Dear vegetarians, thank you for your efforts to protect animals – but you could do much better

In the dairy industry, calves are routinely taken away from their mothers within a day of birth. Male calves are killed as ‘surplus’ or funnelled into the veal industry, while female calves meet the same fate as their mothers

Elena Orde
Tuesday 17 May 2016 16:25 BST
Cows at an industrial dairy farm
Cows at an industrial dairy farm

Dear vegetarians,

We need to chat, and what better time than National Vegetarian Week.

I know that you chose to go vegetarian because you want to avoid contributing to animal suffering. This is a wonderful and commendable motivation, but I’ve got some bad news for you.

If you think that by avoiding meat you’re doing your bit for the animals, I’m sorry but you can do better. And given that there are over a million of you in Britain, you have the potential to make a pretty massive difference.

I was raised as a vegetarian by closet pescatarians, who feared the judgement of everyone including their own small children. That may sound odd, but it means I do understand where ethical vegetarians are coming from.

I used to be one myself, hypocritically sitting on an ivory tower, cheese toastie in hand, shaking my head at the omnivores' bacon jokes. Of course, I don’t do this anymore (for one thing, ivory belongs to elephants).

It’s easy to understand how an animal had to be harmed to obtain the piece of meat onto your plate. But other products, such as dairy and eggs, are one step removed from the animal who produced them so are thought of as innocuous, even friendly, by-products of the industry.

This couldn’t be much further from the truth. Prepare yourself for some pretty grim facts.

If you are ditching the dairy this January, here are some helpful tips. You’ll need them

In the dairy industry, calves are routinely taken away from their mothers within a day of birth. Male calves are killed as ‘surplus’ or funnelled into the veal industry, while female calves meet the same fate as their mothers.

This means a lifetime of forcible artificial insemination and cows being milked to exhaustion before being killed at age four or five.

The egg industry is little better. Male chicks are killed shortly after hatching, while females become ‘layers’. Living conditions are terrible; the “free range” label is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. When eggs are classed as free range, as many as nine birds can occupy a square metre of floor – and most hens never see the outside world.

Commercial hens are sent for slaughter for meat at around one year of age, despite the fact that they would normally live for around seven years.

But what about cheese, the vegetarians of the world are now asking? Let me stop you there, dairy addicts. The impact is just the same. It’s the same milk coming from the same dairy farms that provides you with your dietary staple.

Back before I took a look at myself and my diet, the thought of a life without cheese filled me with dread. In my pre-vegan days, dietary quizzers would sometimes (always) ask me: “But you eat cheese, right?”

“Ohyesofcourse,” I’d reply. “I can’t go longer than four minutes without it – I’m hypoglycheesemic! I actually have some brie in my pocket right now.”

Red Meat Explainer

Now, three years clean, cheese withdrawal is not an issue. Like many people, it took me a couple of weeks to adjust to life without the yellow stuff. But once I decided I was vegan, those cravings went away very quickly.

As you already know and believe, animal products don’t belong to us. For me, that means they’re all off the table. (Unless it’s vegan cheese, which definitely is on the table – with a load of crackers, chutney and pineapple on sticks.)

Vegetarianism is often used as a stepping stone to veganism. And that is absolutely fine. But it should not be the end point for anyone who really cares about animals.

Elena Orde is editor of The Vegan

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