The Diet Question

There seems to be a proportion of the population who takes huge exception to Veganism. I don’t really understand why – people go on so many elective diets these days. Perhaps it’s because this one carries an air of moral superiority which meat/dairy lovers find offensive. Or maybe it’s that it’s just so hard to prepare a meal for a Vegan if you haven’t had practise. I really don’t know.

And of course, the Vegans themselves (for the most part) are absolutely confident of their path because they chose it for very considered and philosophical reasons.

As usual, I am somewhere in the middle. For many years I have felt guilty about not being Vegan because I do love animals and I do think about animal cruelty. However, at long last, I think I am resigned to the fact that I will never be Vegan.

When we decided to have children, we felt it was better for them to have a full, balanced diet, as humans have evolved to eat. If they choose to become vegetarian or vegan later on, I am more than happy to support that. But we decided that it was not our place to inflict these dietary limitations on them while they are in their formative years – growing and learning at an extraordinary rate as children are meant to do.

I also tend to think that a lot of the animal cruelty questions are a result of trying to feed massive human populations. Any meat-eater kills for its food. But humans have the capacity to kill in massive numbers. And because we don’t all feed ourselves, it’s a bit of guesswork about how much killing actually needs to happen. We have overfished the seas without even knowing what impact we were having and yet… how many of those dead fish went to waste? I hate to think. So I don’t think the problem is so much about the killing itself but about the methods and the quantity of the killing. Farming methods have evolved to achieve the greatest financial gain and in that process, the comfort of the animals has been significantly jeopardised. A lion only aims to feed itself and its family. It doesn’t try to guess the meat requirements of the whole savannah. And it doesn’t receive any financial gain for killing. It does not have the tools or the motivation to expend energy killing for no reason.

As our children have got older, the existential issues encroaching on our planet have grown too and the Diet Question has become much more entangled than it was previously. Vegans claim that their life-choices are no longer just about animal rights, but actually about the future of the planet.

When I was still working, one of my colleagues was a committed Vegan. She had a lovely pair of airforce-blue boots which were free of animal products. At the time, I envied how soft and comfortable they looked and I envied her conviction in her life choices. Committed Vegans don’t wear animal products. This takes wool and leather (and probably silk) out of the equation. Recently I talked to a friend who was also concerned about the growing of cotton and the effects of the cropping on massive areas of insects and tiny mammals and reptiles.

Of course, if one is to be concerned about those crops, one must also be concerned about the crops for food growing too. But alarm bells also ring because my Mum recently told me about an article she’d read suggesting that every time we wash synthetic clothing, we are sending millions of tiny plastic particles into the waterways to be consumed by fish and other water animals who are then, of course, consumed by bigger water animals or by birds. If the plastic doesn’t kill the first consumer, as the quanities build in the food chain, it will likely cause problems in bigger animals (and I don’t exclude humans from the chain).

So what is better? To wear plastic and do invisible harm? Or to wear natural products which depend on cropping and/or animal contributions but may have less unseen effects?

The only logical path I can see for our family is careful shopping and moderation. We source our meat (as much as possible) direct from farmers who can prove their sustainability and animal-care. When we can’t get it direct from farmers, we are careful about the labeling – that it meets our requirements as far as we can possibly tell. Most importantly of all, we are trying to reduce our meat consumption. The needle is not constant but I think, on average, we have probably nearly halved our meat eating in the last 3-4 months. Generally speaking, we also try to buy Australian-made (food miles being the logic behind that) wherever possible and, if that’s not available, we choose organic.

We source our clothes – as much as possible – from 2nd hand shops. I listened to a podcast which said it was better to recycle than to buy organic cotton because of all the processing involved and, of course, because of the cropping and water usage in the first place. Where new clothes are necessary (especially underwear and socks), we go for natural fibres. Of course it’s not perfect. Nearly all clothes have at least a little bit of elastane or something in them these days. But we try to be considered. I think, because of cropping being such a universal part of food growing, I am still inclined to stick with natural fibres over synthetics.

My husband told me just two days ago about an article he’d read which referred to a paper by a guy who had taken air samples in the Rocky Mountains. At the bottom of the samples, a kind of rainbow sediment appeared. Upon close investigation, it turned out to be tiny particles of plastic. Horrific! We’re even breathing the stuff!

I don’t think Vegans are wrong. I think they’re at one edge of a spectrum of valid opinions. Right now, I don’t think anybody has the exact formula for how we should best behave to undo the wrongs we have begun. There seems to be a lot of information floating around and it’s basically up to the individual to capture what bits they can and make a logical argument out of them. With no directives from the government to farmers or to people selling food, it’s a web of intrigue out there. You can only do the best you can.

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