Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Over the past few years, diets consisting of alternatives to meat have enjoyed a substantial increase. According to the Vegan Society, dairy cows have been modified to produce up to ten times more milk than they would naturally, and it is worrying facts like this that have led to changes in attitudes towards the consumption of animals and animal products.
Last year saw the UK’s second largest supermarket, Sainsbury’s, launch an entirely vegan food range after research found that 3.5 million Brits now follow a plant-based diet, and Waitrose have just launched a vegan-friendly range of fishless fingers in time for so-called Veganuary.
This relatively new craze for meat-alternatives (although some estimates place the first use of the term “vegetarian” all the way back to 1847) can seem exciting to some, and has gone as far as renewing hopes for humanity to exist sustainably on Earth as the prospect of a decline in agricultural farming becomes more likely. But there is a dark side to this phenomenon, with radical vegan attitudes leading to a rise in abuse against farmers. Consumers too have faced condemnation, with demonstrators during the run up to Christmas forming a human chain to block shoppers from purchasing turkey, accusing them of “buying death”.
It is certainly admirable if an individual wishes to embark upon a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, but as with anything in our liberal democratic society, it should be something subject only to personal choice. I for one am a proud consumer of meat, dairy, and many other animal products. The NHS website tells us that meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, whilst scientific research shows that the calcium in milk, yogurt and cheese contributes significantly to long-lasting bone health. There are research-based suggestions that consumption of meat can help to eliminate many skin diseases whilst providing long-term energy and an improved immune system. With the rise of mental health issues particularly among young people, it is especially poignant that early studies are suggesting that those who do not consume meat are more likely to suffer from neurotransmitter problems such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
But of course, the ethical issues raised by animal rights activists still remain: how can one morally justify the slaughter of innocent creatures, or the cruel confinement of species which, in other contexts, can be considered as pets? Despite ripping itself apart over leaving the European Union and being widely condemned for its austerity cuts, this government has arguably done more than any other to combat animal cruelty both domestically and agriculturally. According to the National Farmers’ Union, the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Indeed, on an interactive map created by World Animal Protection, which rates the animal welfare and conservation policies of 50 countries based on criteria such as recognising animals’ emotional and cognitive abilities, the UK is in the top rank (A), alongside only Austria, Switzerland, and New Zealand.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has also spearheaded a wide-ranging campaign to improve animal welfare in all areas. In May 2018, legislation was introduced which requires slaughterhouses to install and operate a CCTV system, retain the images for 90 days, and make the images available to inspectors. More recently, the minister has made a pledge that Brexit will work ‘not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too’. Whilst animal welfare concerns me greatly, the shift in public opinion towards sustainable consumption and ethical consumerism gives cause for optimism, and the news that over one-quarter of UK meals contain no meat or fish, or that free range accounted for 53% of all egg sales in the UK in Quarter 2 of 2018, is heartening. I support the eating of animal products, but it is an unavoidable concession that increased accessibility to cheap and highly processed meats has been bad for the environment. Our crave for convenience is dangerous, and it is time to return to a simple diet of meat and veg.
I don’t need veganism or vegetarianism, and I certainly won’t be taking part in Veganuary. I’ll try to reduce my meat consumption, and with research suggesting that overconsumption of red processed meat leads to an increased risk of bowel cancer, I’ll avoid bacon and sausages as much as possible. But I am sorely offended by the aggressive tactics of militant animal rights activists who will condemn me as a “psychopath” or murderer for consuming animal products. It is these intolerant, radical groups such as PETA and Direct Action Everywhere who will continue to drive my defence of us meat eaters.