International Festival

International Festival

I have spent most of this weekend hard at work in the kitchen. The school had an international festival today and the mum organising it asked me whether I’d like to bring some vegan food. I was delighted to be asked and felt I had to put on a good spread as a representative of plant-based diets. The idea behind the festival is that each person bring some food relevant to their cultural heritage so it’s somewhat ironic that I should bring vegan food since Australians eat more meat per capita than any other country in the OECD.

Cooking is not my forté. I prefer gardening and crochet so I felt a tiny bit nervous in the weeks leading up to this event and did several practice runs, most of which failed miserably. Thankfully everything came together this weekend and the food I made was very palatable.

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I made curry puffs, cinnamon scrolls, chocolate muffins, and orange shortbread. There’s nothing left now except for a couple of shortbread biscuits.

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Aberdeen is a very multicultural city. There was food from France, Holland, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, China, Russia, India, Poland, and Scotland. It’s nice for the children to grow up with such diversity and I really appreciate this aspect to Aberdeen. My own school when I was a child was similarly diverse and we also had international food festivals like this. I have fond memories of them.

Daniel and Elizabeth have been learning Highland Dancing at school and the class put on a performance. It was terrific.

I love being vegan.

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Do animal rights activists care more for animals than humans?

Some people think that those who advocate for animal rights care more about non-human animals than human animals. That’s not true at all. The ethicist, Peter Singer, who wrote Animal Liberation back in 1975 thinks we rich people ought to donate 10% of our salary to the world’s poor. He gives around a quarter of his own income to charity. He says it’s our duty to give.

…the failure of people in the rich nations to make any significant sacrifices in order to assist people who are dying from poverty-related causes is ethically indefensible.

I do not believe in a supernatural god but I believe there was a man called Jesus who once walked on the earth and who said similar things about helping the poor. It pains me to see Christians and other religious groups hounding homosexuals and women who choose to terminate a pregnancy rather than focussing on some of the extreme suffering in the poorest regions of the world.

We donate regularly to a charity called the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) which is run by Imperial College London. For about 30p we can treat one person for this debilitating disease. When children are healthy they can attend school. Healthy parents are better able to support their families. You can’t lift people out of poverty when they’re ill and dying. SCI is one of the most cost-effective charities in the world.

Advocating for animals does not mean we care less about humans. It simply means we do not draw the boundary of moral consideration at species membership. Instead we expand the bounds of compassion to all sentient beings. As Jeremy Bentham once said, the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

 

Cultural blindness

The following excerpt is from an article in The Times this week, Richard Dawkins: ‘When I see cattle lorries, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz‘.

Is this what it was like, Richard Dawkins wonders, for ordinary people in Nazi Germany? “There’s a kind of laziness if you live in a society where things are just accepted. People might have been vaguely uneasy about what was going on in Germany but also thought, ‘Oh well, everyone else is doing it’.”

What crime is it that he thinks that we, like Germans in the 1930s, are blind to? It is, perhaps, a surprising one from him: the crime of eating meat. Dawkins, 76, is not known for being a woolly, liberal, tofu-eater. He is better known for his espousal of red-in-tooth-and-claw evolutionary logic and, even more so, for his three million-selling atheist book The God Delusion. Speaking from his Victorian Gothic house in Oxford, he says that just because you don’t fear the judgment of God, doesn’t mean you don’t fear judgment.

The judgment that Dawkins fears, as he recovers from a minor stroke, is that of history. Will the 21st century’s “speciesism” one day be viewed in the same way we view the 20th century’s racism? The world’s most famous evolutionary biologist thinks so.

“We put humanity on a pedestal miles higher than the surrounding territory. A human foetus that has approximately the anatomy and brainpower of a worm is accorded more status than an adult chimpanzee,” he said. And chimpanzees have more rights than, say, cows. “When I pass one of those lorries with little slats and see fearful eyes peering out, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz.”

To see Richard Dawkins promoting plant-based diets in a mainstream newspaper is amazing. Veganism is no longer a fringe movement for hippies and crackpots. We now have lots heavy-weight intellectuals arguing for a meat-free diet which gives me hope for our planet.

