At a recent screening of Fair Food â€“ the documentary, where I was to be on a panel after the film, a flyer was distributed at the door accusing me of being unethical for raising and killing animals for meat. It included a number of inaccurate descriptions of the stunning process and the usual highly emotive language Iâ€™ve come to expect from vegan abolitionists, and asserted that â€˜going vegan is the only way.â€™
As you can imagine, the organisers of this event â€“ the wonderful people who make up the Hills Food Frontier â€“ were upset that the material was being distributed, and hurried to inform me so that I wasnâ€™t caught unawares. After the initial sinking feeling in my gut passed, I said to Holly, â€˜itâ€™s okay, Iâ€™m used to vegan abolitionists. Iâ€™ve got this.â€™
When the panel took to the stage, I at first gazed deeply into the crowd of about 100 people to see whether the responsible party was out there taking aim. After a few questions it seemed that maybe theyâ€™d left or werenâ€™t going to challenge me during the Q&A session, so I asked Holly if she minded if I raised the issue.
I asked the audience whether they had a copy of the flyer in question. Most nodded anxiously in my direction, a sea of worried eyes.
I said, â€˜it seems that there is a vegan abolitionist here who feels they donâ€™t have a voice and who disagrees with what we do at Jonai Farms. Iâ€™d like to invite them to join us on the stage for an open discussion about how we raise our animals â€“ Iâ€™m happy to discuss all aspects of our system including the slaughter at our abattoir â€“ you can ask me any question you like.â€™
Nobody stepped forward and some audience members said they believed that they had handed out flyers and left. I said that was a shame, and asked whether anyone else wanted to ask me about how we treat our pigs, and a thoughtful discussion ensued about the ethical rearing of animals for meat. A few vegetarians commented on how pleased they were that farmers like us are working to get animals back on the paddocks where they belong.
It was clear that the vegan abolitionist made no friends that night, and I didnâ€™t suffer the all-too-common tarnishing that happens when livestock farmers react poorly to the abuse we cop from this particular subset of the animal rights movement. And that got me thinking that many other farmers would really benefit from a â€˜how to deal with vegan abolitionistsâ€™ post. So here we are.
Let me preface this advice by highlighting that we promote principles of slow meat – eat better, less. Our society over-consumes meat to the detriment of the planet and animals grown in massive intensive systems. But that doesn’t mean the same as ‘all meat eating is bad’, hence disagreements with vegans…
So here’s the advice – first of all, in most cases itâ€™s best not to engage with vegan abolitionists. They are the subset of vegans that not only think itâ€™s immoral to eat meat, but that all meat eating (and use of any animal product) must be abolished. They draw comparisons with slavery and tell us that history will judge us harshly. I judiciously ignore or respond to initial attacks with â€˜I respect your views, and I disagree with them.â€™
Online (itâ€™s almost always online that they attack), I finish the interaction withÂ ‘hereâ€™s something I prepared earlier‘ on how vegans & ethical omnivores should unite and ‘hereâ€™s another thing‘ on how if you want transparency in farming, youâ€™ll have to put up with reality.
But in the rare case that itâ€™s advisable to engage, I have a few thoughts as follows. First of all, donâ€™t get defensive and donâ€™t attack or make silly jokes about how theyâ€™re probably unable to think clearly due to lack of meat in their diet. Theyâ€™ve heard it before and you mostly just look like an arse.
I would also suggest that you not posit the argument that many small mammals are killed in cropping systems and thatâ€™s blood on vegansâ€™ hands. They clearly arenâ€™t in favour of those deaths, weâ€™re all implicated in those systems (vegan through to omnivore), and the scale of those deaths doesnâ€™t compare with the number of animals killed purposefully in industrial animal agricultural systems. So sure, everyone has blood on their hands, but this is hardly a compelling argument for omnivorism.
Remember: these people think weâ€™re all murderers, and that tends to colour their view, so principles of civility are often totally disregarded. But here goes:
There is no reason to eat meat â€“ you can live without it.
The quick answer is: I agree. And you can also live without bananas, apples, and potatoes, but most people donâ€™t.
The slightly longer answer: For many or even most people this is true at a personal health level. For some it is not and eating meat is important to maintaining optimal health.
But at a systems level, the planet canâ€™t live without animals and plants donâ€™t grow without phosphorous and nitrogen â€“ both abundant in livestock manure. A healthy agroecological system incorporates animals and some of them are then available as food for humans. For more detailed information on this topic see some of my earlier posts on agroecology.
(One vegan actually proposed that superphosphates were the answer to taking animals out of agriculture. Um, yeah, mining can solve everything, right?)
And so incorporating meat into a balanced diet makes good ecological sense as well as nutritional, and properly raised and prepared meat is delicious.
Yes, I am. I believe there is a hierarchy of species and Iâ€™m really happy to be at the top of that ladder.
Would you treat your own child in this way?
No, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s okay to eat children.
You wouldn’t kill your dog for a stir fry, there’s no reason you should kill a pig either.
Itâ€™s true, I wouldnâ€™t kill our dogs for a stir fry, because I was culturally conditioned not to eat dogs so I have a kind of irrational â€˜ickâ€™ response. But I have no issues with other cultures who eat dogs, so long as the dogs are raised respectfully in a manner that allows them to express their natural behaviours.
How can you say you â€˜loveâ€™ your animals and then kill them and eat them?
I donâ€™t say I love my animals, actually. I feel affection for them, I find them quite amusing, charming, and sometimes annoying and quite a lot of work, and I know that we are growing them for food.
Questions & abuse I donâ€™t respond to (but if I did here are some amusing possibilities):
Why are you so heartless?
I havenâ€™t eaten enough heart.
You are ‘sick freaks’ / ‘Neanderthals’ / ‘animal abusers’ / â€˜murderersâ€™.
You have no compassion.
Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
Iâ€™m more evolved than you.
One day youâ€™ll be me.