This is a topic close to my heart. My husband and I believe that a whole food, plant based diet is the kindest and healthiest way to eat. However, with both our family and friends involved in farming it can sometimes be a sensitive subject. To start on a personal note, I have noticed that many of my farming friends unfollowed me on Instagram when I started to share plant based recipes. I have noticed friends putting up angry posts or articles directed at vegans on social media. This is also something we have found difficult in person, when we are with our farming friends and family, we always have to put up with comments insinuating we are deluded. There is a lot of rolling eyes and even some anger, just because we are eating a vegan diet. This is why I wanted to write this blog post to make vegans and farmers think and readdress their views.
Is there really ‘beef’ between vegans and farmers?
It isn’t hard to see why some livestock farmers may dislike vegans and vice versa.
Firstly, (although I agree with the vegan message) I don’t think that vegan campaigners always go about things in the right way, far too often the message is sent to farmers with anger and hate. Many farmers have been called murderers and rapists. Some vegan activists also trespass on farmers’ land and pose as workers to obtain undercover video footage. At worst, I heard on the This Morning show, last week, of two farmers and their family who has been receiving death threats from vegans, which is appalling.
Similarly, on the other side, I have seen farmers physically attacking vegan activists. Such as last month in Oxfordshire when a farmer physically attacked a group of vegan activists who were laying roses for dead animals. There are even stories of farm drivers running over activists, like the tragic story of Jill Phipps, who was killed in Warwickshire when she was trying to take pictures of animals on their way to slaughter.
With stories like this going around you can see why both sides are starting to dislike each other. By acting violently and abusively they are doing themselves, and the side they represent, an injustice.
Livestock farmers spend incredibly long hours taking care of their animals and many grow fond of them and do enjoy their company. Farmers, like many, have been conditioned to not see any problem with the fact that animals are frequently living in cages, often impregnated against their will and always sent to an early death. Some farmers even think we are crazy to care so deeply about the feelings or desires of an animal.
It is important to remember these beliefs do not make livestock farmers bad people it is just conditioning. It is true, that if the general public saw some of the practices and norms of farming (such as separating mothers and babies, animal mutilation and killing of animals which are deemed a by-product) that many of them would be horrified but I also believe that if most farmers had to watch all their animals killed in an abattoir (and see the PTSD and depression that so many slaughter house workers suffer from) they would be equally upset and disturbed. What is acceptable to you, all depends on what practices have been normalised in your life. Almost all of us are good, kind and compassionate people but years of conditioning can make us think in unnatural ways.
As I mentioned before many vegans are calling farmers ‘murderers and rapists’ which I feel is a very debatable insult. On the one hand murder and rape are defined as ‘acts again humans’ so linguistically it isn’t the correct word but does it really make it a different act just because it is towards an animal over a human?
Just because they are covered in feathers, fur or hide doesn’t mean that they do not feel any pain or suffering. Animals may not be as intelligent as us but does this mean their feelings and lives don’t matter? Many are more intelligent than severally learning-disabled humans or even dogs and cats but they have far more rights. Why are we not more consistent with this safeguarding?
Also, technically at worst farmers are ‘allowing rape and murder’ as they are not doing it themselves. Sometimes it is done naturally with cows and bulls in a field together. However, it is far more common for cow to be put in ‘holding equipment’ and forcibly impregnated by a bull. In this case it is the bull performing the act of ‘rape’. The farmer just orchestrates it and enforces it to happen. Similarly, farmers will usually send animals to an abattoir to be killed so are not directly doing either act just allowing/supporting it. Personally, I don’t think you can call forced artificial insemination ‘rape’ but you can definitely call it questionable and cruel when it is so unnecessary.
I believe farmers do care about animal health and wellbeing but unfortunately it is usually only with the end goal of ensuring the meat is top quality, rather than the animals have a long, happy and free life. I have even heard a few farmers say, they loved their animals like family. It has however been pointed out that no one would send their family, loved ones, or even their pets, to be killed in a slaughter house. This perfectly demonstrates how far removed some farmers are from seeing their animals as being sentient beings or victims.
