by Liam Stokes
Sunday, 23
January 2022
Debate
07:00

The countryside case for Veganuary

Those of us who shoot and fish have much in common with vegans
by Liam Stokes
Credit: Getty

Diet is one of the stranger tribal signifiers in online culture, and each January the tribes go to war. Just as every Six Nations sees Twitter explode with dragons, roses, shamrocks and thistles, in Veganuary social media turns to steak emojis and little ‘v’s in circles to denote sides.

Country folk tend to be steak eaters and see in Veganuary a desire to alienate oneself from food, to pretend there can be life without death and food without bloodshed. Those of a conservative disposition tend to be for home and place and horny-handed sons of toil, and so don’t have much time for lab-grown burgers and insect bread.

But does the dichotomy need to be quite that stark? I have spent my working life in the game and wildlife sector; I have long argued that those of us who shoot and fish have more in common with vegans than we do with those frequenting the local drive-thru.

Earlier this month, Red Tractor research found the majority of shoppers don’t want to know where their meat comes from. That is not a tenable position for me. Throughout my career I have seen animals killed on farms, in the wild and in abattoirs, and pretending it doesn’t happen or hoping the animals didn’t suffer for the food I eat just doesn’t work for me.

So I have a lot of time for people who have thought about this, and decided to opt out of animal death altogether. Of course, such a thing is not really possible; copious birds and beasts die in the protection and production of vegetables and crops, but I don’t think this is quite the ‘gotcha’ it seems.

Livestock production sits on a different ethical plane to ‘pest control’. It involves a different degree of mechanisation and processing of sentient beings, with the abattoir as its starkest manifestation. Nearly all the meat I eat is wild shot game or wild caught fish, because I too prefer my food to have skipped the trip to the slaughterhouse.

However, I also believe livestock are essential in the British countryside. Regenerative agriculture, of the type championed by those who replace Veganuary with the somewhat hard to pronounce “Regenuary”, can only function with well-managed herds of livestock. Britain’s favourite rewilding project, Knepp Estate, produces 36 tonnes of meat a year from cows, pigs and deer as a direct result of its habitat restoration efforts. So consigning animal agriculture to history isn’t the answer either.

In the same way that it is possible to be a thoughtless meat-eater by ignoring the environmental and welfare implications of the animals we eat, it is also possible to be a thoughtless vegan by consuming nothing but processed products containing unrecognisable chemical ingredients and plant matter flown in from around the world. But there is also a way to follow either path in a sustainable and ethical fashion; I eat wild game and fish, and I would eat regeneratively-farmed meat, yet if neither are on the menu then I’ll be eating something that looks very much like it just might be vegan. In my experience if you try to do that then both paths end up looking rather similar.

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Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
5 months ago

I’m not sure you can get away with Boris’ cake policy here … vegans, I think, see people who consume animals as morally defective because killing the animal is entirely the animals’ loss and your gain. The animals are the victims of your superior power. Once the issue has been defined as one of ‘who has the power to harm’ and who is the victim, I know on which side the vegans will place the meat eaters. There will be no chummy fraternising across that vicitms/oppressors divide.

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

There’s a lot of countryside that is unfit for crop production and only good for grazing. Is the writer saying it’s OK to to eat a sheep or a cow as long as you bring your own knife or gun (or maybe wrestle the critter to the ground and strangle it with your own bare hands), just as long as we bypass the abattoir? You never know, it might be quite popular.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew D
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

By this countryside, do you mean traditionally unsuited for crop production – or do you mean countryside decimated BY crop production?

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

I mean unsuited, due to being too windy, rocky, sloping, exposed etc

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Ok, but unsuitable for a lot of animals too?

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

Sure, but there are some hardy breeds

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
5 months ago

It isn’t just how it is slaughtered, though that is significant, but how it is raised. If a supermarket will sell you a vietnamese bred chicken for £3, don’t buy it. It isn’t difficult to buy decent produce from butcher/farmers and game merchants. I have used the same suppliers for many years. I grow much of my own fruit and veg so I appear to be almost veggie when the mood takes me. Look at the list of ingredients in many vegetarian dishes sold at the supermarket – junk, not fit for a dog.
PS: Every animal that is born will be eaten eventually – and that includes everyone here, unless you believe that the little lord Jesus is going to resurrect you when he is good and ready. And remember Andrew Marvell’s argument – Why deny me, coy mistress, what the worms will otherwise take? (Not a modern problem, I agree.)

Last edited 5 months ago by Terry Needham
D M
D M
5 months ago

Our ancestors ate unprocessed locally produced natural animal and plant foods. The food chain has been changed beyond all recognition by intensive food processing and massive amounts of transport of food around the world , arguably to the detriment of health and of the environment. But also it will have enabled many populations to survive who did not have food before. Perhaps it would be better if we all had time to cook and could eat local foods ( I certainly try to ) but unfortunately this does seem universally practicable in the real world.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  D M

I agree with most of what you are saying, but need to caution that there are many out there who think that the increasing population is not a problem. I disagree. Increasingly populations are increasingly fed by production methods that are simply not in keeping with sustainability – of the soil, the water, the flora, the fauna and the very populations they are talking about.
Science has been keeping people alive for much longer, but has simply not addressed sustainability – rather it has addressed greed.

D M
D M
5 months ago

I agree. Capitalism is a doubled edged sword. On the one hand it fuels greed but on the other hand it does have some trickle down to the poor and enables population growth. Mind you without capitalism only a few of the greedy would be eating and the population would be much smaller. What does one prefer ?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  D M

Tough. I would always back capitalism, but there needs to be much more robust oversight. Something is going very wrong, but I don’t see socialism as the answer.