 

The inconsistency of eating meat while objecting to abortion

For any woman having an abortion is a serious decision that she will only do if she has something quite important at stake. Whereas people who are prepared to go into the supermarket and buy some ham don’t need to do that at all. They could easily eat something else. They are supporting the pain that is inflicted on those animals during their factory-farmed lives in the process of slaughter for a very trivial reason. So they certainly shouldn’t be looking askance at women who have terminated their pregnancy for much more serious reasons. At least not on the grounds of pain that might be inflicted on the foetus.

This quote is from Peter Singer in a conversation with Richard Dawkins:

Hodmedod’s

Hodmedod’s

Recently I discovered lentils and soya beans are grown in the UK and in the process I stumbled upon Hodmedod’s, an online store selling British grown beans and other products. I decided to give it a try and bought the big vegan box:

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Apparently carlin peas make a good replacement for chickpeas. I will whip up a curry with my newly purchased Hodmedod peas over the weekend to test this theory. One 500g pack of British-grown carlin peas costs just £1.99. This is enough to feed 8 people or a family of four for two nights, at least, and this is a conservative estimate. It would likely go further because whenever I make a chickpea curry there’s always enough for leftovers the next day. Compare this to four steaks which cost £4 and only last one night.

Peas and beans are a terrific source of protein, cheap, much better for the environment than animal protein, and they taste good. It’s more efficient for humans to eat protein directly from plants than to pass it through an animal first. Livestock farming accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector; that’s all the cars, trains, trucks, buses, and planes on the planet. I know I have said that several times before but I will continue to say it over and over again because I keep meeting people who don’t realise this. Livestock farming also uses 30% of the earth’s land surface, causes unnecessary suffering to animals, and contributes to antibiotic resistance (80% of all antibiotics are used by the livestock industry) – all this for no reason other than to satisfy our palates.

Tonight we will be trying Peter’s quinoa. Thank you, Peter!

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Stick insect abortions

I’m a murderer. I killed dozens of our pet stick insects yesterday with my bare hands, squishing them into green slime. I felt pretty awful about this and had nightmares last night about mistreating pets. I realise this self-imposed guilt is irrational because I frequently squish insects in my greenhouse. Why do I feel guilty about the stick insects and not aphids?

You might be asking how a vegan can kill insects but I’m not a Jain Buddhist. I simply reject speciesism; it’s wrong to apply the principle of equality to members of our species only. The principle of equality says we do not give preference to others based on characteristics such as sex or race and for the same reasons, species. However that doesn’t mean I don’t draw the line somewhere; after all, there are parasites that infect the human eye and I have very little sympathy for them. But difficulty knowing where to draw the line is not an excuse to avoid trying to do so. Species membership is not morally relevant. What is morally relevant are things like the capacity for pain and suffering, self-consciousness, self-awareness, and the ability to see oneself as having a past and future. Insects are a long way down on this spectrum.

So why do I feel bad? Because they were our pets. It was my duty to take care of them and I have betrayed them. Is this how meat-eaters justify petting their dog while sticking a fork into a pig? A dog is in their care whereas the pig is not. Emotionally it makes sense but it’s still irrational.

My plan for the stick insects from now on is to try to find the eggs before they hatch and squash them. Think of it as stick insect abortion.

Vegan menus, radio programs, and strip clubs

Vegan menus, radio programs, and strip clubs

Last night we went out for a pub meal at The Justice Mill on Union St in Aberdeen. It’s part of a pub chain in the UK called Wetherspoon; I like it because there are several options for me to eat and it’s cheap. They even have a menu especially for vegans and vegetarians – eat your heart out Spain.
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I usually get the sweet potato and chick pea curry which is delicious.