It is interesting to note that when vegans talk of veganism to livestock farmers they are potentially deeply offending them. For some farmers it has been their family’s way of life for hundreds of years. To a farmer it can feel that vegans are insulting them, their parents and grandparents, so no wonder there is anger when there are so many personal feelings involved.
Although most won’t admit it, the vegan movement is frightening and even offensive to some farmers. When most people are faced with fear, it turns to hate very quickly. This is another possible reason why a lot of farmers have grown to dislike vegans.
Vegans also feel fear though. They fear that more animals will be harmed and killed if farmers do not start to see what they are doing as wrong. They also fear that if they do not show the general public farming ‘conditions and norms’ that meat eaters around the globe won’t stop eating meat… so some activists trespass (which is breaking a civil not criminal law) to obtain images. This obviously angers farmers but also scares them. Feeling that an ‘enemy’ is on your land is threating for anyone!
When two passionate parties (both filled with fear and personal vested interest) meet on opposite sides of a social rights argument things can get ugly. Just as it did years ago with slavery and women’s rights.
As a vegan, I would obviously prefer it if all livestock farmers would change to arable farming but I must realise that this is a huge step and not as easy as you think. Farmers would have to radically alter their business. Farming involves large investments in machinery, infrastructure and labour. To switch to a different business model takes time and a lot of risk. Similarly, certain farm soil types may not be as suitable for crops as it is for animal agriculture. Finally, the size of the farm can also be an obstacle to make a living from certain crops. I think another big hurdle, is that change can be very scary, particularly when livestock is all you have known. It is a big adjustment but there is always a way to adapt and survive.
Although it has been proven possible for any farmer to make the change to arable, it does involve some serious commitment. I believe however, that by doing this work, farmers would ensure the safety for their futures and give them peace of mind they never expected. Being in the business of raising animals for an early death can’t be great for your conscience.
But what can we do about this growing divide?
Well to start, any vegans and farmers sending each other death threats and physically harming each other need to have a serious word with themselves. Anger, violence and hate never helped anyone. Rather than sending farmers or vegans angry messages on social media, why not start to open the conversation or direct them to documentaries and written papers that may inform them of your beliefs and opinions. If we are not willing to at least investigate the other side, then we really are not as progressive as we think.
Vegans need to remember when we make these suggestions to farmers, that it is a big ask, that simply cannot happen immediately. Once again, it’s not the famer’s fault that these items are currently still wanted. Try to respect farmers for their hard work and understand that many of you once thought as they do. Open discussions and don’t expect people to change their minds and ways overnight. Also, no farmer will have the desire or willingness to change if they dismiss all vegans as angry extremists, due to the way vegans treat them. Approaching farmers with hate and intolerance will never make them listen to what you have to say.
As for farmers, it is important to understand that veganism is one of the fastest growing social movements in history. It is not a trend that will die out. Many key business men including Branson and Bill Gates are predicting a vegan England in around 20-30 years. I don’t believe the animal products will disappear from our shelves overnight but I do think it may be worth investigating some other ways to provide an income. As veganism grows there is much more demand for things like quinoa, potatoes, kale and oil seed rape. So, rather than invest in new chicken sheds or the latest milking equipment why not look into new ways to support growing some of these products that are more in demand with a promising future ahead. The vegan society has even started a ‘grow green’ campaign to help farms who want to make the change. There is also a lot of real life change stories that may help farmers through any transition.
On a final note, I understand the frustration for farmers who see inaccurate vegan propaganda out there. However, try not to get bogged down in the inaccurate detail as the underlying message is the same and very simple…
We don’t need to eat animals to survive and thrive, so how can we morally justify slaughtering billions of animals a year?
All vegans want is the end to animal cruelty, enslavement and early death, and to improve the health of their fellow man, which is really something that all humans should want and agree on. I do however worry about vegans starting to feel that farmers are to blame for all animal agriculture, which simply isn’t true. The demand for these products and people’s conditioning are the issue we need to be tackling.
If people can start to discuss this more openly and truly listen to each other, then things will move forward. Both groups do have some common ground, like environmental impact and animal welfare. It is in everyone’s interest not to get personal and angry so that both sides will be better heard and understood. Surly we should all be trying to work together to create a kinder and healthier world.
FYI. The farmer in picture above was a cattle farmer who gave up his heard to an animal sanctuary after becoming vegan.