If my life had taken a different path and I had never met David then I would now, almost certainly, be vegan.
I met David in the early 1990s. At that time I had a sensible, well paid job in Glasgow and was making the most of city life. I would not have described myself as a foodie, but I was interested in animal welfare, and I ‘did my bit’, buying free range and organic food and reading high level articles about climate change.
I listened to the media and paid attention to health warnings. I ate margarine instead of butter to avoid saturated fat and I almost never ate beef. I mainly ate chicken, fish, pork and pasta. I had two spells of being vegetarian but long hours and a hectic city lifestyle meant I rarely had time to cook from scratch. Vegetarian ready meals were not very tasty back then and so I found a vegetarian diet difficult to maintain.
Now, looking back at that time, I would say I was a concerned citizen more than an informed citizen. I might have read an article in the Guardian, but I would not have looked for more detail. It recently occurred to me that had my urban lifestyle continued I would almost certainly now be vegan. At the very least I’d be trying Veganuary and avoiding dairy and beef in the firm belief that doing so would be good for the planet.
However I did marry a livestock farmer and as a result of my life choices my knowledge of food production, livestock farming, environmental management, nutrition and climate change is markedly different to what it would otherwise have been.
One of the main influences we have today that didn’t exist back in the 90s is our virtual social bubble which reinforces our existing beliefs instead of challenging them. At the moment the articles that pop into my newsfeed are about regenerative farming; how livestock can be used to sequester carbon; the bias of science towards large corporations and the propaganda we have been fed about diets over the last 50 years.
If I hadn’t met David I would never have had a reason to explore in depth research and science about our food system. If my city life had continued then popping into my newsfeed now would be ‘red meat will give you cancer’; ‘saturated fat will give you a heart attack ’; ‘dairy is cruel’ and ‘if you do only one thing to prevent climate change stop eating beef’. If those were the headlines I was seeing, and with no reason to research further, I am certain that I would be on the road to being a committed vegan. Recent headlines in publications like the Guardian and New Scientist suggest it is really the only responsible dietary choice for a concerned citizen, don’t they?
But the real me has read enough to know that a great deal of poor science has been used to create narratives about livestock farming that just don’t stand up to scrutiny. The knowledge I’ve acquired of the economics of the food industry over the past 25 years shows me that the sugar industry scored a double whammy – not only did they manage to pass the buck onto saturated fats, they also managed to persuade us to eat fat low fat food that needed more sugar to make it tasty! And when you start to look behind the headlines on climate change it doesn’t take long to find inconsistencies in the reports that focus so much blame on ruminant livestock rather than on the highly profitable and globalised fossil fuel and transport industries.
I will never criticise anyone for being vegan. With the information that has been in the media over the past couple of years adopting a vegan lifestyle is a sign of concerned citizens wanting to make a difference. I understand that concern, and I understand the passion and the integrity that drives many peoples’ dietary decisions.
If I have one wish it would be that everyone in the livestock industry ventured outside their own bubble and started to talk face to face about how we have all been duped. Food production and farming are complex, highly politicised topics with huge vested interests. No-one wins in this broken food system except the multi-nationals.
It’s time we got real, got local and started speaking more directly with the public. The solution isn’t intensification of livestock farming on one side or the eradication of livestock farming on the other. The benefits of regenerative farming are clear. It’s time they went mainstream.