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Last week on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme were several episodes (here and here) about veganism. Some people think the rise of veganism is a threat to British farming but vegans still have to eat and unfortunately many of the staples we rely on like soya beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are grown elsewhere and imported. The BBC program was about how this represents a business opportunity for British farmers and indeed some are starting to recognise it and experiment with new crops. Soya beans are now grown in the UK, although only in small amounts and most are fed to livestock. They also mentioned lentils and I found this article about lentils growing in Suffolk. I’m very excited to hear about this and since vegans also tend to be concerned about the environment, I imagine the market for home-grown produce will be lucrative.

Some funny news: apparently a vegan strip club and a steak house are engaged in an altercation. They’re right next to each other in Portland, Oregon and the steak house is not happy about the vegans next door.

 

 

Ethics into Action

I’m reading this terrific book about the life of Henry Spira, a New Yorker who challenged large corporations over their abuse of animals, and he did so effectively, without money and with no large organisation behind him. The book is not so much a biography but a book about Henry’s strategy and why he was so successful. It’s a valuable guide for activists everywhere about how to create movements that are effective and proves that even individuals can make a difference.

Why was he so successful?

Henry chose specific targets for his campaigns and these he selected for their vulnerability and what Henry perceived would be the lack of public support for what those targets were doing. His first target was the American Museum of Natural History. They were conducting experiments on cats which involved mutilating the cats to observe changes in sexual behaviour. He chose this target for several reasons:

  1. The research was being funded with tax-payer money.
  2. People were more likely to object to experiments on cats because of our close relationship with them as companion animals.
  3. The research was obviously pointless.

His strategy was as follows:

  1. Research as much information about the organisation and experiments through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
  2. Contact the organisation to discuss the issue privately first – this was a prevailing strategy of Henry’s throughout his time as animal activist. The American Museum of Natural History ignored all his attempts to communicate with them.
  3. If step two fails launch a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue through weekly demonstrations outside the museum, articles in newspapers, and letters to politicians as well as to the museum’s own donors.

Mutilating cats to observe changes in their sexual behaviour sounds like an outrageous way to spend tax-payer money but we have to remember that this was back in 1970 and at a time when no-one questioned the torturing of rabbits for beauty’s sake. It took several years of campaigning before the American Museum of Natural History ended the experiments. It sounds like a very long time to end what had no obvious justification but Henry was able to achieve in a few years what anti-vivisectionists had failed to do in more than a century of campaigning, such was the attitude towards animals in labs at the time.

The book goes on to describe many other examples of Henry’s successful campaigns, one of which was his campaign against Revlon for their blinding of rabbits for cosmetic testing. There are several lessons we can learn from Henry.

He chose specific targets and he was persistent. Initially his targets were all dismissive of Henry and they wrongly assumed the publicity would die down and fade away. But Henry did not give up. He was relentless until eventually the public pressure was so great they could not ignore him.

He reached out to his targets to create a conversation with them and in some cases worked with them to find a solution. This is what ultimately happened with Revlon. When they realised they couldn’t dismiss him they worked with him to find a solution and he had University contacts who were working on alternatives to the Draize experiment ready to give them. He knew he couldn’t demand that Revlon stop the testing overnight since at the time there was no other test available and even if they did stop all the other companies would still be doing it which wouldn’t help those rabbits in the long-term. Instead he found a workable solution which was that Revlon gave Rockefellar University $750,000 over three years to develop an alternative test. After this he moved onto Avon and from there to Bristol-Myers and so on until everyone was working together to find a solution. This is what he was good at: getting people from opposing sides to work together towards a shared goal.

Henry Spira died in 1998. There’s a nice article in the New York Times about him where he is described as the architect of the American animal rights movement’s first successful campaigns. The first part of his life was spent campaigning for the civil rights movement and the second half for animal rights. The two are closely linked for if you accept the principle of equality – which says we cannot give greater consideration to the interests of a being on the basis of their sex or race, then we cannot give greater consideration to a being on their basis of their species as this would be inconsistent and is known as speciesism. Henry Spira was influenced by Peter Singer. He explains, (p50 Ethics into Action)

Singer made an enormous impression on me because his concern for other animals was rational and defensible in public debate. It did not depend on sentimentality, on the cuteness of the animals in question or their popularity as pets. To me he was saying simply that it is wrong to harm others, and as a matter of consistency we don’t limit who the others are; if they can tell the difference between pain and pleasure, then they have the fundamental right not to be harmed.

