Opinion: Farmers must keep an open mind on the vegan challenge

Humanism, veganism and same-sex marriage would seem like very stony ground for a livestock farmer and kirk elder to go ploughing in so early in the new year.

Although I do love my neighbour Nigel, his wife has nothing to worry about as I’ve got no desire to run away with him. I’ve also no desire to become a vegan or to give the rest of my life over to being a devout humanist.

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But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the wishes of other people to make different choices and to live their lives the way they want to.

Towards the end of 2018, Mrs McQ and I attended a same-sex marriage which was quite an experience for us both.

One of the women, who got married that day, is best pals with our eldest daughter. Sadly, both of her parents have passed away recently, so I was greatly honoured to be asked to give her away at the ceremony.

After the humanist marriage service was over, the two brides and the wedding guests tucked into a wedding feast where the choice of food was either vegetarian or vegan.

Needless to say, I thought the wedding service, the food and the young couple were all brilliant.

That was only the second humanist wedding that I’ve ever attended and, to be perfectly honest, I can see why the humanist outlook on life will appeal to many.   

Remarkably, if anyone had asked me 30 years ago if I could ever see myself in the future giving a bride away at a same-sex wedding, I think the young Neale McQuistin might have had a quick answer ready. 

If they had also suggested that the wedding service would be conducted by a humanist and the wedding feast would contain no animal products, then that would have been a step too far.  

I fear that the red mist would have come down, which would have matched the shoulder-length ginger hair that I sported at the time quite perfectly.

Yet, here we are in 2019 and same-sex marriage is accepted and celebrated like any other marriage between two people who love each other – and quite rightly so. 

Similarly, very few people will raise as much as an eyebrow if anyone chooses to have a different religion or philosophical outlook on life that is not mainstream. 

That only leaves the issue of whether people should eat animal-based food products or not.

At the moment, extremists on both sides of the vegan debate are trading ridiculous claims with each other. As I remember it, this is very much the same way religious and homophobic zealots were arguing 30 years ago when marriage was being discussed.

This, I would suggest, is doing our industry no favours. Farmers are running a risk of beginning to look like unreasonable people who are unable to move with the times while this situation persists.

I’ve got a feeling that in 30 years’ time we will look back and not be very proud of how our industry has reacted to veganism at the beginning of the 21st century.

Livestock farmers just need to concentrate on caring for their animals and doing the job right. The future will look after itself if we all do that.

Here’s to a greater acceptance on people’s right to make their own choices during 2019.

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