Thursday, 23 December 2010

The True Cost of Cheap Food

I'm seriously thinking about going vegan again - anyone else see the Panorama programme last night? Eew those mega dairies...scary places.

Although it was an expose of the real cost of cheap food - the toll on the environment and on animal welfare - it also reminded me why I first became vegetarian twenty six years ago. It's easy to forget why we do something when that something has become an ingrained habit, something I rarely think about anymore. But I'm thinking again...

Maybe I'm still a bit hormonal, but seeing a sow feeding her youngsters in a tiny cage (yes in the UK, no they don't roam around in fields much anymore like we all think they do) made me cry. Properly cry. Perhaps cos I'm breastfeeding at the moment I felt an affinity with that mummy pig and her babies.

The babies are reared under artificial light, in small spaces, with no rooting opportunities (essential for a piggy's happiness). A mummy pig is allowed to nurse her babies for only two to three weeks before being reimpregnated and having her babies taken from her. The babies get killed at six months.

But of course my conscience is eased by the fact I don't eat pork or bacon. But J does (mainly in his sandwiches during the working week) and so does Ella (mainly at her dad's though as I only cook veggie and vegan at home). I blithely buy cheap factory farmed meat for him when I can't find any organic piggies on the shelves in Tesco. And it turns out that large scale organic producers raise their animals in a smilar way anyhow, just without the gratuitous antibiotics and growth hormones.

I will make it my mission to source local suppliers who treat their animals well. I'm also going to make J's sandwiches more often so he gets a few veggie lunches at work too. I'm lucky to have the True Food Co-op within a short drive and I think they do some organic meat reared in small-scale farms.

As for contemplating the vegan thing again. Well, I was vegalicious once and I know that diary cows have a hard time of it. Forced to be pregnant continually so they keep producing milk, slaughtered at around five years old when they're no longer 'useful' and their babies killed shortly after birth or raised as veal calves.

Not to mention the distress they must feel at having their babies taken away from them. And I'm not anthropomorphising:

"The harsh reality is that to produce milk, a cow must have a calf. To maximise production, each calf is taken from its mother within 24-48 hours of birth. Calves would naturally suckle for 6-12 months.

"Separation is a distressing process as mother and calf form a strong maternal bond. Dairy cow husbandry expert, Professor John Webster described the removal of the calf as the “most potentially distressing incident in the life of the dairy cow”. Webster points out that “the cow will submit herself to considerable personal discomfort or risk to nourish and protect her calf”. Examples of this are cows that have escaped and travelled several miles to find their own calf after it has been sold on to another farm"
Excerpt from The Vegan Society website

As a mother, I can't fail to be moved. But veganism can be a tricky thing to manage 100%. Which is why I'm going to approach it softly, softly and initially just aim to eat more vegan meals and use Kara, oat milk etc (I don't like the taste of soya milk much!) in my teas and coffees but not panic if I'm at a friend's house and have cow's milk.

If you're not a veggie or vegan but would like to reduce the cruelty content in your diet, how about having a Meatless Monday? It's easy to achieve and, as they say at Tesco, every little helps...


Anonymous said...

As a livestock farmer, I can honestly say that programs like these are killing off the farming industry. Farming is hard grafting and not particularly rewarding but we still work every hour god sends in order to claim pittance for our efforts. I don't judge anyone for having an opinion and certainly for their own dietary requirements, that is wholly their business, but I am quite concerned that programs like these are being portrayed and influencing people to give up on our British farmers. Our livestock are treated to the best quality feed and are properly looked after. Believe me, it isn't an easy job. I don't like to think that pigs and cows are being kept in squalid conditions, but please understand that most farmers do everything they can to supply the world with good quality reared meat.

CJ xx

Anna Colette said...

Actually, the programme was quite sympathetic towards farmers esp their plight in the face of the Big Four supermarkets.

The animal welfare stuff was from me - not from the programme. A few of the images really triggered stuff for me. My husband watched the same programme and didn't react in the same way. Although he said he'd like to try and buy meat from smaller scale farms more often.