The vegan debate has been dissected to death. We know the facts, and we know the opinions of those on both sides of the proverbial fence. It’s impossible to reconcile the idea of veganism and conventional, even organic, farming; the values of the two are completely at odds at their core.
Veganism, for anyone who’s been avoiding the internet and every small-talk conversation in existence over the past few years, is a lifestyle choice whereby no animal food products are consumed; ever. In some cases, the choice also expands to not using animals outside of our eating habits; sometimes that means not using animal by-products in the materials you wear or use each day.
Some vegans do it for their health, and others do it for animal welfare reasons. It’s everywhere, and each day a bigger and bigger divide among non-vegans and vegans is developing. The chasm of the ‘us versus them’ attitude is getting deeper.
For obvious reasons, the general farming community is against the core of vegan ideology. After all, without human consumption of meat, livestock farming would more or less cease to exist. Vegans believe that it’s cruel to keep animals in our modern forms of captivity for the sole reason of providing humans with nutrition. They believe that it’s only right to eat a plant-based diet, as they consider this food choice to be more than sustainable.
They also believe, in some cases, that the human body is better equipped to thrive off of a meatless diet. Some vegans, in this case, may not even have any issue with the animal welfare involved in rearing chickens for eggs, cows for milk, or pigs for pork. They simply want their body to be healthy, and this is the diet they’re choosing. For now.
This isn’t the place to get into a debate about whether or not they’re right or wrong. Still, I can’t hide behind a disguise of ‘I’m on the fence’, because this is an agricultural website. So, naturally, here at That’s Farming we pretty much think meat is good for us. We think the same about milk.
Most of our readers aren’t vegan; for this reason, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. It does! If you’re a farmer and you feel threatened by the vegan lifestyle, it’s important to understand it properly and equip yourself with a well-formed argument if you wish to defend your lifestyle against its criticisms.
On the basis of animal welfare, personally, I believe that Irish farming in particular has one of the highest levels of compassion for animals than any other farming nation.
Perhaps with the odd exception of the Musgrave Group’s refusal to stop using wire cages on their poultry farms (something which has been covered by That’s Farming in the past here), Irish farmers work incredibly hard to keep their animals safe and happy, even when the end-game is eventual slaughter.
Cattle farmers are extremely attuned to their animals’ feelings in most cases, with every one of the livestock farmers I’ve ever interviewed stating that the satisfaction of rearing healthy animals and seeing them content every morning is their favourite part of working.
Of course, it’s not just the meat industry that is threatened by veganism. Dairy, egg, and even wool industries are anti-vegan. For them, it’s not just about killing animals, but about raising them with the intention of ‘taking’ their products from them.
If cows were no longer any use to us, we would stop breeding them. They would likely die out as a result, as the expense of keeping non-cultivated cattle on farmable land would be too much for most people to afford. As domesticated animals, which we have bred to match our own desires, there would be no place for them in a vegan world.
If vegans don’t want cattle to be bred for our own gain, then they will likely cease to exist. If vegans understand this point and still stand by it, fair enough. If they don’t, then they need to rethink being vegan.
Veganism begs a strange question: is it better for animals to die, and to die out completely for that matter, than to die at the hands of our manmade schedule whilst being looked after in the interim?
Animal welfare is a broad term. I can’t help but wonder where the line is drawn for vegans.
Do vegans all wear non-wool clothes?
Do vegans never eat honey?
Do vegans ever think it’s acceptable to ride horses?
Is it okay to watch a greyhound race?
Is it alright to eat sweets made from gelatine?
Is it ‘vegan’ to handle the new UK five pound note?
Can vegans drive a leather-upholstered car?
Can they buy a fleece jacket?
Can vegans wear real silk from silkworms?
Would vegans wear pearls?
Is it appropriate to eat vegetables that were sprayed with pesticides; pesticides that kill millions of insects?
Can a vegan ethically own a pet dog or cat?
Can a vegan feed that cat the meaty nutrients it needs?
If some vegans don’t follow the above rules, and they live according to hand-picked ethics, then this is where I feel it’s okay to be disgruntled. We can bite our tongue up until now. You can be vegan without being questioned up until the point where you’re not following your own rules.
People are free to go vegan to their hearts’ content, just as carnivorous humans can eat whatever ethically-produced food they wish. Sure, the definition of ‘ethically-produced’ varies among vegans and non-vegans, but those in support of the agricultural industry have their own logic for determining what is ethical farming.
Those who eat meat and dairy products have their own reasons for agreeing with meat production. Vegans often disagree with this logic, and this gives rise to protests against the meat industry. There’s a contradiction here; being wholly against meat-eaters because their logic isn’t sound enough just doesn’t cut it as an argument if you’re not going to follow your own logic.
It sparks a question that may sound harsh and unreasonable to some; but at the core, it’s only rational.
If you’re going to be a vegan, don’t pick and choose. It is most certainly hypocritical to be a vegan eater who wears leather or who would buy and then breed their dog. Each of us can live according to the ethical rules we choose, but to live by a strictly monitored lifestyle, to then break from it when convenient, and to then still criticise the lifestyle of those who disagree with your moral compass simply isn’t fair.
It may sound inflammatory to the ears of both farmers and vegans, but the crux of it has its truth. If someone’s going to be vegan, they can be vegan.
But make sure you’re practising what you preach, and respect those who reject your teachings.