The Vegans have landed

in Big Issues

Pissed-off Toff considers the latest message of doom, gloom and universal destruction.

As January gave way to February, my spirits were lifted by the prospect of longer days and the arrival of spring. But there was another reason to feel happy about the passing of the first month of the year … namely, that the pub where I sometimes enjoy a half-pint of bitter would have to get rid of the ‘Veganuary’ menu on its blackboard. After all, you can hardly have a vegan menu called ‘Veganuary’ in February, can you? So – ha ha!! – it would have to go. Surely?

But when I turned up for my half-pint on the first day of February, the ‘tikka bites’, the ‘wedge salad’, the ‘beyond meat burger’ and the ‘amok curry’ were still on offer. One thing only had changed. ‘Veganuary’ had been replaced by the legend ‘Go Vegan’. The menu remained.

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As long as veganism was a loony dietary cult that could be easily ignored, it didn’t much matter. Now, however, hordes of the young and impressionable have been converted to this new creed. Restaurants everywhere – Pizza Express included – proudly display vegan options. Waitrose has a new line of vegan foods. More ominously, a vegan-inspired political agenda is making itself felt. And it has happened virtually overnight. I have, indeed, read somewhere of a hundred-fold increase in veganism over the past year.

Vegan pizzas galore

The most worrying aspect of veganism is not that it’s a crazy diet which attracts impressionable young girls (because as far as I can make out, vegans tend to be young or youngish females). More worrying still, it is a new world-view, a whole political movement based on a set of beliefs most of which are simply insane; but no less unshakeably held for that.

Why, then, do increasing numbers of young women now refuse to eat meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products? Why do they reject the diet that has sustained mankind from the beginning of history? Why do they subject themselves to the risk of severe malnutrition?

Part of the answer is that they object to modern methods of industrialised animal husbandry; methods which inflict terrible suffering on innocent animals. With this view one can only sympathise, and wholeheartedly so. I, for one, would welcome the immediate banning of all forms of intensive animal farming, and most especially the battery farming of hens. It is unquestionably barbaric, undoubtedly immoral. And if banning these industries were to result in a tripling or quadrupling of the price of meat, so what? We’d just have to eat less meat, as we did when I was a boy not so very long after the end of the Second World War, and when roast chicken on Sundays was a luxury to look forward to.

So far, I’m with the vegans. But now we part company. Because a further part of the doctrine (and we haven’t got to anything outright loony yet) is a belief that it is a sin for human beings to kill animals for food. Thus, mankind has been sinning against nature from the very dawn of his existence. Furthermore, nature has been sinning against nature from the outset, with lions eating antelopes, eagles eating mice, birds eating worms, and fish gobbling up poor innocent plankton.

In order to live purely, say the vegans, we should all eat carrots and lentils, with a handful of wheat and nuts thrown in. But why, I wonder, is it a sin to kill a cow for meat, but not a sin to harvest wheat? Apparently trees scream, in their own way, when we chop them down. They don’t like it. And why would wheat like being harvested any more than trees like being chopped down? It must hurt. Is it any less cruel to slice the stem of a blade of wheat than to cut the throat of a cow? Who knows? Whichever way you look at it, you are consuming nature to satisfy your own appetite. You are killing a living organism in order to survive.

The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is that it would be better for all involved if we horrible rapacious humans disappeared for ever. And that, I sense, is what lies at the heart of veganism. Not a love of nature, but a hatred of self. It is, at base, a new manifestation of puritanism, but in a particularly masochistic form. Indeed, it can hardly be a coincidence that veganism holds little appeal outside countries with a Northern-European puritan or low-church tradition.

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Thus far, all this is pretty harmless. But we now come to the central tenet of veganism, and the belief that turns harmless loonies into dangerous political activists. Here’s the thing that should worry you if it doesn’t already: vegans believe that farting cows are destroying the planet, and they want to act on this belief.

The argument goes like this. Horrible mankind with his horrible taste for meat is rearing cattle in huge numbers. These cattle fart. These farts contain methane, and this methane is warming up the planet and will very soon destroy it. Within years, even. You might laugh. But this isn’t a joke. Vegans really, really believe this to be true.

