Vegan Sleb-Cred

The Vegetarian Society (UK) used to publish on a semi-regular basis The Vegetarian Handbook, The Guide to Living a Vegetarian Lifestyle!  It was very informative listing all branded manufactured foods that (at the time) were vegetarian, with specific reference to those which were vegan; it also listed recommended retailers.  Additionally, it had a list of food additives and how they were derived, which I found very useful as for many of these I was unaware of their origins.  I have the 17th and 18th editions of this guide, published respectively in January 1989 and October 1990.  On pp 12-13 of the latter there is a list of Famous Vegetarians, some of whom were well known at the time, some were not very well known at the time and had had their 15 mins of fame as it were during the year or two leading up to publication.  Some have long-since fallen off the vegetarian wagon and some are now sadly deceased.  The list did have a caveat:

Occasionally celebs claim to be vegetarian and then in a later article reveal that they eat fish, so although every effort is made to keep the list up-to-date, we can’t be 100% certain of its accuracy.

Of those in the list, some such as Carol Royle and Martin Shaw have regularly supported the Vegetarian Society, since before the list was published and one can assume that both are still vegetarian (though neither has ever claimed to be vegan).  Doing a google search on some of the others reveals that they are (or were) ‘pescetarians’, so the Vegetarian Society’s disclaimer was as well.  One can understand why this list was published, as even as recently as two and a half decades ago the vegetarian diet was still perceived to be outside the mainstream, whilst the vegan diet was, well, well beyond the pale.  By focusing on celebs the Vegetarian Society was trying to bring the former diet at least into the mainstream.  Unfortunately however it didn’t really help, as although these talented thespians may not be that rich, their lifestyles – by vocation alone – were and are still somewhat removed from the mainstream.

Possibly because so few celebrities back then were, or claimed to be, vegan, the Vegan Society has never made a big deal of trying to have celebrity supporters; Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who sometimes appears at vegan festivals, is the nearest to fit into that category, but he is the exception rather than the rule.  However it has now become fashionable for celebrities to claim to be vegan and for this we can thank PETA, for providing them with a free career platform.  Declaring one’s self to be vegan is now the Hollywood thing to do.  Whilst some of these celebrities, Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone, for example are genuine, expressing the vegan ethos in more than just dietary terms, for others it has become just a faddish ‘detox’ diet, with a bit of politically correct career publicity thrown in for good measure.  Vegan Sleb-Cred, in other words.

Miley Cyrus: MTV Unplugged - Fixed Show

I accept that criticising someone for adopting a vegan diet for whatever reason is in itself a snobbish and elitist attitude; many people make a correct decision for a ‘wrong’ reason and then look into the broader issues afterwards.  Someone who adopts a vegan diet for health reasons is more likely to be won over by the ethical arguments than someone who is omnivorous; hence that dietary vegan is more likely to give up wearing leather, fur, wool, silk.  Some of those who have done it for publicity might well see it a bit beyond that.  And really one shouldn’t be too harsh.  Search for ‘vegan celebrities’ or such and you’ll find several lists of which the longest I’ve found is this one, from just over a decade ago which appears to be derived from the list of a quarter of a century ago, mentioned in the first paragraph.  These lists, by volume of names, not just the names themselves, are obviously fulfilling a need, or a wish, for those looking.

 

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Milking the Taxpayer

dairy factory farm

The ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’ of Europe have long been a standing joke, the result of subsidies for the production of more of these commodities than there will ever be the demand for them to be consumed.  These are results of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by which targets for the production of various foodstuffs are decided by the European Commission in Brussels with the monies for their production apportioned to different member states.  If this sounds reminiscent of Soviet-style ‘five year plans’, then it is more than a coincidence. The CAP is a political tool to bind member states to the ‘centre’ of the European Union (EU).  Taxpayers’ money flows into Brussels and the unelected Commissioners then decide where it goes.  In a normal market economy the supply of any foodstuff would follow the demand for it, so if the demand for butter for example were to fall then so would the production of it; but not in the EU, hence these ‘mountains’ and ‘lakes’.

