I was intending to write a post on this subject some time in early December, after finding out from my parents that my oldest brother had become vegan, but somehow lost the motivation to do it. This month, however, the subject of veganism appears to have resurfaced in the public consciousness, as it appears Veganuary is upon us once more. Thus I have regained some interest in writing a bit of a rant on the subject.
When I first learned that my oldest brother and his girlfriend had become vegans, I had wondered . My parents thought that they had gone nuts, presumably either because of some sentiment against veganism or because it was about three weeks before Christmas and I have a funny feeling they thought their newfound rejection of animal products would stand in the way of some good seasonal feasting involving meat.
Meanwhile, I have changed my position regarding veganism quite a bit within the last year. No, I am not a vegan if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m just not hostile to veganism in the same way I was before. I mean, years ago I would frequently and stridently look down on vegans and veganism as one of a myriad of fashionable exercises in faux social consciousness, as is still so utterly typical of liberals to engage in. Now, however, I no longer have that reaction to the moral sentiment of veganism, but I still can’t help but treat the movement as a kind of lifestylism. I say this not because I think not wanting to kill animals for food is somehow immoral but because a lot of vegans do have this very middle class lifestyle and culture about them. Not to mention, I can’t imagine how hard it is for vegans dealing not only with the biological expectation to consume meat and animal products but also a society that is effectively geared towards precisely that lifestyle.
The way I see it, the only way you’re going to change our norms for meat consumption is if synthetic meat becomes much more commonplace and we end up adopting a mode of food production centered around the production and distribution of synthetic meat. Now, it is worth noting that there are meat substitute products out there already, such as Quorn products where the “meat” and its proteins are derived from fungi, but that’s not what I mean. I’m referring to what’s called “cultured meat”, which is where the meat is produced not from the flesh of a slaughtered animal but instead from animal cells through in vitro cultivation. It’s my hope that through this process we may arrive at a point that we can create meat products that have the same or at least similar sort of tactile pleasure to them as animal meat, but without the slaughter of animals and with the potential bonuses that might come with cultured meat. Of course, I doubt the vegans would be happy anyway considering the process still uses animal products (the cells), but they can always have the mushroom meat that Quorn offers so it’ll all be good I think.
In the meantime, though, I find that vegans just seem caught up in this liberal fantasy of ethical consumerism, and this is especially troubling for me as we run out of time to reign in the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Like, I’m sorry, it’s great that you don’t want animals to suffer anymore but telling everyone to stop eating beef burgers or what have you is simply not going to be enough to stop what’s coming. Seriously, we are now far removed from a point in time where that might have been salient. And I find it unfortunate that, even with this in mind, the most radical response that people can think of still seems to be , when in reality broad systemic changes in conjunction with technological innovation are needed for us to get us out of this mess.
Of course, I think it’s worth pointing out that attitudes towards veganism are changing, and I believe that certain food companies are adding vegan options to their menus, suggesting perhaps that consumer society has become somewhat more accommodating to vegan lifestyle. This of course brings us to the reason Veganuary has come back into attention, namely to a hilarious online altercation between noted public figure Piers Morgan (a man who frankly I’ve always hated since my earliest stages of political consciousness) and various fast food outlets. Last week, shortly after New Year’s Day, Greggs announced that they were going to start rolling out Quorn sausage rolls for vegan customers as part of their menu, causing Piers to irrationally complain that the company had become “PC-ravaged clowns”. In one instance, following a reply, he even sarcastically suggested for some reason that the company change their name to something “more gender fluid and less toxically masculine”, as though that was somehow relevant to anything being discussed. He then took to bragging about a “vegan resistance” by him buying a meat sausage roll, which he was still able to do anyway contrary to his assertion that Greggs was abolishing meat products. He soon found himself whining about how McDonald’s were offering vegetarian Happy Meals in their menus. Yes, a grown man actually complained about there being a children’s fast food meal that didn’t have meat in it. The whole exchange has been a source of laughter for all present, seeing an adult man reduced to waging Twitter wars with fast food companies.
Now why do I bring this up? Well, you see, vegans are traditionally expected to be quite lodged into your ass (and sometimes their own) about their choice of lifestyle. The stereotype is that they can be very self-righteous and obnoxious about how they’ve taken the more moral choice than their fellows on account of the fact they don’t derive sustenance from animal products while the rest of us do. This particularly stings when you consider that, for many people, eating healthy or morally is not that cheap, or at least not as cheap as getting a burger when you feel peckish. But now I find there’s a reversal of this trend: people who not only aren’t vegan and instead, like myself, are as omnivorous as most people, but are also incredibly obnoxious about it. These sorts of people take great pride in eating meat. It’s so stupid and snowflakey that I’ve even seen someone buy a vegan sausage roll at Greggs just to throw it in the bin and record it just show how damned smug they are about the fact that they’re not vegans. It’s like being a Christian fundamentalist and buying rock records just so you can destroy in protest. And to be honest, for how much these people think they’re offending the right people, I don’t see a lot of outrage or offence. All I see is people making fun of people who, frankly, deserve to be made fun of for being such pompous jerks about veganism being a thing.
So in summary, I don’t despise veganism and I don’t make fun of it like I used to, but I still see it as something of a lifestylist activity given the circumstances.