Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Another response to Monbiot on Veganism

I wouldn't normally just paste in someone else's comment, but this is just so spot on that I had to...

This is from Merricks blog:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

animal instincts, gut reaction

George Monbiot's written a piece about the way increased consumption of animal products is exacerbating world hunger.

Basically, we're feeding a serious proportion of our food to animals who shit out most of the nutriment. We then eat the high-input low-output animals. So even though we're growing more food than ever, people are starving.

As the animal products are more profitable than the basic grains and pulses, the market is happy to see the poor starve.

Joachim von Braun, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that the current rapid increase in world food prices is roughly 20% caused by the impact of climate change, about 30% by the impact of biofuels, and about 50% by increased affluence leading to more consumption of animal products.

Of course, those proportions are likely to shift as climate change will get a lot worse in the years to come, and biofuels - despite it now being clear that they're an environmental disaster as well as a humanitarian one - continue to grow. We're burning food while people starve.

But it's equally crazy to turn edible food to shit for no good reason, which is what the meat and dairy industries do. Even grass-fed animals get their winter feed from foodstuffs that could be fed to humans. In a two pronged attack, we exacerbate climate change by first chopping down the forests to grow soya for cows, who give it a second punch by turning that soya into shit and climate-assaulting methane.

The obvious thing is for us to eat less animal products. Monbiot concurs.

A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.

and then immediately backtracks with

But I cannot advocate a diet I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.

Oh look, here's the emaciated and fascinatingly pearl grey Carl Lewis zooming through the air as he wins the Olympic gold medal for the long jump in 1992.

Carl Lewis, long jump, Barcelona Olympics 1992

At the same Olympics he got another gold medal for his running. A man capable of running 100 metres in under ten seconds and 200 metres in under twenty, one wonders how his vegan diet impaired his performance. Monbiot's year of veganism was dogged by his seemingly inevitable ill-health. How was yours, Carl?

my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet

I went to see Prince last year. He's fifty, but with the energy, the verve, the effervescent pizzazz of someone less than half his age. Vegan with it.

I don't doubt Brother George's account of the impacts of a vegan diet on himself. But his implication that this is what most vegans are like is just bollocks. It's a cheapshot that is frankly unworthy of him. It's as daft as saying veganism will make us all into Carl Lewis, or that vegetarianism is bad because Hitler was one.

Certainly, there are some unhealthy vegans. But in the same way, you could report on someone grossly obese and say that's what anyone who eats meat is inevitably like.

Monbiot was clearly eating a poor vegan diet, and was seemingly anaemic. It's easily overcome though. A diet with plenty of fresh greens supplies huge amounts of iron and vitamin C (which helps you absorb the iron).

Can that be done all year round though without importing stuff? Just ask someone like, ooh, George Monbiot. A week before he published the vegan article, he published one that said

There are at least 20 kinds of vegetables and salads (mostly oriental varieties) that you can grow through the British winter. You should be able to eat fresh greens every day of the year.

Many people find that if they suddenly take something out of their diet their health suffers, usually because they're eating the same old stuff but with something missing. Carl Lewis was smart enough to look into the nutritional aspect before he changed.

But even if you don't do that first, it doesn't take much work to find balanced, tasty, easy food that's vegan. You're a couple of clicks away from hundreds of sites that can help you, and there are at least as many books too.

Veggies and vegans tend to eat a lot better than omnivores; as they have to really think about their food, they become better cooks and eat a greater variety of ingredients.

I've been vegan for most of my life. In the 1980s it was a bit more work, but these days there is absolutely no truth in the 'it's too much effort to be vegan and healthy' thing. It's a lazy cop-out by those who haven't got the self-discipline to obey their conscience.

That said, any reduction in the amount of animal produce you consume is positive. There's this common idea that people have to be absolutist, as if it's a religion and any sinful behaviour will see them damned. But someone who is basically vegan but eats animal stuff once or twice a week is clearly having less of a detrimental effect than someone who is an ongoing omnivore because they don't feel they could be unwaveringly veggie.

The sneering idea that 'oh, you had some milk chocolate so you're not really vegan' gets bandied around, as if it undoes all the good you do by not eating animals the rest of the time. I note that it tends to come from people who eat meat, essentially as a desperate attempt to gag their own conscience.

By the same token, we could ridicule anyone advocating a reduction in carbon emissions if they ever use any fossil fuels, and tell ourselves that therefore it's OK for us all to drive SUVs and have patio heaters.

As Robin Fishwick observes, the only way not to be a hypocrite is to be an amoral twat

we have a social climate where it is impossible to embrace any moral position without fear of being branded as 'loony' if you cling doggedly to the position, or 'hypocritical' if you fall short of it. The result is that we are left with a cynics jamboree and a tendency towards moral paralysis.

In a perfect world, moral paralysis would not be a problem, but a perfect world it is not, and as soon as you so much as express concern the snipers are out. It is much safer to abdicate all moral responsibility than step into the danger zone - and the danger zone is huge. If you fall short of the ideal you espouse, you are a hypocrite.

It follows, therefore, that in order never to be a hypocrite, it is safest not to espouse any ideals you may have any difficulty living up to - result; said cynicism and moral paralysis.

Better to be a hypocrite than a bastard. If you don't fall short of your own standards once in a while then you probably haven't set them high enough.

It's common for people who are kicking a habit to have a relapse, and if people want to indulge as they shift their habits, if that's what makes it work for them in the longer term, fine. Most ex-meaties I know who give in to temptation are repulsed by the heavy dense unfoodlike feeling of meat in their gut, and it helps them leave it behind.

It is very clear that the consumption of animal products has a severe climate impact. As with the other reasons for abstaining from animal products - compassion for the animals, personal health, concern at the amount of land used and its impact on wild land going under the plough, or straightforward cheapness - it makes more sense to be vegan than vegetarian. And in our lands of plenty, it's not difficult. As George Monbiot's lame attempt shows, there really is no good reason.

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