Let’s leave aside the fact that cattle – farts and all – are part of the natural order of things, part of a long-established ecosystem, just like the farting lions and the farting giraffes and the farting rhinoceroses. Let’s forget this and let’s rewind millions of years, to a time before the appearace of man, when this planet was populated by huge dinosaurs, each one of them – what? – a hundred times the size of a single cow. For millions and millions of years, all these enormous dinosaurs were farting non-stop, weren’t they? Just think of the methane produced by a single grass-munching brontosaurus! Now fast-forward to only a few hundred thousand years ago, when the plains of Canada were populated by countless bison, all farting, and none of them anything to do with the cattle industry, that horrible invention of horrible mankind. 

Well then, if farting animals really did cause global warming, our planet would have boiled itself into non-existence long before the appearance of mankind. Furthermore, if vegans are so concerned about methane emissions, why victimise poor defenceless cattle? What about the millions of dogs, and the billions of humans? In order to get rid of farting, we would have to kill not just the cattle, but more or less every creature on the planet.

In any case, the central proposition of veganism is demonstrably loony. Which leads me to the main point of this part of my little essay. Namely: Why do apparently rational people believe something that is plainly absurd? 

Although his concern is the hold of communism on the human mind, the philosopher Roger Scruton addresses this question in his book The Uses of Pessimism. And his conclusion holds good for veganism. There is, he explains, a certain sort of person who has to believe in a pre-ordained, unquestionable creed. That need runs deep. And that sort of person will believe in some mad doctrine not despite its evident madness, but because of it. The objectively verifiable facts don’t matter. What matters is the desire to believe. Thus the power and appeal of every loony cult … and thus, most recently, the appeal of veganism, which is merely the newest and most fashionable manifestation of an age-old phenomenon. 

Its name? Fanaticism.

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So much for the politics. But how does an ordinary non-fanatical person deal with veganism on a day-to-day basis?

I have recently met two people who have had experience of this. One has a cousin who was admitted to hospital as a result of vegan-induced malnutrition. The other has a young daughter who (like many of her mainly female friends) is a committed vegan, and who believes, with unshakeable and unassailable conviction, that cow-farts are destroying the planet. The girl is also painfully thin, and the neighbours have started talking.

All this is distressing for the parents, who see their daughter in thrall, mind and body, to an outlandish cult. It does not help, either, that although the daughter is undoubtedly concerned for the environment in general, the specific and localised environment of the family kitchen is of less immediate interest. With higher issues at stake, the washing up can, as she sees it, see to itself … and eager to avoid confrontation on a delicate issue, the parents clean the mountains of pots and pans and other kitchen equipment involved in the non-stop production of fruit and vegetable smoothies.

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There’s another thing, too … and this, I admit, is something of a first-world problem.

I like entertaining, and I sometimes wonder what I would do if I had a vegan as a guest. When I have friends to a meal, it often involves a considerable expenditure of time, money and effort. So would I cook a special meal for a vegan, over and above the normal catering tasks? 

No, I would balk at that. 

Well then, how about if the vegan were to bring her own food and were to cook it here? Hmmmm … For me to entertain properly and to do all the last-minute heating-up of dishes and general scurrying around that are part of producing a good meal on time, I want to have unhindered use of the kitchen. The last thing I want is for someone else to be cooking a second meal there.

So again, it would be a no.

And then the politics. Let us imagine that we have somehow circumnavigated the catering issue, and that we are all seated at the table. Since for vegans, food and politics are indivisible, politics would be in the air. The vexed question of man-made global warming would loom … and from there we would no doubt proceed to an animated discussion of Brexit. 

It might be ungenerous of me, but I would balk at that, too.

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So. Being the latest manifestation of the fanatical impulse, veganism is immune to reason and to moderation; and – like the stylites of the early Christian world and the flagellants of the Middle Ages and the communists of later times – it will probably be with us for a while.

Occasionally, however, this madness affords us a laugh. Yesterday, in a delicatessen in the middle of London, I saw a pile of vegan panettoni on sale at half price, reduced from £20.95 to an almost affordable £9.95 (and the original price-tag made me wonder to what extent vegans belong to the more privileged sections of society, and to what extent veganism is a self-indulgent distraction for the rich). According to the label on the back of the package, the many delectable ingredients that had gone into making this product included cotton seed oil and vegetable margarine. Yum yum!! But why, I wondered, were these cut-price luxuries not flying off the shelves? I’m still trying to work it out …

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