The CAP pre-dates the transformation of the European Economic Community (EEC) into the European Union and was used as a means of integrating the agricultural economies of the member states in preparation for eventual political union.  France has always received the largest individual slice of the CAP cake and French livestock farmers are renowned for their militancy in opposing cuts to their subsidies and/or low prices for their goods.  The real reason that subsidies could be cut, but rarely are, is more meat being produced than will ever be eaten, as farmers have been subsidised to breed too many animals. This oversupply in meat production results in low prices. But the farmers want to have it both ways, to breed too many animals and to be paid a high price for their carrion.

However it is not that the complaints of livestock and dairy farmers in other countries are any more ‘justified’, it is just that they tend not to be as militant in their methods. Irish farmers have been known to bring Dublin to a standstill, whilst British farmers being British grumble but don’t do much else.  British dairy farmers complain about the low prices for cows’ milk that they receive from the supermarkets, whom they blame for exploiting them.  This is very rich, since it is the farmers themselves who are exploiting the cows and who receive subsidies for doing so.  The real reason for the low price of cows’ milk is that there is oversupply as a result of these subsidies, yet the farmers don’t complain about that.  Rather, what they want are government price controls. The low prices which dairy farmers receive for cows’ milk is an example of the market economy working in spite of, rather than because of, the CAP.

To summarise thus far, the industrialisation of farm animals forms a significant part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is itself a foundation stone of the European Union (EU).  Until recently, the Green Party, which claims to support animal rights, advocated British withdrawl from the EU if the CAP were not abolished (this was specifically stated in its 1999 Manifesto).  Well, the CAP hasn’t been abolished and there is no sign that it will be, but the Green Party has now betrayed this promise at the very time when it would have been most popular!   The Green Party may naively believe that the CAP and the EU itself can be ‘reformed’ from within; alternatively it may have embraced the ‘globalisation’ that it has always claimed to oppose.

The European Union itself will in due course collapse under the weight of its own centralised bureaucracy as the Soviet Union did before it.  It is likely however that most of the national governments of European countries, regaining their independence, would continue the industrialisation of farm animals, as farmers form powerful political lobby groups.  For the electorates of these countries there should be more democratic accountability, which is say to that there should be some, as presently there is none.

All of this begs a question, would the CAP be acceptable if it did not include the industrialisation of farm animals?   Furthermore, if the CAP were entirely vegan, so only arable agriculture and companies selling foodstuffs of vegan origins were subsidised? We’d continue to subsidise the owners of French, German and Italian vineyards to grow poor quality grapes; the low-grade wine fermented from these could be then distilled into a form of biofuel.  We could pay the Greeks to produce millions of litres of Ouzo every year to help to rescue their economy.  Maybe the Eurocrats could reward us all with an annual Ouzo allowance?  It might even be enough to change Boris Johnson’s mind about Brexit.  So we need to look at the bigger picture to decide whether or not a ‘vegan’ CAP would be acceptable …

Agricultural surpluses are either stored indefinitely, in ‘lakes’ and ‘mountains’, destroyed, or just dumped onto developing countries, undercutting their own economies, which are more dependent on agriculture, than are those of the developed economies of Europe.  Heavily subsidised European farmers are able to undercut African farmers, destroying the livelihoods of the latter and keeping their countries in a state of post-colonial dependency on Europe.  This is the real reason for the continued poverty of African countries, which in turn drives mass migration from Africa into Europe (which has been going on for well over a decade and is unconnected to more recent immigration into Europe from the Middle East).  Concomitant with this, the EU imposes stringent import duties on agricultural products from outside the EU.  This is a distinctly French economic model, of which former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the friend of post-colonial African dictators, would be proud: a policy of protectionism at home whilst preaching ‘free trade’ elsewhere.

