Veganuary and Februdairy
I myself enjoy all food stuffs. Nothing really is off the foodie spectrum for me. I am a livestock farmer and I enjoy eating meat. I love a good salad, I eat my daily requirement of fruit and veg, and I enjoy fish from time to time. I’m also an arable farmer producing ingredients in bread, beer, oils, biscuits etc. I would describe my diet as almost perfectly balanced.
Food can be an emotive topic. For some, cooking and eating is considered a hobby that is thoroughly researched and practised. There are others that are filled with dread and fear at the thought of food, through various intolerances or illnesses. For most, food is enjoyed through its compulsory part of our daily lives. A large part of the emotions connected with food stem from the identity that it can provide us with. It would not be socially peculiar to introduce yourself to others as a vegan, or a pescatarian, or a diabetic. It may be a dietary choice, or it may be a dietary requirement, either way it forms part of our identity.
Since we waded into 2018 (I think we’ve had about 2 days of dry weather so far), some of the most impassioned dietary arguments have been put forward by the vegan movement. There has undoubtedly been an increase in the number of people identifying themselves as vegan over recent years. A Vegan Society study found it to be an increase of 350 per cent in the 10 years to 2016. The downside to this movement though is that, as with all social movements, it breeds radicals.
Veganism has grown into a respected dietary choice, with proponents and activists preferring to cultivate resources and political allies along with celebrity endorsement, stressing non-violent engagements with those whose views differ from their own. Over recent months though, videos and reports have emerged of death threats to farmers, confrontations at abattoirs, and invasions of privacy that serve no purpose other than to threaten and intimidate.
A keen argument for veganism is that of the welfare of animals, and whether we as humans have a right to keep and kill animals for meat and dairy produce. The debate is wide and varied and ones stance on it will be based on a number of factors. I have seen videos of malpractice on farms and in abattoirs, and I am just as appalled as many would be. However you can’t tar everyone in an industry as wide as the agricultural one with the same brush. If a teacher is found guilty of child abuse, it wouldn’t be fair to view all teachers as such. My view is that we are rearing our animals for a product – the meat. I give them the highest standards of welfare because I know that to do so increases the value of the product. It is also a compassionate thing to do, and compassion in their rearing costs nothing.
Many vegans and vegetarians purport themselves to be a voice for animals, which is apposite. This stance is what has led to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007. I appreciate the argument put forward by some that no slaughter can be humane, but the Humane Slaughter Association suggests that “Slaughter can be humane if an animal is protected from avoidable excitement, pain or suffering” This is achieved through multiple processes involving the whole food chain, and as long as the practice exists, we think it’s a good methodology to subscribe to. I certainly wouldn’t want any of our animals being mistreated when they’ve left our care.
Another compelling argument for ‘going vegan’ is the perceived health benefits. Losing weight and lowering your cholesterol and risk of heart disease sounds great. However when you eliminate a certain food group from your diet your body suffers. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products, and is crucial in making red blood cells – you can’t live a healthy life without it. Synthetic supplements are essential, but they contain additives such as Magnesium Stearate, or use Palm Oil, contributing to deforestation, displacement of indigenous populations (Orangutans being a huge victim) and loss of biodiversity. The fact is that meat is a tremendous source of trace vitamins and minerals. It contains powerful antioxidants, and amino acids that contribute to good mental health as well.
A final, commonly used argument in the vegan vs meat debate is in favour of the environment. Cows produce a lot of greenhouse gases, they use up a lot of fresh water, and so on. However technology is moving on. We are not only using the livestock for their meat, we are harvesting their manure for natural fertiliser to grow more plants. Technological advances in construction allow farmers to capture the methane produced and put it back in the grid, buildings capture and clean rainwater for livestock to drink negating the need to draw from a freshwater supply, and nutritional science is enabling farmers to generate greater yields of dairy and meat produce through less food inputs.
A farmers business is to work the land as a method of production for food. We produce meat, and we produce plants for food too. There is an economic demand for both. So if the demand for one drops, farmers adjust their business to focus on the other. However there are fields and park lands on our farm, and many others, which remain untouched by mechanised agriculture. The livestock graze these fields and so they remain productive. With no livestock income from them, they would have to be ploughed up, destroying sites of special scientific interest and microhabitats that have existed for centuries, and replanted with other crops in order to remain productive. The Chiltern Hills have areas which are designated as being of ‘Outstanding Natural Beauty’. These areas have been shaped and defined over many years, with farmed livestock being a major contributor.
Agriculture is adapting at an expeditious rate to meet the demands of the consumer. High standards of welfare are mandatory and traceability is paramount. Sustainability of our food production is becoming critical though. It is not just meat and dairy that we should be focusing on in a bid to improve the environmental impact that agriculture has. We are spoilt with choice at the shelves and it is contributing to huge amounts of food waste.
In my opinion the answers are simple. If you’re worried about animal welfare, visit your local producers and find out the facts about their animals and how they’re kept.
If you’re concerned about the environment, please review how much food you buy and in turn throw away. Look at packaging, consider food miles and only buy what you need to avoid throwing it away.
Finally, a balanced diet is a healthy diet. Negating a certain food type may be essential for some, but in most cases a variety of different foods from the five main food groups is important in maintaining a healthy body weight.
Whatever you do though, please always remember to back British farming.