For centuries, there were many things people had to come to terms with: from women wearing pants and being in the workforce, to children outside marriages, different sexualities and… pineapple on pizza. But there is still one topic people cannot get their heads around: veganism.
It is the fastest growing social movement and yet there are people who mock it, joke about it, and feel defensive towards it. They are desperately trying to put vegans’ ethics under question by asking them: “What would you do if you were stranded on a desert island and had nothing to eat?”
But why are we hostile against a trend which might hold the future of a whole human civilization? The truth is, we love animals but we love our sausages more and this prevents us from understanding veganism and the causes it is fighting for.
“People who don’t really believe in climate change, don’t believe that animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to C02 in our atmosphere,” says Isobel Irwin of the Olive Branch, a vegan restaurant in Wivenhoe. “ And it is because they don’t understand those facts that they get aggravated and think veganism is just madness.”
Isobell, 22, used to be vegan before it became too difficult for her with not being able to have gluten. Talking about hostility against vegans, she says her family “weren’t aware and still aren’t aware of the environmental impacts” of eating meat, which made them joke about her animal-free diet.
But will we be mocking vegans if we knew about the hazards the meat industry might hold?
As BBC’s documentary Meat: Threat to our Planet revealed, agriculture and food production are greater polluters than transport with each one of the 1.5bn cows on Earth heating it as much as burning 600 litres of petrol every year. Last summer, according to the programme, trees in the Amazon region were destroyed at the rate of five football pitches per minute because of the demand for livestock-raising land.
The alarming statistics imply that going vegan and cutting down on meat drastically might be the only way to help the planet. But this means that people will have to change their eating habits they have been following for years. And when vegans challenge meat eaters on this topic, the initial reaction looks similar to what Isobel described: “Why would I give up my bacon and my stake for something that isn’t even true?“
This hostility might be put down to the fact that meat eaters see vegans as preachy and extreme when, sometimes, all they want to do is simply enlighten people on the positives of cutting down on meat and ending the animal cruelty.
“People definitely think that vegans are trying to force veganism down their throat,” says Chloe Sunshine of the Grape Tree in Colchester, a store offering a variety of healthy foods and vegan snacks. Chloe,22, says she is dairy-free for health reasons and is trying to reduce her meat consumption after her sister showed her a documentary about the meat industry.
“My sister is vegan and she tells people about the negatives of eating meat and she does it in a nice way and people understand,” says Chloe. But if you try and lecture them on their food choices, as she adds, they “will immediately have the opposite reaction and go the opposite way”.
According to Chloe, this defensive attitude might be put down to the fact that people think of veganism as a restriction, especially when it comes to going out to restaurants. She suggests that “if places started to have more vegan options, people would be less hostile to it [veganism] and everyone can go out and have a good time.”
Indeed Leanne Geaves, who is an educational speaker for Animal Aid, an animal rights organization, feels the same way. She thinks if restaurants “have one vegan option and it is not a good one, they are losing out big time” as “probably the majority of people who are choosing the vegan options in restaurants are just people wanting to cut down” on their meat consumption.
But even if every restaurant starts offering a variety of vegan choices, will this be enough to make us more open-minded towards veganism?
Probably not, because as Leanne says: “We are so indoctrinated and conditioned to think that animals are here to serve us” and we need to consume these animal products that anything different than that will sound unacceptable to us.
Being half-Italian and having an Irish beef-farming family, Leanne says she was raised as a full meat-eater but for three years now she has been a vegan, educating young people in schools about kindness to animals.
Talking about her negative experiences with people over her vegan lifestyle, Leanne shares: “I had a friend who said to me: ‘If I had the time to help anyone, I would want to help the poor children and people.’ ” But the reaction of the 34-year-old campaigner to the cold comment was as simple and thoughtful as that: “Being vegan IS helping the poor and the hungry, because at the moment we are taking pretty much the majority of their food to feed the animals we eat.”
However, Leanne is not discouraged by people’s hostility. She thinks this is “a defensive mechanism that they have to come back with”, because it makes their justifications for killing animals to eat “immoral”.
So, instead of being reserved against a social movement trying to help the environment and make us see animals as something more than bacon in a plate, we can do our part..
Indeed, Isobel says we don’t need “a handful of people doing everything absolutely perfectly. We just need everyone to try to cut down their meat consumption just a little bit, even if it is eating meat six times a week rather than seven times a week.”
So, what is it to be: beef or veganism?