Examining this, the support given by the Guardian-reading British ‘liberal left’ for the EU is not merely distasteful, it is disgusting.  From a British perspective, the debate over continued membership of the EU has focused on unrestricted immigration and the downward pressure that this has had on living standards, in addition to the high level of British net contribution to the EU.  There has been little if any media coverage, least of all from the so-called ‘liberal left’, that the high rate of immigration is partly attributable to the poverty in developing countries caused by the CAP.  The cost to humans and animals of the CAP as well as the budgetary one should be a major electoral issue, but it has disappeared off the radar.  Because the CAP benefits large agri-business and other wealthy landowners, the mainstream media and most Eurosceptic politicans have deliberately ignored it.  The Green Party should be the political vehicle for opposition to the CAP, but the Green Party’s new-found support for the EU, because it is frightened to be identified as ‘right-wing’ or ‘nationalistic’, means that it is no longer a credible opponent of the CAP.

Health Food, Whole Food, Organic Food and Vegan Food

sage wholefoods ext 2bs

Many people might see the title of this post as four descriptions of roughly the same market sector, if not the same thing, however I feel that clarification is needed as to why that is not the case.  ‘Health Food’ and ‘Whole Food’ (or more commonly ‘Wholefood’) are at best abstract concepts described by the shops which use the respective labels;  ‘Organic Food’ is that produced without the use of pesticides.  All three of these market sectors are omnivorous, in so far as none is vegetarian, never mind vegan, by definition.

In Britain, ‘Health Food’ is typified by the Holland & Barrett chain of stores.  However highlighting food to describe this type of store is misleading as its product range is dominated by supplements, which anyone on a healthy diet could for the most part live without.  Unintentionally they project the image that a a diet of ‘Health Food’ is not in itself that healthy!  What food they sell is usually expensively priced compared to the same that could be bought in a supermarket or even from a local independent grocer.

‘Wholefood’ shops are less likely to sell supplements, though many sell new-agey herbal remedies, in keeping with the type of ‘green’ consumer which they are targeting.  Most wholefood shops in Britain are ovo-lacto-vegetarian (though this is not the case in Continental Europe) and some of what they sell is ‘organic’, but their customer base tends to be lower income than that of ‘Health Food’ retailers.  Some are run as workers’ co-operatives, others have just adopted that ‘look’, a throwback from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

‘Organic Food’ retailers are at the top end of the market, as almost everything that they sell is expensive.  Most sell meat from ‘organically’ reared and slaughtered animals.  Whilst these retailers may project an eco-conscious image, much of the fruit that they sell is imported from half way round the world (yes, very eco-conscious).  Their consumer market is among people whose primary concern is the avoidance of ingesting trace pesticides, rather than saving the planet per se; esoteric rather than environmental consciousness.

Vegan food by definition contains no animal derivatives.  It may or may not fit into any of the above three classifications, but most of all it is ordinary, can be purchased from any supermarket and is not a defined market sector in terms of income-related demography.  It is not a specialist niche market, nor does it require great culinary skills (although there are some good vegan culinary blogs to be found); it consists of the basic foodstuffs that most omnivores take for granted and it can be as basic as sliced bread or baked beans.

An entirely vegan supermarket therefore is a plausible business idea, although it might come as a surprise to ‘health food’, ‘wholefood’ and ‘organic food’ consumers that those market sectors need not form the core of it.  Similarly with an entirely vegan restaurant or cafe, of which several exist, including those of the ‘fast food’ variety competing directly with their omnivorous equivalents.  So what is stopping us from setting up more entirely vegan food outlets?  Nothing really apart from having the capital and the will!

Faux for the plebs, real for the slebs

If you lust after a vintage car and not just the top-end sporty type like an E-type Jaguar, it will almost certainly have leather seats as that would have been the standard seating material when the car was manufactured.  Cost back then presumably wasn’t the determining factor.  Cloth upholstery is a more recent cost-driven development, with the more expensive models in any range having a leather steering wheel or even a leather gear knob; these are presumably status symbols though it mystifies me exactly why.

