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Vegetarians: do one better

Open letter by Elena Orde, editor of Vegan Life, to mark National Vegetarian Week
Vegetarians: go one better

Dear vegetarians,

Hey there. We need to chat – and what better time than National Vegetarian Week?

Many people go vegetarian because they want to opt out of contributing to animal suffering. This is a wonderful and commendable motivation – but I’ve got bad news. If you think that by avoiding meat you’re doing your bit for the animals, I’m sorry but you can do better. And given that there are over a million of you in Britain, and over half a million who want to cut down on animal products, you have the potential to make a pretty massive difference.

I was raised vegetarian by closet pescatarians who feared the judgement of their tiny children. A weird concept I know, but one that means I know where ethical vegetarians are coming from. I used to be one – hypocritically sitting on an ivory tower, cheese toastie in hand, shaking my head at the omnivores’ bacon jokes. Of course I don’t do this anymore – for one thing, ivory belongs to elephants.

It’s easy to realise that an animal had to be harmed to get a piece of meat onto your plate. But other products, such as dairy and eggs, are one step removed from the animal who produced them and are wrongly thought of as innocuous, friendly byproducts. This couldn’t be much further from the truth – prepare yourself for some pretty grim facts.

In the dairy industry, calves are routinely taken away from their mothers within a day of birth. Male calves are killed as surplus or funnelled into the veal industry, while female calves meet the same fate as their mothers. This means a lifetime of forcible artificial insemination and being milked to exhaustion before being killed at age four or five.

The egg industry is no better. Male chicks are killed shortly after hatching, while females become layers. Living conditions are terrible across the board, the ‘free-range’ label being nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

When eggs are classed as ‘free range’, as many as nine birds can occupy a square metre of floor, and most hens never make it outside. Commercial hens are sent for slaughter at around one year of age, despite the fact that they would normally live for around seven years.

‘Yep, I accept all that’, I hear the vegetarians of the world saying. ‘But what about chee…’

Let me stop you there, dairy addicts. Back before I took a look at myself and realised that I wasn’t a baby cow, the thought of a life without cheese filled me with dread. In my pre-vegan days, dietary quizzers would sometimes (always) ask me, ‘But you eat cheese, right?’ ‘Ohyesofcourse’, I’d reply. ‘I can’t go longer than four minutes without it – I’m hypoglycheesemic hahahaha. I actually have some brie in my pocket right now.’

Now, three years clean, cheese is honestly a non-issue. Like most people, it took me a couple of weeks to adjust. But once I decided I was vegan, those cravings went away very quickly.

When it comes down to it, animal products don’t belong to us. So in my mind they’re not an option, they’re off the table. Unless we’re talking about vegan cheese, which is pretty awesome and is definitely on the table. With a load of crackers and chutney and pineapple on sticks.

Vegetarianism is often used as a stepping stone to veganism. And that is absolutely fine – but it shouldn’t be the end point for anyone who really cares about animals.

Editor of The Vegan

The Vegan Society’s 30-Day Vegan Pledge is free to sign up to, and provides daily recipes, tips and advice on going vegan. Click here for more.

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