Why there should be no black and white in veganism

Black and white cows

How can veganism not be a black-and-white philosophy? After all, causing pain and suffering to animals is black and white – you either do or you don’t. You’re either vegan or you’re not.

This all-or-nothing premise was used by TV host Piers Morgan to attack environmental journalist, author and recent vegan advocate George Monbiot on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Monbiot was under the impression he had been invited to discuss the ethics and impact of animal farming. But Morgan clearly had other ideas.

Monbiot became a target for the pompous Morgan who delights in the sound of his own voice and the rising TV ratings he prides himself on. Morgan’s first round of ammunition was Monbiot’s Guardian article “Goodbye – and good riddance – to livestock farming.” In proposing a radical and controversial change in our food sources, he prompted defensive head-in-the-sand responses from meat-eating readers, as well as Morgan.

In his article, Monbiot suggests future generations will look back with incredulity at monstrosities such as slavery, genocide, the First World War, and the “mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk.” Armed with the false premise that Monbiot is undermining human tragedy by including animal tragedy, Morgan caught his prey off guard.

Monbiot tries to explain his support for veganism, saying we’re hypocrites in the different ways we treat pets and farm animals but trying to get Morgan to listen proved as tricky as stopping a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse. In his article, he says, “While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.”

Sensing his prey might be escaping, Morgan spots Monbiot’s watch strap and the idea of hypocrisy was all he needed to make the kill. He attacked Monbiot for veganism hypocrisy in wearing a leather watch strap and shoes while calling for us to quit animal products. “I’m not being 100 per cent purist about this but I am trying to persuade people to change their habits in quite a radical way,” Monbiot says, but there was little he could do in the clutches of a carnivore.

Viewers might have wondered about the point of such an ‘interview’. It was more Trump than Obama, more “look at me” than “I’m listening”. Whatever your views on eating or not eating animals, a debate is surely a good thing. Through discussion, we can open our minds, work together, and make progress as individuals and as a society. We don’t move forward by stubbornly spouting the same old stuff and standing rigid.

As an investigative journalist, George Monbiot seeks truth to reliably inform his readers. He shows a genuine concern for a healthier society and planet. I was not only angered then by Morgan’s disrespectful treatment of an acclaimed journalist and ethical human being. I was also disappointed by the reaction among the vegan community.

Commenting on a Plant Based News Facebook post, Linda expresses concern about the knock-on effect of Monbiot’s leather attire: “He’s actually done the vegan movement a lot of harm by his actions! Who’s going to listen now?”

Likewise, Angie says: “[Monbiot] obviously doesn’t want to give it up his leather accessories. That’s fine for him – just don’t go telling other people to become vegan when he isn’t one himself. As for buying them before he went “vegan”… It’s just an excuse to continue wearing leather to say ‘I had them before’.”

With this thinking, if we all wait until we’re 100% pure vegan, spreading the word is going to take a long time with even more animal suffering. And is it really hypocrisy to keep old leather shoes until you replace them with vegan-friendly shoes, as long as you aren’t buying new animal products?

In his article on the GMB ‘interview’, vegan campaigner and strategist Tobias Leenaert also considers the impact of the interview on the rise of veganism, suggesting that inconsistency gives non-vegans an excuse. “Part of this desire to spot inconsistencies – which is a form of do-gooder derogation – is of course that people think it gives them a way out. If the vegan (or other do-gooder) can be depicted as a hypocrite, there is, they think, no reason for them to change their thoughts or behavior.”

But Leenaert goes on to highlight the importance of vegans appearing neither inconsistent nor fundamentalist, advocating a balance between the two. Leenaert is open-minded and believes it is okay to wear old leather clothing as a vegan.

While I understand Linda’s concern about the potential setback for veganism, I’m more concerned by her claim “He’s not vegan, end of.” Then there’s Julie’s comment: “I can’t believe he turned up wearing leather shoes and watch strap when going to talk about veganism… The first thing I did [on becoming vegan] was give all my leather shoes, bags, purses and watches away.”

Does discarding her leather make Julie a better vegan? You can look the part by discarding anything that visibly connects you to animal suffering but what about other actions – don’t they count? Can’t we make allowances, especially given Monbiot’s work over the years raising awareness on environmental and social issues?

Do we need to go through a vegan strip search before we leave home, going barefoot if we haven’t yet replaced our old shoes, and what about using the new £5 and £10 notes? Then there’s palm oil. We can do our best to look for sustainable palm oil in products but sometimes we might fall short.

What these comments show is the failure of some vegans to see that George Monbiot is on their side if that’s the side that cares about animal welfare, human health and the environment. Black-and-white thinking is counter-productive. I’ve written in the past about how vegan quibblers hinder positive change. We should focus on helping animals rather than bicker about who is a bona fide vegan. Monbiot is one of the best allies the vegan movement has. We should be supporting him, not criticising him.

Although we aren’t all at the same stage in our vegan journey, we share compassion and a desire to live a more ethical life. We can be open-minded, encouraging any small steps our friends and family take to reduce their animal consumption. They won’t become our allies in living kinder, less harmful lives if we make them feel like enemies.

Reassuringly, Monbiot also has many supporters who recognise his integrity and positive impact. Ramkumar shared his view: “George Monbiot was there on the show not as a vegan or an animal rights activist, but to talk about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture… Monbiot has been writing on this subject in detail and highlighting the various related issues such as farm subsidies, the history of deforestation in Britain (and Ireland, if I remember correctly), and argues for returning much of the land under livestock animal grazing back to wilderness. I would like these “vegan” critics to show me one journalist — vegan or not vegan — who has done this kind of work in Britain.”