Mystery person

Mystery person

At Madrid airport the other day I was waiting at a shop for them to heat up my lunch (which turned out to be disgusting but more on that later) and I thought I saw someone famous. Who is this dude with the curly locks? Should I know who he is? He looks familiar.

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A close-up.

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Madrid airport was dreadful. Just after going through security I was greeted by this:

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I found a shop which claimed to sell vegan food so I wandered in feeling hopeful. It was called Esenza.

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I bought a vegan pasty which looked unappetising – dry and tasteless – but I decided to give it a try. It was just as disgusting as it looked and I threw most of it away.

Most days for lunch I eat porridge with fruit and nuts. Today I added soy yoghurt, chia seeds, and fruit (pear and kiwi fruit).

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Chia seeds are a strange food. I’ve never bought them before but I saw them at Newton Dee today and decided to give them a try. They come as small black or white, hard seeds which you soak in water for 10 minutes. After soaking they change to a jelly-like consistency and look rather like frog spawn.

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They don’t taste of anything but they do add a nice crunch and texture to yoghurt and porridge.

Homemade hot cross buns

Homemade hot cross buns

Every year on Good Friday, for as long as I’ve known him, Ben makes hot cross buns. Having stuffed myself silly with about half-a-dozen of them now I can say with honesty that this year’s batch was particularly good, maybe even the best yet. They are vegan, without peel, and preservative-free. Perfect! Ben says he used vinegar and baking soda as a replacement for the egg.

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Climate change and the elephant in the room

Livestock farming produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. That’s all the planes, trains, trucks, buses, cars, and boats on the planet. Exactly how much the livestock farming sector produces varies depending on which study you look at. The most conservative estimate is from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) which puts it at 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions while the highest figure is a paper by Goodland and Anhang which estimates it to be 51% of all emissions.

Some people argue the FAO underestimate the value while Goodland and Anhang overestimate it. Whatever the real answer is we’re not going to tackle global warming without addressing the high emissions from livestock farming the solution for which is a plant-based diet. This is something most people don’t seem to want to acknowledge and I feel a sense of despair after my trip to meat-loving Spain. Even for those who live in Spain and voluntarily want to reduce their emissions the choices are dismal. How much more warming do we have to endure before we acknowledge the elephant in the room?

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

I’m back in the UK and waiting at Heathrow airport where I’ve just stuffed myself full of food and am thinking of going back for more. I threw myself at Pret a Manger like a ravenous lion who hasn’t eaten properly for months. I love Pret. It’s one of my favourite eateries. Here’s what I got for £7.95 just now:

An entree of chia seeds in coconut yoghurt with mango and pomegranate seeds.

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A main with rice, beetroot, falafel, beans, broccoli, basil, lemon, and mint, and pomegranate seeds.

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I even got dessert: a delicious coconut chocolate thing.

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Spending a week in Spain made me realise how much I take the wonderful food choices here for granted. I’m only at the airport and there’s so much choice. I always make my flight connections in Heathrow for this reason.

I love living in the UK. There’s so much diversity here and so many options and people are mostly very respectful of differences. The passport control officers themselves were all very diverse. One woman officer was wearing a hijab, there was a man with a sikh turban, and when it was my turn I got a young man with a distinctly Australian accent.

A plate of artichokes

A plate of artichokes

The food situation over the past few days has been diabolical. On Sunday the choice was omelette or meat balls, on Monday night it was steak or fish, and lunch today was steak or pork loin. They look at me with horror when I say I would like something without meat. It seems to take a while to process and they don’t really understand veganism. It’s quite simple really. I eat plants. All plants.

There are 20,000 species of edible plants in the world and when I told the restaurant today that I can eat any plants they brought me this:

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It’s a plate of artichokes. Nothing else; just artichokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like artichokes but a whole plate of them is not particularly appealing.

