I do like sausages

I think what I find annoying, deep down – and, again, some meat-eaters, you don’t have to own up to this, but it might interest you to discover whether you feel it – is the very fact that I can’t discount vegans any more. The thing that’s annoying about there suddenly being lots of them is the nagging suspicion that they might be right. When there were hardly any vegans, I hardly ever had to think about that.

After all, it’s not as if eating meat is an incontrovertibly lovely thing to do. I mean, it’s lovely to eat, it’s delicious, but I’m talking about actually killing an animal: you know, an organism that can feel stuff, and likes some things and doesn’t like other things, that can pretty clearly experience fear – either that or it can act, which would be an even greater sign of sentience. It doesn’t necessarily feel particularly great to put an end to that creature’s life, I imagine. So, speaking personally, I’m thrilled it all gets handled by other people, because I don’t reckon that if I’d just, say, strangled a goat I’d be feeling brilliant about myself.

Look, I can defend meat-eating. It’s perfectly possible to farm meat in such a way that the animals have decent lives and don’t die in pain and fear. I don’t know how often that happens, but it’s possible. Still, it’s hard to frame an argument that it’s actually wrong not to kill them. Not killing them feels, ethically speaking, to be playing on the safe side.

Now, I’m definitely going to continue eating meat. That’s decided. I don’t like change and I do like sausages. So, as you can imagine, having my mind forced down the contemplative avenues above is somewhat vexing – and, as a result, it becomes emotionally tempting to blame all the vegans for that vexation. So that’s where I am with all this. End of column.

Except, I suppose, I ought to explain why I’m talking about this now. There’s a vegan in the news – his name is Jordi Casamitjana – who is campaigning to get “ethical veganism” protected as a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act. He’s calling it “ethical veganism” to distinguish it from veganism for purely dietary reasons. “Some people only eat a vegan diet but they don’t care about the environment or the animals, they only care about their health,” he told the BBC. I suppose, to him, they’re like Blairites to a Corbynista. Worse than cannibals.

Casamitjana’s veganism is full-on. It’s not just about food, it’s his whole life. He has no truck with leather, silk, wool, zoos, aquariums, anything that’s been developed using animal testing, anything that uses captive animals in its advertising, or dating non-vegans.

He used to work for the League Against Cruel Sports but it wasn’t vegan enough for him. He says he discovered that the league’s pension fund invested in companies that carried out animal testing and was sacked for telling people, which he characterises as being discriminated against for his veganism. The league disagrees, saying he was sacked “because of gross misconduct. To link his dismissal with issues pertaining to veganism is factually wrong.”

The employment tribunal that’s going to decide this will also rule on whether veganism meets the Equality Act’s definition of a belief. According to the act, it has to “be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”, it must “attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”

I’m loath to admit it, but it totally qualifies, doesn’t it? Nick Spencer of the theology thinktank Theos is more sceptical, warning that, “If we’re all turned into rights bearers, my rights clashing with your rights, we end up having to appeal to the courts to sort out our differences and that can become oppressive for everybody.”

Maybe so, but that’s an argument for changing the Equality Act. You can’t just hope no more groups assert themselves under it, or say that all the slots for belief systems are taken because otherwise we’ll have too many “rights bearers”. Ethical veganism is coherent, heartfelt and spreading – and, frankly, its adherents might need protecting from the prejudice of irritated meat-eaters like me.

Ethics, practically speaking, are relative. Our ethical compasses are calibrated according to the norms of the time in which we live. So I eat dead animals because I was brought up to eat dead animals. It seemed like almost everyone did when I was younger, and the tiny minority who didn’t certainly had lots of cheese and eggs. It was normal, and it still is normal, just a bit less so.

It’s not uncommon, in the history of human societies, for things once deemed normal to start being deemed wrong. Sometimes it’s something like homophobia, sometimes it’s something like openly criticising those in power – it depends on the time and the society. Maybe all these vegans are harbingers of such a change. It annoys me because it makes me worry that I’m becoming a victim of history, just like all the animals I’ve eaten.


On the topic of societal changes in what is “normal” and what is “wrong” it seems as if there are numerous areas of routine life that are undergoing revisions in our attitudes. From racism and white privilege to our attitudes towards Capitalism to our sense of sexual equality — many of us are struggling to adjust our value systems to bring them into alignment with what we are being educated to accept.

And one of those, I think, is the whole concept of how we slaughter — that is how we get all that yummy meat from the farm to the table. Let’s face it, no matter how you take a life there is pain and suffering. We can minimize the impact on the creature being killed, but taking life is always traumatic. Whether that alone is enough to move me, or anyone, to a plant based diet … well, we all have to make choices on that account. And we are all free to change our mind on that account at any time we choose.


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