D M
D M
5 months ago

Global capitalism is getting more an more control and governments less and less. Perhaps the answer is more localism which brings us back to the core point of the article I think. There is some push back to globalism but it’s patchy in the west.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  D M

I agree… small government.

D M
D M
5 months ago

I am not so sure about small government per se but the point is that it must not be dominated by global corporations. Government would certainly need to promote localisation of otherwise free enterprise businesses as well personal freedoms as part of civic society.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
5 months ago

Part of the problem is human nature; can we change that?

D M
D M
5 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I wouldn’t say that human nature is part of a problem. Surviving in the natural world is a huge huge challenge and civilisations only exist because our ancestors have overcome the challenges. I have no doubt that the animal instinct to stay alive, and propagate the species, will keep humanity going through inevitable adversities of the future..

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
5 months ago

I missed this one – a pity as one thing I know a lot about is creatures, having lived in camps over 15 years of my life, in the very remote places a good deal, and am one with the natural-world. I also have killed a very great many creatures for a number of reasons, commercial fishing the biggest, but as a regular part of my diet all my adult life, and just because I am a total outdoors man.

“I have long argued that those of us who shoot and fish have more in common with vegans than”

No – as an outdoors man who kills stuff you know of life. I am likely one of the best fishermen you would meet – I have fished 4 continents, Arctic to Tropics, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, oceans bays marshes, estuaries, swamps, even deserts – to mountains. Very few vegans actually know nature at all – as they are mostly urban, and so are not in it.

When I see water I have to look into it – I see everything about it, 100X what you do – I know the water and creatures so completely, as to catch them you must understand every aspect of it. And my love for it is commensurate with my understanding of it – I am one with nature, I can move through the bush, the tundra, and see it all – I know the creatures and their ways.

The 12 baby rabbits a pair have, only 2 survive to breeding age. At under a month old, little things, they are kicked out, and so want, disease, injury, predators cull the rest, and it is harsh.

This is life of wild things. The Great Wheel. 90% of a creature’s life is misery – you see the prime ones in their prime, but those are not the majority – fat times they prosper, and the lean times (most times) they die of the harshness of their lot.

Nature is fantastically cruel – unbelievably cruel, it is utterly cold and unfeeling – all life is brought to life to suffer and then die – I know it – I lived years in it, I studied it years at university level, 5.5 decades I have fished and hunted (I have not hunted in years, I lost interest, I think as we age this is usual, But I fish all the time). Nature finally was wearing me down, it is just too cruel, I got to where I was too saddened just because I understood nature too well – My last long sojourn was alone with a dog in the Far North for 5 months (at 40) with almost no human contact…….

But here is the difference between us – I am one with nature, I understand it, and this is by my interacting with it – hunters and fishermen have a much greater love of the creatures and nature than any other kind of person – because we have spent such huge effort just studying it – to see the foods, the trails, the entire life of out targets and so we develop these ties, this fellowship, we are one with it. I have spent tens of thousands of hours on the water and in the woods just watching, and on the tundra, and in the swamps and deserts….It takes a true passion for nature to have done that…..

I made my living off wild nature many years, nature is a very cold place. Dazzlingly beautiful, just beyond belief in its majesticness – But cold, cold as an ice asteroid in space – only humans have warmth, have compassion, love for ones not their young (and sometimes their mate). Nature is not like that, nature is utterly uncaring, unfeeling, and is always deep in suffering of the creatures….

Anyway – what are vegetarian people wanting with farm animals? That they never get born? Why? They get a better life than 99% of wild things – if you want domestic animals basically put out of their misery by never being born – then you should advocate the extermination of wild animals for the same reason – and more, as the wild animal lead a life of misery most of its existence – and then dies badly.

Juggernaut the Hindu god best exemplifies nature to me – he drives a huge wagon with massive wheels that roll over all life crushing it and killing it – then behind, as he passes – new life arises from the barren ground, to be crushed in its turn as Juggernaut inexorably travels the earth…..

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
5 months ago

It is laudable that the author is trying to bridge the gap between ethical meat eaters and hard vegans.
My issue is with meat for the general public as a staple and then extrapolate that to the world. How will we feed 7b people ( and growing) who think meat is a must in their diet? Also he is lucky to be able to eat wild ( as do I occasionally) or sustainable, but what is sustainable? Can the UK produce enough meat for all its citizens? If yes, then are we going to be able to do it without the use of intensive farming techniques like pesticides, dousing the field with inorganic fertiliser, and keeping low herd to limit antibiotics and other injections? And if a disease were to befall, will we cull the entire population of the county? How will we cope with that?
Farmers today ( I spoke to my neighbours) are loosing money with the existing regulations as it is and are leaving the business all together. Even Knepp estate don’t make money. Isabella Tree’s book explains it all. They are perhaps generationally rich so they can survive despite having huge chunk of land for farming.
So where is the answer?
I eat vege burgers and sausages and when I look at the ingredients, they are mostly bonafide and no E numbers to contend with. So what’s wrong with the new food industry and its products? A new way of thinking is emerging and it has the potential to be part of the solution. Why is there so much push back?

By the way there is no comparison between eating imported vegetables and meat grown locally. “ As a rule of thumb, one can be almost certain that meat products, local or not, are less sustainable than vegetables imported even from the furthest point of the globe. Medical or ethical considerations aside, emissions from meat are simply too high, a fact which makes food miles a negligible part of the comparison.”