At the end of last month I wrote about veganuary. By eating vegan for one month we can experiment with food, find new recipes, and lower our carbon footprint. However I’ve come across a lot of ethical vegans in my time, and whilst I find this admirable, I worry about the easy assumption that vegan = ethical.
Veganism is more than a diet, it is a lifestyle. I found my attention caught recently as I scrolled through websites searching for shoes. This company prides itself on ethics and here and there shoes were proudly labelled vegan. So where does this leave me in veganuary? In truth (more) ethical consumerism is something I aim for day-to-day but does this mean that I cannot buy anything without detailed knowledge of its source? Ideally yes. I should know all of the ethical implications of the choices I am making. But realistically this is impossible. Here in the UK we had a scandal about the recently released £5 notes containing trace amounts of animal fat. The notes are made of polymers and have numerous advantages over the paper ones but many were up in arms about it. The implications of this to me is that in fact there could be non-vegan substances lurking anywhere: in plastic and packaging of all sorts of ‘vegan’ products. Certainly there is information out there but to eat vegan with no research is simply not effective.
And I don’t here want to discourage anyone from good intentions but sadly, in this complex world I fear that doing good is not a simple process and taking an easy route may well be totally ineffective.
Unfortunately, even being 100% vegan is not necessarily ethical. In the counterargument to the ‘unethical £5 notes’ the creator states that this note uses far less paper, thus reducing the requirement for deforestation. I know many people who promote the vegan diet for its environmental benefits, and certainly there are real advantages to cutting down on meat (here and here). On an individual level therefore, veganism is a great thing but sadly we can’t solve climate change on an individual level. Studies suggest that were everyone to eat in roughly the same way then to be most efficient we should be eating a vegetarian diet, excluding eggs but including dairy. Personally I am of the opinion that we are most effective in living ethically by leading by example. I know a whole lot of people who consider a meal without meat as incomplete so expecting them to go cold turkey on the meat (no pun intended) is unrealistic but perhaps by showing people how easy it is to cut down, by eating either less or no meat yourself, might be more effective.
But finally what of unethical vegan food? Eating ethically is great but it isn’t exactly the same as being vegan. Why do you think fair trade is an option? Cashews are an ingredient ubiquitous in raw vegan recipes but where are they coming from?
What do you think? I would love to hear some vegan and non-vegan opinions. Are you vegan for life, just trying for Veganuary, or a staunch carnivore? I’ll try to perk up the rest of the month with some fabulous and tasty vegan recipes so hold on in there (I’m working on ice cream sandwiches because vegan food isn’t all salad and green smoothies).
Until then, a couple more divine-looking vegan creations from elsewhere…
Finally, on a different note: I have linked to a number of sources here for information and references. Mostly they are news articles. I chose these because they tend to be easier to read and understand but the scientist (at least to degree level) in me would much prefer to reference primary sources where possible i.e. scientific papers. But in the end, if you’re reading this then (thanks!!) I want to keep you happy. So what would you prefer? Primary/secondary sources. What, if anything, would you like to read?