Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Why I'll never go the whole hog
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The Independent Online

For many years I have been a vegetarian and animal-welfare campaigner despite the fact that my family are in the meat business. This irony sometimes generates publicity which I can use to illuminate animal abuses.

For many years I have been a vegetarian and animal-welfare campaigner despite the fact that my family are in the meat business. This irony sometimes generates publicity which I can use to illuminate animal abuses.

Last year Hugo Charlton, barrister and chairman of the Green party, and I slipped into a Berkshire farm at midnight to film undercover with Viva, the animal-welfare charity which campaigns tirelessly to expose animal abuses. We discovered fetid, stinking sheds full of sows crammed into small crates. Dead piglets littered the ground, rats ran over my feet, and the stench and heat were unbearable.

I exposed the shocking conditions in a Sunday newspaper, and the footage was aired on a national news programme.

Viva was very grateful and made me a patron, sending out a press release which began: "Julia is better known as a shallow, shopping socialite...". I wish, I thought, reading it flat out after a long day protesting at Huntington Life Sciences Laboratory. I may be shallow but I'm hardly a socialite.

Becoming a charity patron is a bit like being a godmother. It is flattering to be seen as capable enough to take on the responsibility, but one never feels one is doing enough. I was far more active before I was made a patron - guilt has immobilised me.

My confession is this. Recently, after many years of vegetarianism I had health difficulties which were resolved when I began to eat animal products occasionally. I only eat meat from a biodynamic farm which I have inspected, and I avoid meat in restaurants, and never touch pork from any source.

Having been so famously a vegetarian, it was something of a dilemma facing up to my meat-eating ways. I was terrified about what Viva would say. So when I was interviewed over lunch by the editor of this very paper, it was a relief to come clean.

"I'm afraid the menu doesn't offer much of a vegetarian choice," he sympathised. "Um, actually I'm not vegetarian any more," I admitted sheepishly, contrarily going on to order a 100 per cent vegan meal.

While this may seem like a cop out, my beef is with the industrialisation and appalling cruelty of factory farming, and the inexorable growth of corporate monoliths such as Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, which has built huge pig factories in Poland. It is a tragedy for animals and people that this monstrous company is now being given grants by the EU to expand. Poland is made up of family farms which are home to rare wildlife such as white storks and bison. Its unpolluted soil and sparkling rivers are the purest in Europe. All this will change unless we take action now.

Let's put these greedy corporations out of business by becoming vegetarian or cutting down and refusing to buy meat from supermarkets, buying instead from farmers' markets and local producers. If you don't know the provenance, assume the worst. It's easy to blame corporations, but it's up to us, the consumer, to fight for change. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

www.viva.org.uk; www.awionline.org; biodynamic meat available from Here Organic Store - 020-7351 4321

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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