Last month, I was one of the fifty thousand people who took part in Veganuary, which meant living a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned about how much of my daily diet was simply a meat-eating habit rather than conscious decision-making. I discovered how easy it is to prepare delicious and nutritious non-meat, non-dairy, non-egg meals.
I’d strongly recommend a month of veganism to anyone, simply to raise your awareness of the pervasiveness of animal products in our supermarkets, and the ease of eating plant based meals.
Since the month finished, I have stopped being a strict vegan. I still want to be certain that I don’t support industrial-scale factory farming, but I don’t see a problem with eating meat from animals that have lived enjoyable lives, drinking milk from cows that have an apparently contented existence, and eating eggs from free-range hens. Pure vegans find my stance hard to understand, but I am sure there are many non-vegan animal lovers out there who will agree with me.
So my new diet means three changes from the past, apart from simply eating more plant-based food and less animal-derived products.
1. If I ever eat pigs or poultry, they’ll need to be free range. So if I’m away from home, eating in cafes or restaurants, I will almost never eat pork or chicken. Even at home, it will be rare.
2. On the few occasions that I consume it, I’ll only choose British or Irish milk, beef and lamb. I know that in these countries, cattle and sheep generally lead natural, free-grazing lives, whereas in many other parts of the world, intensification of farming methods means that cows and sheep may never see daylight or grass. This just does not seem right to me.
3. No more milk, egg or meat-containing products that do not specify the origin of those ingredients on the label (and you’d be surprised how much this crosses off my shopping list). If the label doesn’t say where it came from, it’s safest to presume it’s from a cheap, non-animal-welfare friendly source, so it’s best avoided.
This new regime is more complicated than a simple vegan “no animal products” stance, but it fits more closely to my own viewpoint. I think it may be harder to stick to than veganism, because the edges of the restrictions are blurred lines: what about European milk? What about French cheese? And there isn’t a neat label to put on this type of diet: Vaguely vegan? Flexitarian? Reducetarian?
I am only one person in many millions, and some people have asked me why I think that my personal diet will make the slightest difference to factory farming. Here’s the reason: it works in just the same way as my single vote makes a difference in an election. If thousands – or millions – of other people start to make the same, conscious, choices in their shopping, manufacturers will start to listen. Labels will start to declare “free range eggs”, and they’ll state where the milk and meat is sourced.
If we all do nothing, the status quo will continue, with the steady advance of intensive industrial factory farming.
If you care about animals, change your diet. You may not need to go full vegan, but you do need to think about what you put into your shopping basket.