At the restaurant last night they brought out several plates for everyone to share and every single one had meat on it. First there was ham, followed by prosciutto, then balls with some kind of meat in them, and then octopus. Why is it so hard to produce a plate without animals on it?

There are vegetarian restaurants here and we’ve been to two of them and they were great. But it would be nice if there was something I could eat at regular restaurants also.

Today we went on a winery tour which was lovely. We visited three wineries. Here are some photos.

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This is the royal family summer house.

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This next winery was quite interesting. They ferment white wine in huge century-old clay pots. I’ve never seen that before and apparently this is one of only a few wineries to do this.

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A conversation overheard

Ben overheard this conversation between Daniel and Elizabeth. They were playing some game together on their devices which involved Elizabeth making a BBQ and inviting Daniel’s character.

Daniel: What will you cook?  Chicken? Pork?
Elizabeth: No.
Daniel: Beef:
Elizabeth: No.
Daniel: Mutton?
Elizabeth: No, none of those things.
Daniel (in a despairing tone): If it’s a vegetarian barbecue then I won’t come!
Elizabeth: It’s a vegetarian barbecue.

Photos from Madrid

Photos from Madrid

We wandered around El Retiro Park in Madrid yesterday. I took some photos on our walk there and in the park. I have been to Madrid before, some 12 or so years ago now, and I remember this park and the glasshouse. The glasshouse is beautiful but completely empty. I suspect if they put plants in there they would suffer from overheating since it gets quite hot and glasshouses are not really needed in this climate.

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Last night we ate an Indian Restaurant and it was one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever had. I had a vegetable and lentil curry and it was so fresh and full of coriander which I love. Some of the others in our group complained after dinner of feeling a bit sick from the rich food but this never happens to me on a plant-based diet. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s the saturated fat in animal products that give you that sick and bloated feeling after a big meal.

I always seek out Indian restaurants in places hostile to vegetarianism since India is around 30% vegetarian and there are always plenty of lentil and chick pea dishes for protein. Asian cuisine in general tends to be much better for vegetarians. In Spain they put ham in everything – ham for breakfast, ham for lunch, ham for dinner. I don’t know how people can stand that. What’s wrong with vegetables-only every once if a while or even just for a whole meal one day? A plant-based diet is better for our health, better for our environment, better for animals and apparently women are more likely to contact you on Tinder if you’re vegan. Why not eat meat once a week and plants the rest of the time or even plants for just one day a week and meat the rest of the time? Humans in rich countries eat too much meat. It seems like a no-brainer to me but then I’m told I’m eccentric so perhaps I’ll never understand how the rest of the world thinks.

On the bike tour we had the other day I spoke to our guide about Spain’s tradition of bullfighting. Like me, he does not approve of it but he is from Belgium and maybe not as invested in the Spanish culture as others who have grown up here. I believe the argument made by those in favour of bull fighting is that this is their culture and tradition. This is not a very good argument. In some cultures it’s tradition for men to beat their wives. Is it acceptable for them to say, “It is right for us to continue beating our wives because this is our culture and tradition”? No.

 

Carnage: a mockumentary

I just watched Carnage, a comedic documentary set in the year 2067 when the whole world is vegan and reflecting back on their horrific, meat-eating past. There’s something in this for all diets because I really enjoyed it as did my meat-eating family. I didn’t specifically intend for the kids to watch it but Daniel was very interested and laughed out loud several times. There’s one bit where the meat industry creates a TV show called “Mike’s meat house” – a fun house for kids – to try to rekindle their failing industry. Kids have to beat up the vegan which involves battering a poster of an attractive, young, blonde woman. I’m making this sound pretty dreadful (this is why I’m not a writer by trade) but it was funny.

