Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The red pill or the blue pill?

Today I’ve been thinking about how our attitudes towards each other and our fellow creatures are often tainted by either wilful ignorance or a worldview that has been imposed on us since childhood. We accept eating animals that have been cruelly treated before slaughter as a ‘normal’ part of everyday living, and not something worth kicking up a fuss about. After all, surely all the nice people we know wouldn't eat meat and dairy if there was really something morally wrong with it.

People lavish love and attention on their pets and then sit down to enjoy a bacon sandwich, eating an animal that scientists now recognise to be at least as intelligent as a dog. Why is it that we view one animal as food and another as friend? Quite simply, because we’ve been taught to, and until now we haven't thought to challenge it. If we find a wounded bird in the garden, we nurse it back to health. Unless that bird is a chicken, in which case, we eat it. This behaviour is totally irrational, and yet feels entirely natural and normal to us. We have grown up with images of idyllic farms full of happy pigs and hens laying fresh eggs, and cows that are free to roam in the sunny fields.

This idyllic farm is a lie that the industry is clinging on to with all its might, even in the face of rising awareness over conditions. There may be the odd farm that operates like the fantasy farm portrayed on the Muller advert (I feel like screaming at the telly when this one comes on! What a load of rubbish http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCHWJb8i2tk&feature=related ), but they are unfortunately a rarity - the majority of our meat and dairy in this country comes from factory farming. Because we eat so much meat, it would be impossible to run ‘ethical’ farms and produce meat fast enough to meet our insatiable appetite for it. The greed involved really is quite sickening, and indefensible.

I have lost count of the amount of meat eaters who refuse to watch documentaries on the conditions of factory farming, because ‘it’s too upsetting’. Indeed, when I spoke to one friend about it she insisted that she didn’t want to know and that she was ‘quite happy living in the dark, thank you very much.’

Well, what’s a vegan to do? People clearly feel compassion towards these animals or they wouldn’t find it upsetting, and yet they don’t realise, or refuse to accept, that they hold within themselves the key to stopping it. Our agency as consumers is the most powerful thing we have in the fight to end the suffering of billions of animals. Even just making more compassionate choices when we shop can make a huge difference in the message we send to our supermarkets. You probably wouldn’t find this link on many vegan blogs, but if you are a meat eater who is still unconvinced that becoming a vegetarian is necessary but does feel called to make a stand against the appalling conditions in factory farms, please visit Compassion in World Farming, a charity that is not about convincing people to be veggie, but is dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals.


They have a great site, and if you have questions, do email them! They are a huge organisation but they got back to me really quickly.

Although I’d love everyone to be vegetarian or vegan for the many reasons I discussed in my first post, I must admit that the primary motivation for my veganism is to fight against the incomprehensible scale of animal suffering currently happening in our world. If animals were allowed the freedom and space to act out their God-given natural behaviours, the ethical issue of choosing to eat meat or choosing not to eat meat would entail a far different discussion to the one we find ourselves having today. Surely meat eaters and vegans alike can agree that all animals, regardless of the situation they are born into, whether it be domestic pet or farm pig, deserve the right to live their lives free from suffering at the hands of human beings.

In The Matrix (you can watch this clip on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te6qG4yn-Ps) Morpheus offers Neo a choice between knowing the truth about the state of the world and returning to his previous state of ignorance. He says to Neo:

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

I’d urge you to take that red pill and see how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Stop hiding from animal suffering, and joyfully embrace the fact that you can play an enormous and valuable role in ending it. Then maybe together we can make a Wonderland we’d all prefer to live in.


  1. Hey, thanks for the link to Compassion in World Farming - was very interesting and nice to see that there is a school of thought that thinks it is not wrong to eat meat but is opposed to factory farming and cruelty, which I very much am!

    I totally agree with you about people who eat meat but can't watch those things about farming/killing. When BBC3 did those programmes a few years back with the live slaughters, I watched them all, because how can you justify and defend a decision if it is not informed?

    love, your meat-munching pal

  2. This is a test, to make sure I can post.

  3. I've had to post as "anonymous" because I don't have my own website, but I'm not trying to hide my identity -- I'm Rebecca, who found out about you from Asbo Jesus.

