Horse meat – the hardest thing to digest is that it’s your fault.

I found the above article in ‘Freshly Pressed’ this morning.  I like it.  Here’s what I wrote in reply:-

This is a great post.  Your writing in this, and other posts, burns with the angry desire for authenticity.  I think it’s the ache of our age.  You are absolutely right, we are responsible for the world we create through our choices.  Well said.

I was raised by a mother who worked part-time and cooked real food, from ingredients, and knew how to use up leftovers.  She had been taught by her mum in turn, and both my grandmothers were of the WWII generation, where I think they learned how to live frugally and resourcefully.  There are elements of conservatism in the family life I knew as a child that I have sought to move on from in my adult life, but in terms of food I’m 100% with the people who mourn the state of the food industry, contemporary consumer habits, and the lack of time available for proper cooking, or indeed proper living.

Finding your post in ‘Freshly Pressed’ has come at a time when I’m struggling with paradox.  This month I’ve been trying out a Vegan diet, with the intention of exploring whether this is a lifestyle change I’d like to adopt permanently.

One of my reasons for transitioning to Vegan is concern about animal welfare and horror at the practices of the food industry.  I had a grandfather who was a vet and another who was a free-range pedigree poultry breeder, both trying to do the best in their professions,  but I don’t know if I would ever feel confident enough about animal welfare in today’s society that I would feel it’s ok to eat an animal/animal’s products.  I sometimes think I might be able to rear animals for food purposes myself, and kill them, but I’ve never tested that, so I don’t really know.  What I do know is, that the level of care I think a ‘used’ animal deserves leaves no room for profit.  Trying to make money out of selling animals for milk, meat etc. means that the pressures of the market will always be there, and, as you acknowledge, they are ferocious pressures.

The paradox I’m struggling with at the moment, in my third week of Veganism is the knowledge that it’s not just animal welfare that’s important.  Human welfare is equally important, and, I’d go as far as to say that, if we can’t get the human welfare sorted out, there’s little chance that we’ll manage it for the animals as well.  Humans feeling the pressure for whatever reason can easily cut moral corners and turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others.

You rightly acknowledge the misery caused in the lives of food producers in the UK as they’ve struggled to survive under market pressure and meet the ever-more-ridiculous demands of legislation.  There is a great deal of human suffering here.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, by choosing Vegan, I’m simply shifting the human suffering elsewhere.  As I’ve started choosing different products (for example: soya, quinoa, different plant oils) I’ve noticed that many of them come from far-away places and I have nothing but the bland assurances on the product’s packaging that what I’m consuming has been ethically produced.  You don’t have to Google very far to find evidence that the West’s appetite for different foods, or ‘wholefoods’, or ‘superfoods’, is leading, in some cases, to the clearance of native habitat, and to the displacement and/or hunger of local populations.

And that’s to say nothing of the air miles the lie behind the food I’m now choosing to eat.  It’s harder to avoid imported food if you eat Vegan in the UK, unless you live on root vegetables, cabbage and potatoes.

Your post vividly expresses  the monster we’ve collectively created in the Food Industry by our desire for cheap and convenient food.  I can see that choosing a Vegan diet isn’t going to make that monster go away.  There are still huge ethical concerns about food production on a mass scale, whatever it is and wherever it happens, and in our global society we have a collective responsibility for this.

I’ll be sticking to my Vegan choice for the time being, because I have strong concerns about animal welfare, whether in the slaughterhouses of Romania or an organic farm in the Cotswolds, and there is proper, statistical evidence that we all need to cut down our meat and dairy consumption for both health and environmental reasons.  I would really like, however, to be able to eat food that’s locally, and wholesomely produced.  I would like to know that the people producing that food have been able to work in decent conditions, that they have been well-paid for their work, that the lives of the communities of those food producers are good lives.

I’ve little idea how to bring that about through the power of my purchase.

For now, I’ll do my best to shop local, and where I can’t shop local, I’ll try not to be naïve, and be discerning about the food that’s being imported in my name.  I’ll be looking for Fairtrade products and companies that have authenticity and ethics at the heart of their operations.  All this searching uses up valuable cooking time, and, yes, it does cost more money than buying products for price alone.  It’s not easy swimming against the tide.  I applaud anybody who bothers to try to do it.  I applaud all food producers and consumers who are struggling to do what they can to make a better world.

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