Ever spent part of a Friday evening trying to come up with good enough reasons for why you are a meat eater? Well I have now – and never before have I attempted to justify my support for farming and my views of the general goings-on in the countryside so strongly. Yes, it’s true – the other week I had a pint with a couple of militant vegans.
To be fair, the couple are generally nice people, and I know them from working behind a bar as a student. What was not so nice was their deep-seated and fundamental opposition to the farming of livestock and agriculture in general. Not only was it all a bit scary, but also so alien to me that after a pretty uncomfortable half hour I made my excuses and left. But get this. I can recommend the experience to anyone.
With ageing pop-star activists in Brussels campaigning for more folk to buy a certain brand of vegetarian sausage, and an ongoing discussion in the media on the effect of meat eating on the environment, it is obvious that this issue is not going to go away. A sensible debate is needed; and surprisingly, some of the answers for the farming industry might well lie in some of the arguments used by the “anti-livestock” lobby.
Imagine my snort of derision the morning after the vegan love-in when in a weekend newspaper I was promised a spellbinding account of author Jonathan Safran Foer’s reasons for giving Up eating meat with the serialised extract of his new book Eating Animals there for all to read. “Best chuck a couple of extra rashers in there love,” I cried wearily, “and 3 kilos of beef dripping. I need some psyching up.” Then I read the article.
The American author’s reasoning for giving up meat was partly due to what he called “factory farming” and how he didn’t think this was ethically right. “Factory farming” aside, I personally don’t think eating meat or not eating meat is an ethical decision, it’s a food choice. One’s views on capital punishment, supporting Manchester United and kicking a cat are an ethical decision. I have no issue with someone who doesn’t eat meat, as that is a personal decision for them to make. I personally choose to eat meat because I believe that that is what farmed animals are for.
How food is produced and whether a consumer might want to consume it is increasingly an ethical decision though, and this is where I agree with Safran Foer. He says: “Imagine an acquaintance invites you for dinner. You could say ‘I’d love to come, and just so you know, I am a vegetarian’. This would be acceptable. You could also say ‘I would love to come, but I only eat meat produced by family farmers.” Now why is it that the second option would lead to a few funny looks?
Here then, a sensible point from what might otherwise be seen as the “other side”. Moving away from an “all or nothing framework on food choices” could, as Safran Foer says, help the industry to engage in a better, more sensible debate. Grabbing hold of these views could be very useful for British farmers. Let’s talk about the system in which UK meat is produced, the environmental credentials of livestock farming in the uplands, and the provenance and localised nature of livestock production.
It is surely not a question of meat versus no-meat. Subverting an ethical argument used as a justification for not eating meat could be a way forward. And if talking sensibly about the environmental impacts and benefits of livestock production means I have to have a pint with a militant vegan every now and again, I might have to live with it.