Everywhere you go people are talking more and more about the need to eat less or no meat. On a daily basis my social media streams are filled with people showing the latest vegetarian and vegan options available in their local supermarkets and from local suppliers.
As a long time supporter and volunteer with Greenpeace I occasionally feel like screaming when people talk about how they have changed their diesel car/reduced plastic/eat more organic food/reduced their meat intake. Don’t get me wrong these are all good things, but also subjects I have been talking to people about, and taking actions on, for the best part of 20 years. I almost want to say ‘why are you only just becoming aware of this? Have you not been listening?’
It sometimes feels that actions are being taken because it is fashionable do so.
The increase in vegan food available is also added to this list. Not because I don’t believe that eating less or no meat is a bad thing. It is more to do with the ethos of being vegan – to ensure no harm is done to animals. Or as per the Vegan Society “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
The majority of food manufacturers are now offering vegan options. Hurray you say? Well possibly not. An increasing number of these companies are ones that have low ratings on the Ethical Consumer scale, often for animal testing, factory farming and animal rights on the rest of their products. By buying these vegan friendly products from such manufacturers you can be inadvertently funding the animal harm vegans fundamentally aim to avoid.
In the past the truly vegan product suppliers have not sold their products through the large supermarkets because they do not hold the same ethical stance.
My other issue with a lot of the products is the amount of processing involved. People often site the health benefits of going vegan but potentially they are eating more processed foods as the food producers bring all these new food to market – vegan margarine, vegan ‘pulled pork burgers, vegan cheese. This rise in ‘functional foods’ started with the convenience of Quorn style burgers – to appeal to meat eaters who want to reduce their meat intake easily. I feel this has now spread to the vegan menu.
The same happened with FairTrade foods. Nestle made their Kit Kats from FairTrade chocolate and everyone cheered. Very few were aware of how much damage Nestle does as a company. And many don’t mind as they have the Fair Trade badge on some of their products so all must be good, right?
From environment, animals, people and politics Nestle is one of the lowest ethical rated companies you can come across. Tesco and Asda don’t score much better.
Back in 1944 when The Vegan Society began I wonder if the founders dreamt of such a wide variety of foods being available? And would the founders be happy with them today?
For me being vegetarian or vegan is about more than the food you eat. It is about the ethics behind the food and products you buy. To do this you need to be aware of the companies behind the brands. The Ethical Consumer is an eye opening read, and a useful tool if you want to make more ethical decisions about your lifestyle.
Perhaps I yearn for a time when vegetarian and vegan food was simpler, less processed. You bought a lot of it from your local health food store as it was too specialised for the supermarket.
Having more variety and access to veggie and vegan foods is good. Just make sure you are happy with the companies behind them, and how they are made.