Throughout the film is an alcoholics anonymous group but for former meat-eaters instead of alcoholics. They reflect on their meat-eating lives as they try to accept their past. The film gives a chronological account of the growth of veganism and how prior to 2020, vegans were mostly embarrassing, self-righteous, and slightly annoying people which is probably true – for all other vegans except for me 😉

Is there any truth to the film? Yes and no. I don’t think the world will be vegan in 2067 or ever for that matter. However I do think there will come a time when we reflect with horror and shame on how we treat animals today, in much the same way as we view slavery now. There’s a never-ending list of reasons to stop eating animals ranging from health, to environmental, to animal welfare and yet for most people something as trivial as taste trumps all these other serious concerns. Even if you’re not interested in any of these issues, the movie also has some gratuitous nudity in the form of penises, and it’s worth watching just for that.

Here’s the trailer:

 

You can watch it on iPlayer:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04sh6zg/simon-amstell-carnage

 

How to argue with a vegan

I thought I’d do a part two of my “making fun of vegans” post from the other week. I like having my views challenged and engaging in difficult discussions about ethical issues. What I don’t like are the inane and often offensive statements people make. I’m referring to people who lick their lips and claim to love the taste of animals or even pretend to take a bite out of a cow. They are making a pretty distasteful argument to someone who respects the principle of equality and views these creatures as sentient beings with interests of their own. Imagine if a rapist used as his argument,“But rape is so enjoyable! I just love it so I’m going to rape as many women as I can”. I think most people would agree that this is a pretty distasteful thing to say and not a very convincing argument either.

When I argue in favour of abortion I use what are, to my mind, reasonable and logical arguments. I don’t make fun of people who object to abortion and I understand that they come from a place of compassion, even though I disagree with their conclusion. Next time you want to tell a vegetarian how yummy cows are think twice about it. What you can do instead is make an argument based on logic and reason for why the lives of these animals don’t matter and why you think the principle of equality should apply only to humans.

The wrongness of killing and abortion

I cried when I watched this clip this morning. The baby’s mother has just died in a car accident and the infant is visibly distressed and mourning for her mother.

Story in The Independent.

We’re not the only animals to mourn the loss of loved ones. We’re not the only animals who love and care for our infants. We’re not the only animals with infants who need others to care for and love them. There’s something particularly “human” about monkeys. They closely resemble us in appearance and I don’t doubt that they experience pain and suffering in the same way we do.

When you cease to view the world as divided into two groups – humans and non-humans – boundaries become blurred and more clear at the same time. What is morally relevant is not what species an organism belongs to but whether they are are self-conscious, capable of pain and suffering, can see themselves over time, and have desires for the future. It’s for this reason that I’m in favour of abortion and stem cell research. A human embryo is not a self-conscious being and cannot experience pain and suffering. It is far more morally objectionable to perform experiments on an adult monkey than a human embryo. In the case of abortion the developing fetus likely doesn’t feel pain until 20 weeks and even then it is not regarded as a person where a person is a rational, self-conscious being. A fetus is not rational or self-conscious.

From Practical Ethics, by Peter Singer (page 150)

The point should now be familiar: whether a being is or is not a member of our species is, in itself no more relevant to the wrongness of killing it than whether it is or is not a member of our race. The belief that mere membership of our species, irrespective of other characteristics, makes a great difference to the wrongness of killing a being is a legacy of religious doctrines that even those opposed to abortion hesitate to bring into the debate.

Recognising this simple point transforms the abortion issue. We can now look at the fetus for what it is – the actual characteristics is possesses – and can value its life on the same scale as the lives of beings with similar characteristics who are not members of our species. It now becomes apparent that the “Pro Life” or “Right to Life” movement is misnamed. Far from having concern for all life or a scale of concern impartially based on the nature of the life in question, those who protest against abortion but dine regularly on the bodies of chickens, pigs, and calves, show only a biased concern for the lives of members of our own species. For on any fair comparison of morally relevant characteristics, like rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, autonomy, pleasure and pain, and so on, the calf, the pig and the much derided chicken will come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy – while if we make the comparison with a fetus of less than three months, a fish would show more signs of consciousness.

Animals eat each other, so why shouldn’t we eat them?

