Admitting Where Our Food Comes From

Monday, 27 November 2017



Unless you’re completely new to my blog, you’ll already know that I don’t eat meat and haven’t for nearly three years now. I gave it up initially for my health (red meats in particular triggered my IBS symptoms), then for the environment and for animal welfare. In spite of what you might think of meat-free people though, many of my views about meat consumption and animal welfare have remained unchanged since my younger years guzzling beef burgers and gnawing on chicken wings.

One of the biggest criticisms that many vegetarians and vegans have about meat-eaters is the hypocrisy of our meat consuming habits – what is and isn’t acceptable to eat, what is and isn’t acceptable to find outrageous and cruel, and ultimately how distanced we’ve become (namely in white Western culture) from where our food actually comes from. It might surprise you to know, but even when I was an avid ‘carnivore’ with a real disdain for vegetarians and vegans, I still saw and called out that hypocrisy and I continue to do so today as a vegan. Sad thing of course, is that people took my criticism much more seriously when I spoke as meat-eater to meat-eater than they do now!

I’ve been mulling this over for a while, but after seeing a few tweets recently following an episode of Countryfile, I thought I may as well put fingers to keyboard and type something out.

Perhaps my biggest frustration as a vegan isn’t that people can’t see the environmental devastation that their eating habits cause, or that they don’t appreciate the suffering that eating meat or dairy causes animals or the communities in the nations livestock feed is mass produced. It’s that within the age of fast food and easy availability and the realities of slaughterhouses being hidden far, far away from our prying eyes, most of us have either forgotten or are in denial that the animal products we consume were from just that: animals.

It’s not unusual to hear people say that they don’t like eating meat on the bone because they don’t like to think about the animal it came from. They don’t like to be shown images of captive animals or what lies beyond the gates of slaughterhouses. Customers of restaurants routinely complain if they find a chicken feather in their chicken meal, or evidence of hair on the flesh of an animal that, when living, did indeed have hair. Even the biggest meat-lovers will often still say that if it came down to it, they wouldn’t be able to kill an animal themselves unless their lives depended on it. This is the most difficult attitude for me to navigate as a vegan, and was one I found difficult to navigate in the years before I gave up meat, too.

For me, it has always been simple. If I had to in order to feed myself, or if we lived in a society where killing animals ourselves was necessary in order to eat them, I would’ve done it. I killed fish myself when I went fishing. I ate meat off the bone because I knew it was an animal, and animals had bones. I loathed hearing people complain about seeing whole fish in fishmongers, made uncomfortable by the eyes of the dead fish watching them, and I hated that parents would file complaints over butchers displaying pig carcasses in their windows because ‘it’s too gruesome’ or ‘it frightened their children’. When I was a child, I knew bacon came from a pig. I knew that the dead pig would become the food, and that this was just ‘how it was’.

I’m not the type of vegan that demands that everyone become vegan overnight, that all animal slaughter end instantaneously and that it’s in everyone’s power to give up animal products (it’s not). I’ve spoken before about ways non-vegans can help support vegan causes, and how important it is to understand that everyone’s circumstances are different and that this impacts our abilities to live and consume as ethically as others might. What I do expect though, as an absolute bare minimum, is that if you are going to consume animal products that you understand and don’t shy away from where it came from.

Ultimately, I am now and always have been of the opinion that if you can’t handle the reality of the meat on your plate – if you can’t bare thinking about a cute pig dying for your bacon sandwich, or any kind of reminder that what you’re eating is an animal – then you shouldn’t be eating meat. If your conscience makes you feel so uncomfortable being reminded that what you’re eating used to be a fluffy little lamb or a chick or a cow, that should be a signal to you not to eat it. If you’re fine with the idea of someone else slaughtering something for you behind closed doors, miles and miles away so that you can bury your head in the sand, but it makes you sick to your stomach to think of doing it yourself, then you shouldn’t be eating meat.

Of course, as my post on intersectionality references, contrary to what many vegans suggest, it simply can’t be this black and white for people with financial difficulties, families to feed, different religious or cultural backgrounds, physical or mental health needs and so on.  I refer here instead to those who do have the level of privilege, comfort and capacity to think more critically about their food choices and potentially make changes.

Even so, I don’t blame the kinds of folks who think this way for having this attitude; it’s a product of a society that has become almost completely detached with where our food comes from and what’s in it. The average person has little concept of what real nutrition is, what ingredients are used in our foods, whether our foods are grown locally or in countries hundreds of miles away. Particularly when it comes to industrial farming, the companies behind it work hard to keep the truth from us, so it’s only natural that we are left in ignorance in some respects. 

What I believe we need to work on is a combination of holding companies accountable, refusing to accept being left in blissful ignorance about the source of our food, and listening to and understanding our own guilt. We no longer live in a time when we’d pop to the local butcher who sourced their meat from the farm we know down the road; we’re almost entirely cut off from the path our meat takes to our plates nowadays. We can’t afford to forget and deny where it comes from, as that only leads to decreased welfare standards and gives even more control to food giants when it comes to what we can and can’t know about our food (meat or otherwise).  This is an ethos that should be applied across the board too, not just in the consumption of animal products.  For example, how many people who can access better are aware of the cruel reality of sweatshop labour and know that it’s a horrid practice, and yet continue to push it to the back of their minds and spent £100s in Primark at every opportunity?  We take for granted what a privilege it is to be able to say “I’d rather not think about it” and carry on as normal.

If you can’t stand the truth and have alternatives available to you, then to not take those alternatives is hugely hypocritical. Funding something that makes you feel sick or that you hate just because you like the taste or how it looks and when you have other options is behaviour that has been normalised that (I believe anyway) really shouldn’t be.

If you’re able to come to terms with the fact that something died for your meal, or you accept the fact that death and suffering is a necessary consequence of eating meat, or you feel perfectly capable of killing to eat yourself, then I have no issue with that. Honesty and acceptance of reality is hard to come by in the world we live in now, and I respect those that understand that reality and own it. If you can’t stomach it though, and you have the knowledge and resources available to you to make a change in your lifestyle, then why keep dancing around the truth that you already know makes you so uncomfortable?

What are your thoughts?

2 comments

  1. I completely agree with this. I'm a recent vegan, and I've been veggie for most of my life for all the reasons, mainly the thought of eating a dead animal - I just couldn't. I work in hospitality at the moment, and when people complain about stuff that just shows it was an animal it makes me eye-roll hard. Last night, someone sent fish back because it was on the bone...I mean, sorry, yeah, fish have bones.
    You've hit the nail on the head about us being so removed from the way our food is produced. I really believe it's something that should be taught in schools - alongside nutrition. It baffles me entirely that we don't learn about nutrition - we eat multiple times every day, why would we not need to know about it?

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  2. This is a really interesting subject and has made me think back to when I did eat meat - I was always one of those people who didn't like it if I could see a whole dead fish or if I ordered prawns and they still had heads on. (In hindsight, I think me becoming a vegetarian was inevitable, it just took me a while to connect the dots.)

    You're right, we're so far removed from the farming process these days, and lots of people are in a position where they can just shrug it off and not think about it xx

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