    I question your statement that "the main aim of veganism is to fight against the incomprehensible scale of animal suffering currently happening in our world", because that isn't actually my main aim. My primary concern is to fight against the incomprehensible scale of human suffering (and, incidentally, animal suffering as well) which will be caused if we don't stop destroying the environment -- I'm particularly thinking about climate change, but there are obviously other environmental issues as well. Producing animals for food is extremely bad for the environment in many ways, and if we are to respect both God's creation and future generations, we need to reduce our environmental impact.

    So that's where I'm coming from. There are some differences between an environmental vegan and an anti-cruelty vegan, for example the former will want to avoid meat/dairy substitutes which involve excessive processing, whereas the latter will be less concerned, but the basic premise is still the same.

    I'm trying to become vegan, but what I really need is a sounding board -- I hardly know any vegans. Perhaps you could be a sounding board?

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You are completely right in your questioning of my sweeping (and inaccurate) description of the main aim of veganism, and I have now edited the post so that it clearly states that this is the thing that personally motivates my veganism (as you're right that there a differences between vegans).

    I don't know any vegans either, although one of my friends is currently considering it. It would be fantastic to get a really good discussion going about these issues, as I think it is something that the church is perhaps falling behind on.

    Happy to be a sounding board - if there's anything in particular you would like me to address in a blog, please do let me know.

    God bless you


  5. The problem I have is that there is nobody around who can offer me a red pill. I need a shedload of red pills.

    This definitely requires further explanation. There are a lot of very important questions around which anyone who is serious about protecting the environment really needs to know the answer to -- but often it is extraordinarily hard to find out answers. (A recent and rather obvious example concerns biofuels -- as recently as a few years ago they were being portrayed as a solution to climate change, but now virtually every environmentalist is campaigning against them, as it has become known that they are even more damaging than fossil fuels. But unfortunately this information became known too late to stop the government from treating them as a solution to climate change).

    To get back to the more immediate subject of food, the question is soya. Most soya growing in the world is an absolute environmental disaster; most soya is used to feed livestock, but not all of it is -- some of it is used to make vegan products. So are these vegan products environmentally damaging -- in which case they should be avoided? Or are some products less damaging? I've been trying to find out, but all I have currently to go on are the producers' own statements, which are not independently verified.

    I'll carry on looking, and let you know what I find out. If there are soya products which are not environmentally damaging, then this is something which I would expect to be of interest to you; you said that you missed cheese, and there are soya cheese substitutes available (I tried one at the Viva show recently, and had to spit it out -- it tasted too much like the real thing). Then there's soya milk. If I can find an acceptable brand, I will post up my recipe for soya porridge.

    More to come...

  6. I have obtained some information from Viva about soya. They were a bit vague, but I focused in on one particular point: how to avoid the most damaging products?
    1. Buy organic soya products
    2. If not organic, buy from reputable suppliers who guarantee that the soya is not from cleared forests or is not genetically modified (GM) as almost all soya grown on rainforest land is GM.
    Provamel, which includes Alpro and also makes soya milk for Tesco, they "think" is reputable. I consider they ought to be able to be more definite, but it's the best I have to go on for now. BTW, they anti-recommended So Good soya milk, on the grounds it is not made from the whole bean and so is less healthy (and their environmental claims are meaningless).

    Here is something creative you can do with soya milk.

    Fill a cereal bowl about two-thirds full of muesli. If it's not fruity enough for you, add some more fruit (I recommend Tropical Wholefoods dried bananas, which are vastly better than the dried bananas made with oil that are often found in muesli). Top up the bowl with oats (large porridge oats are better than the powdery sort), and add some cinnamon. Mix.

    Add soya milk and water until the dry ingredients are completely covered. (I use about two thirds milk and one third water, but you can use more milk if you want to be extravagant. Actually, the porridge is almost as good if you use 100% water).

    Leave to soak for a couple of minutes. If you're making the porridge for breakfast, you can leave it while you make your packed lunch.

    Then heat it up in the microwave. I give it 3 minutes 40 seconds, but how long you need will depend on the size of your bowl and the strength of your microwave -- you want to give it long enough to get hot and for the oats to absorb all the liquid, but not so long that it boils over.

    This is absolutely sublime.

  7. That sounds so yummy, thanks!

    I buy Aplro soya products - their website is a pretty helpful resource for finding out about the environmental considerations they make:


    I made chocolate vegan cupcakes a few days ago and they were incredible - better than any non-vegan cake I've made in the past!

    Maybe I should blog about the cupcakes, and your special porridge...


Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!