HERD INSTINCT

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Veganuary! God help us. Vegans to the left of us, vegans to the right of us, vegans in front of us volley and thunder. There is no escaping vegans, veganism and vegan foods. Television. Newspaper. Magazine. Radio. Social media. It’s a vegan plague, a vegan epidemic, a vegan eruption. What have we done to deserve this?

Is it possible to keep a sense of proportion in the face of this onslaught? Do you know how many registered, confirmed vegans there are the UK? According to the Vegan Society website, there are 600,000. Even allowing for the claim the the numbers have quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, that isn’t an awful lot – 1.16% of the population. And even if you add in the number of certified vegetarians, you still only get 2% to 3% – I make that round about 912,000 to 1,368,728 people. To give some kind of perspective, there are 11 million people who are deaf or who have hearing difficulties, and 2 million people living with loss of sight. Not much media white noise from them.

In fact we have been subscribing to currently fashionable dietary nostrums for decades without knowing it. Meat consumption has declined by 30% in the last 10 years, continuing a trend that started even longer ago. I can remember having meetings with the Meat and Livestock Commission around 1990 because they were concerned about the decline in meat consumption. (They took none of the advice I gave them).

I have nothing against vegans, vegetarians or vegetables. One of my nieces has gone vegan, and I love her dearly. My daughter is an irregular vegan. Several of my nearest and dearest are vegetarian. Why, my brother,Tom, has virtually become one. Indeed, in common with most of the population, I eat less meat, have non-days, even weeks, an. But the odd non-meat day or days or even weeks, does not make me or anyone else a vegan. It just means we don’t eat as much meat as we used to. Being a vegan is a way of life.

I admire the ethical purity of vegans. I bow my knee to the self-discipline of vegetarians. I love the variety and delights of non-meat dishes. I care so passionately about vegetables that I grow my own, and, as every veg gardener will tell you, that is the path to illusion, delusion and occasional insanity. But I’m damned I can see why I should be hectored and lectured by a collection of moralistic, pompous, self-appointed environmental ultras about what I should eat and why I should eat it, still less why they should be given so much space and air in and on public media all in the cause of saving the planet.

Because this is all in the name of saving the planet, isn’t it? That’s what we’re told. Agriculture is the enemy in our midst. Agriculture is propelling the world towards the apocalypse. Cows, sheep, pigs and farmers – they’re the new Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Plough up the grasslands! Make way for vegetables! Grow meat in factories! Rewild the landscape! Rewilding – was there ever such a crackbrained idea? The country hasn’t been wild in the true sense of the word for several thousand years, and for very good reasons. Our ancestors couldn’t wait to get out of the wild and into some kind of well-ordered society that gave them dependable sources of food. Communities based on co-operation, domesticated animals, systematic agriculture created the groundwork for social and human development.

Anyway, it seems a bit unkind to hold farm animals and their guardians responsible for the environmental pickle we’re now in. The links between what we eat, how what we eat is produced, how that production the environment is rather more complex than the simplistic arguments currently being played out in media of every kind.

I’m not saying that every agricultural practice is benevolent. Patently a great many aren’t. Routine overuse of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, chemical treatment of every kind aren’t good for anyone. Intensive rearing of any creature is an abomination. But these are arguments in favour of better husbandry, more rational and aware farming methods rather than the wholesale demolition of centuries of knowledge, experience and activity. The fact is that a good deal of agricultural land simply isn’t suited to growing vegetables of any kind, but it is suited to growing grass and so to animal husbandry. And what happens to the sheep, cattle and pigs (and chickens and ducks, for that matter) we no longer need? Slaughter them all? Wait for them to die of old age? One way or they’ll quickly go extinct. Not many people are going to keep cows as pets.

[To be continued]

3 thoughts on “HERD INSTINCT

  1. Oh Matthew – You’ve become a grumpy old man. As you say meat consumption is in decline – eat less meat – eat ‘better’ meat – eat more fruit and veg and please no chlorinated chicken…

  2. Hi Matthew,

    I read this with interest, having received your blog for a few years now. I’ve recently taken on a role with the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, which you may not have heard of, to grow awareness of what this amazing and progressive group of farmers are up to.

    We have a certification, Pasture for Life, which determines a cow or sheep has only eaten pasture for its whole life. No starting or finishing on grain, as is the convention. To the extent that the law stipulates that anything 51% and over can be called ‘grass-fed’.

    As you can imagine, those who make it to 100% are a special, and growing, bunch. Some have been at it for decades and many more are joining the cause. The results are: – improved dietary nutrition, fatty acids mainly – biodiversity, well managed grasslands (think wildflower meadows) often more biodiverse than temperate woodland (not tropical forest though) – animal welfare, animals are outside doing what they do naturally, moving regularly like a herd – carbon, well managed grassland ecosystems draw carbon out of the air and into the soil

    What’s more, with the agricultural bill, launched today, we’re hoping that public goods such as these will be rewarded with public money, rather than just owning land, pushing more down this route.

    I’d love to tell you a bit more about it sometime, possibly get you onto a farm and taste something, and hopefully have you spread the word. We’re also always looking for recipes as well to publish on our digital channels.

    Anyway, thank you for your time and hope this is something sparked.

    Best wishes,

    Jimmy Woodrow

    1. Dear Jimmy,

      Thank you so much for your comment, I had not heard of Pasture for Life, but the principle seems wholly admirable, and I’m sure the results are splendidly edible. I’ll spread the word.

      Best wishes

      Matthew

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