Monday 20 May 2019

Steak and chips. But hold the steak

Mind matters...

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

John Masterson

Around the turn of the millennium, I met a woman who ran a small cafe. She had recently encountered her first vegan.

"I offered him a cheese sandwich! I was very innocent then," she told me.

Back then, vegans were as rare as hen's teeth. They are multiplying. Vegans don't eat animals or animal products, so that rules out milk, cheese and eggs for a start.

I have noticed something of a pattern. People with dietary issues cut out some foods. They might go vegetarian for a while. And then they get into learning about the politics and ethics of food production.

Becoming vegan, and telling people about it non-stop, is often the next step.

Albert Einstein wrote that "nothing will benefit health or increase the chances of survival on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." On following it up I discovered he had written a letter in 1953 where he said that he had "always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience".

He only became a vegetarian in the last year of his life. He died in 1955, and not because of the change in diet!

When I was a student I went vegetarian for about a year. It was a bit odd in those days but I did it because of what I had read about how much more land it took to produce meat than grain or vegetables and that the rainforests were being destroyed to graze cattle.

Even back then, we knew that trees were the lungs of the planet and that cattle were very inefficient sources of protein and big users of water.

While an animal lover, I did not give much thought to the lives and feelings of our fellow animals beyond our dog.

I remember visiting a slaughterhouse and not liking it, but it didn't stop me ordering rashers.

The concept of cruelty to animals is slowly changing. It is being applied to more species, more situations, and more behaviours.

Zoos have been transformed. Humane killing discussions belong to yesteryear. Today the argument about how we treat domesticated animals reared to eat is not how they die, but how they live.

I enjoy looking at the cattle and sheep in the fields around my house. I enjoy eating them too. Last summer I was driving though a country where I did not see animals in the fields. It was only later it occurred to me that it was because they were reared without seeing much daylight. It made me uneasy.

Chickens in nature would have a life span of five-plus years. The ones we eat never see their first birthday. Likewise for pigs, who have a natural life span of 15 years.

Humans originally domesticated only 20 or so mammals and birds, but today 90pc plus of all large animals on earth are domesticated.

There are 1.5bn cows and a billion pigs. Only 40,000 lions remain. Every year, we eat about 20bn chickens, once a rare bird.

Some vegans, for example Yuval Noah Harari, discuss the moral issues that surround these numbers. He is worth reading.

One shouldn't get too excited about ethics when a goodly portion of our community cannot even put litter in a bin. But there is a shift happening. I will continue to enjoy meat. But I will pay more attention to whether the food has enjoyed blue skies. I suspect what is on plates will be very different in 25 years' time.

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