Although imitation leather clothing exists, because real leather clothing is still commonplace, the latter doesn’t really have much status.  Similarly with leather shoes, which in any case are not usually designed to look like animal skins any more than a hamburger looks like part of the carcass of an animal.  Shoes made of synthetic material are now so well designed that one cannot tell whether or not they are made from leather, just as it is difficult to tell by inspection the difference between a veggieburger and a hamburger.

Silk ties for men and silk lingerie for women may have a certain amount of price-associated status with them.  In the former case ties have largely gone out of fashion and most men will make do with a polyester one on the odd occasion (business meeting, job interview) where one needs to be worn.  In the latter case it is more the designer label than the material itself that determines the status; cotton or synthetic lace will suffice if the brand name has the correct allure, Victoria’s Secret probably being the most obvious example.

The promotion of low-cost faux fur has however had an unintended consequence as fur coats do look like they are made from animal skins.  Not only has it created a demand for fur where possibly no such demand existed before, but it has helped to reinforce real fur as a status symbol, which can only be purchased by the wealthy; those who are not of wealthy origin but want to show off their acquired status (Rihanna springs to mind) like to flaunt themselves wearing real fur. So, faux for the plebs, real for the slebs.

rihanna-fur-coat

So how can this status association with animal derivatives be overcome?  Let’s assume that the proportion of the population who become vegan gradually increases.  Let’s assume also a genuine free market economy in which the breeding of animals for milk production, slaughter and other by-products do not receive hefty amounts of taxpayer subsidy.  If meat, dairy, eggs, leather, all become more expensive as a result of market economics that surely is a good thing, but the downside is that they could become desirable status symbols of wealth.  All of which is a loose end from my previous post.

Veganism and Ecology

ecology

Unless you were born into the landed gentry (and I certainly wasn’t) then the chances are that a great many of your forebears were tenant farmers or agricultural labourers, who would have depended on animals to carry out manually intensive tasks, tasks which have now been mechanised by technological advances.  Similarly, previous generations would have depended on animal skins to provide them with clothing and footwear, but the availability of good quality synthetic materials means this is no longer necessary; although leather is still widely worn, there is no need for it to be.

Being vegan in more than just a dietary sense is now easier than it ever has been and this is due to technological progress.  The petrol-driven internal combustion engine replaced the horse-drawn stagecoach, though one could put up a reasonable argument that the latter is actually more environmentally-friendly in cities suffering the effects of traffic pollution.  Nylon was developed as a replacement for silk, acrylic fibres were developed as replacements for wool (as I type this I am wearing an acrylic jumper) and PVC is sometimes used in clothing as an alternative for leather.

However vegans who consider themselves to be ecologists might face a certain dilemma in using modern materials which are by-products of industrial processes.  By the same token, some ecologists (including possibly some dietary vegetarians) might argue that animals and their products are natural renewable resources which humans have exploited since the year dot and should continue to do so.  The fur industry has been using this argument, particularly in relation to the lifestyles of the indigenous (First Nations) peoples of Canada, with whom the first European colonists traded.

Although there is a very good ecological argument for a vegan diet in terms of the volume of food that can be sourced from the same area of land, one needs to be wary that there are also ecological arguments that can be used against veganism (ie in favour of exploiting animals for their skins and/or their labour).  I am not going to back up the latter arguments, but I think that it is important that vegans do not succumb to the backward-looking world view held by most in the ‘green’ movement, who are possessed of a ridiculously romanticised vision of pre-industrial society.

To me the vegan ethos, veganism, the vegan movement, as it were, is a forward-looking world view.  We don’t need to exploit animals as our forebears would have needed to, so there is no excuse for doing so.  There are environmental compromises in every form of clothing or transport in terms of the source materials and production and we just have to live with them.  It doesn’t trouble my conscience wearing a material which is a by-product of the petrochemical industry or my driving a petrol-fuelled car. I am comfortable with technological advance and I don’t want a pre-industrial standard of living.