Veganuary is in full swing and people have opinions. I’ve read more than one Facebook rant about how vegans are actually destroying the planet with their almond milk and lust for avocados, and have been tempted more than once to have a club sandwich after being exposed to a pious diatribe on the evils of animal produce.
My own opinion is that nothing is straightforward.
I went vegetarian five years ago and even at the time recognised that it was a weird move. Living on the Isle of Lewis, where sheep, cows and pigs live extraordinarily happy lives, it was not the best place to cut out meat.
And yet, it happened. It was a natural, almost unconscious move away from meat in my shopping trolley. I realised one day it had been more than a week since I’d last eaten an animal so thought I may as well see how long I could keep it going.
When pregnant with Sylvie I craved meat, dreaming about roast chicken. So many friends told me to just eat some, that my body knew what it needed. I chose to eat fish and seafood instead.
This was a completely personal decision, and I continued to eat as much fish as I wanted for the first year or so of breastfeeding, too. These days my appetite is more settled and I no longer must eat every cookie as soon as I lay eyes on it, nor do I need smoked mackerel four times a week.
Mussels are a fantastic resource for all sorts of vitamins, that they can be farmed completely sustainably, and actually improve the water conditions around them. Some have argued that they could be considered vegan as they have no complex nervous system. It seems silly not to make the most of this super-food.
Prawns offer many of the same nutritional benefits, being low in fat and high in protein, but are often gathered through less ethical means. The ones in British supermarkets may come from Thailand, where they can be fished by trafficked men forced into slave labour.
So many vegan products contain palm oil. Linda McCartney claims to use only sustainable palm oil, but there is no such thing. Palm oil contributes to the destruction of important ecological areas and is a major component in the eradication of orangutans. It seems strange to claim to love animals and yet still purchase anything with palm oil on the label.
My point is, it’s difficult. Those claiming to have the answer are often, rightly, shouted down. There is no easy solution. Until big companies stop using destructive ingredients, until human trafficking is a thing of the past, how can anybody claim to know what is best?
Personally, I never eat octopus. I wear second-hand leather and silk, though I can’t quite bring myself to wear second-hand fur. I don’t buy down duvets or pillows. In my household we eat honey regularly, eggs like they are going out of fashion, and fish two to three times a month. We have our full-fat cows’ milk delivered in glass bottles.
Everybody is on their own journey. With so many difficult choices to make regarding how we spend our money and what we put in our bodies, it is so easy to criticise each other. I’m here to say: if everybody is putting just a little bit of thought into it, I don’t think we are doing too badly.
Whether you support sustainable farming, rewilding, eschew all animal products, or avoid plastic, eat locally or organic, I support you. Let’s be a bit kinder to one another in 2020.