People criticise and mock vegetarians quite a lot. I’m always happy to be laughed at and I’ve taught my kids that this is a good thing because it means you are making someone else happy and there’s nothing bad about that. However I get annoyed when people say silly things or incorrect things. Maybe I just like to be laughed at on my own terms or I’m not as good at being laughed at as I would like. Sometimes I feel like the person in this cartoon.

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There are a lot of myths that vegetarians hear and after a while they get a bit tiresome. They are things like “but lions eat animals” and “but you won’t get sufficient protein” and “but if we didn’t eat animals they’d all go extinct” and “lettuces have feelings too” and “vegetarians are hippy types who don’t vaccinate their kids”. No-one has actually said that last one to me but I’ve had people ask me in a tone that is expecting my reply to be against vaccination simply because I’m vegan. I’m always happy to see their disappointment when I say I’m pro-vaccination and to shatter the stereotype. I’m 100% pro-science and pro-vaccination. I’m also pro-nuclear and pro-GM foods.

I thought I’d address the “but lions eat animals” argument because it seems to be quite common. Some people justify eating non-human animals because some of those non-human animals eat other animals. It’s true that there are animals who eat each other but it seems a strange thing to look to lions and other carnivores with answers to moral questions. Some animals eat their babies. Is that justification for eating babies?

Peter Singer addresses this argument much more eloquently than me in his book, Practical Ethics, which I think should be compulsory reading in high school. It is used as the text book in some introductory ethics courses and I’d love to see ethics taught in schools. Here’s an excerpt from it:

For a start, most animals who kill for food would not be able to survive if they did not, whereas we have no need to eat animal flesh. Next, it is odd that humans, who normally think of the behaviour of animals as ‘beastly’ should, when it suits them, use an argument that implies that we ought to look to animals for moral guidance. The most decisive point, however, is that nonhuman animals are not capable of considering the alternatives open to them or of reflecting on the ethics of their diet. Hence it is impossible to hold the animals responsible for what they do, or to judge that because of their killing they ‘deserve’ to be treated in a similar way. Those who read these lines, on the other hand, must consider the justifiability of their dietary habits. You cannot evade responsibility by imitating beings who are incapable of making this choice.

He also goes on to address the argument that we’ve evolved to eat meat and it’s “natural”. There’s nothing evolved or natural about industrial factory farming. Women have also evolved to give birth every couple of years from puberty to menopause but most of us do not and most of us would agree that not doing so is an improvement over what is “natural”.

The food revolution

America sometimes seems like a country of extremes but one thing they do very well is innovation and entrepreneurship. I don’t think any other country in the world does these two things as well as America. One industry I have been watching with great interest is the food technology industry and America is leading the way.

I’ve always been interested in food – not food for myself to eat, but food to feed the masses. What will we be eating 100 years from now? I don’t think it will be dead animals. Humans will likely still be eating meat but we will not be farming animals to produce it for two main reasons:

  1. Livestock farming consumes too much land and water and produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than the average plant-based diet.
  2. Animal welfare and speciesism. If you accept that it’s racist and sexist to give more consideration to the interests of beings based on their race and sex then it follows that it’s speciesist to give more consideration to the interests of beings based on their species.

How will we eat meat without farming and killing animals for food? This is where the burgeoning food technology industry comes in. An American company, Impossible Foods, is making a burger without using animals. Apparently it even bleeds, although, technically it’s not meat since it’s made from plants. Another American company, Memphis Meats, is making lab-grown meat. This one is apparently real meat which is cultured from the cells of animals in a lab. Another American company, Perfect Day, is making milk – real milk – without cows. Hampton Creek, again an American company, makes mayonnaise and cookies with a lab-grown egg substitute.

Would I eat lab-grown meat and milk? Probably not and not because I have any ethical objections to either. It’s more that I gave up those things more than a decade ago and no longer have the taste for them. Milk and meat smell and taste revolting to me now. However I’m hopeful about the prospect of a kinder and more ethical planet which this technology could bring. I feel like we’re on the precipice of a food revolution that is long overdue and America is leading the way.

Are there European companies charging into this new territory that I’m not aware of? Let me know in the comments if you’re aware of some.