Good Morning Britain may not be the place for intelligent discussion, but the Extinction and Livestock Conference held in London over the weekend did provide a platform for progress. Organised by Compassion in World Farming, in partnership with WWF, the conference brought together global conservation groups and experts in livestock farming, animal welfare, wildlife conservation, food and nutrition, public policy and health, and sustainable food systems. It was “the first ever conference to explore the impact of livestock production on the future of life on earth.”

You can see why George Monbiot thought his views on veganism and the future of food systems might be interesting and relevant to Good Morning Britain viewers. He didn’t set himself up as a vegan model but Piers Morgan created a smokescreen to hide the fact he has nothing to contribute to the livestock farming, wildlife conservation, and sustainable food debate. Any intelligent, reasonable person will see this ‘interview’ for what it was – just another Piers Morgan ego spectacle.

Image credit: Curious Cows on Pixabay

Education and communication: the cornerstone for change

By Tracy Brighten

Communication and connection

Education and communication form the cornerstone from which societies build and improve on past ways of living. Whether knowledge is communicated in schools or universities, through media, or within communities, families and social circles, it can prompt us to question our thinking and our behaviour.

With technology linking us across the world, the connection of people and the communication of ideas is a catalyst for global change. Through the internet, we can exchange problems and find solutions.

We are no longer living in ignorant isolation.  Continue reading

Pollution from pipes beached in Norfolk puts wildlife at risk

By Tracy Brighten

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says pipes washed ashore in Norfolk pose no danger of pollution. Are they unaware of, or simply ignoring plastic fragments scattered along the coast?

The MCA’s announcement on the pollution risk from four gigantic plastic bore pipes washed up on Norfolk’s east coach beaches was reported by The Guardian. Twelve pipes were being tugged from Norway to Algeria when they came loose after a collision with a container ship. While there are reports that the recovery operation is underway, no-one is talking about the plastic fall out on pristine beaches used by seals and rare seabirds. Continue reading

Little terns brave tides, dogs and falcons in Norfolk

By Tracy Brighten

The second rarest seabird in the UK, little terns face a bleak future without our help

EULife Little Tern Recovery Project

At a colony along Norfolk’s east coast where I’ve been helping as a volunteer, RSPB wardens are providing dedicated round-the-clock protection for endangered beach-nesting birds. The RSPB’s conservation work is part of the EU Life + Nature Little Tern Recovery Project involving eleven partner organisations, including the RSPB, Natural England, The National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The recovery project has been crucial in monitoring, protecting, and increasing little tern populations across the UK. Continue reading

Starling

Starling

Starling

Sleek acrobat hangs

Hacking fat for hungry chicks

From coconut shell

Image credit: Pixabay

Blackbird

Blackbird singing

 

Blackbird

Blackbird crowns his tree

Singing out the fading day

Pure notes lift and soar

 

Image credit: Pixabay

Vegan quibblers hinder positive change

Rather than welcome vegan diet popularity, vegans are quibbling over terms

vegan diet

I recently read a post on Plant Based News reporting that health expert Dr Oz dedicated an entire episode of his show to the vegan diet, predicting that veganism is going to be the “single biggest movement of 2017.”

That should be good news for vegans.

But instead of welcoming the rise in popularity of vegan diets and the positive knock-on effect for animal welfare, the environment and human health, some vegans are quibbling over terms. Continue reading

Pasture Promise: Asda leads the way for free-range cows and fair deal for farmers

A major supermarket chain supporting farmers and animal welfare by stocking Pasture Promise free-range milk is good news, especially in light of past price wars

Asda will be the first supermarket to stock Free Range Dairy Network milk carrying the Pasture Promise, which is encouraging news for animal welfare advocates. To be awarded Pasture Promise certification, free-range dairy herds must be grazed outside for a minimum of six months each year and farmers aren’t permitted to shoot calves at birth. Continue reading

Rocky flies across the world against all odds

The remarkable story of a cockatiel travelling 20,000 km as cargo
Rocky the cockatiel

The house is empty, our life packed into a shipping container by a removal squad quick as a flash. We had booked a local motel, three of us and Rocky, in the hope of a comfortable night before the long drive north to the airport. But with Rocky worryingly ill over the weekend, I’m staying here with him in familiar surroundings while my husband and daughter crash out in the motel.

I put the oil heater on in the bedroom and sleep on an air bed covered with old linen I will throw away tomorrow. This last night is special. I know it might be the last peaceful moments I have with Rocky before the long flight to England and the possibility he won’t survive. Continue reading

Licence and lunacy in driven grouse shooting

By Tracy Brighten

Conservationists call time on a blood sport damaging the environment 

grouse-1107406_1920

Social media has provided an important platform for raising awareness of the wide-reaching implications of driven grouse shooting in the UK. Birders Against Wildlife Crime, League Against Cruel Sports and Raptor Persecution have been highly effective on social media and it was through Twitter that I first heard about hen harrier persecution.

Since conservationists Mark Avery and Chris Packham organised the first official ‘Hen Harrier Day’ in 2014, the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting has been gathering momentum. Continue reading

Create a cafe for hungry garden birds and feel good

Help garden birds through the winter and feel the warmth of nature

Garden birds robin

The rental property we moved to recently was built on land where an old bungalow used to be. Except for three conifers, the garden was cleared and laid to lawn except for an empty flower bed which I turned over the other week hoping to attract robins and blackbirds with worms.

The garden may be neat, but it isn’t bird-friendly. Continue reading

Why we need to re-think cultural traditions

By Tracy Brighten

How we justify cultural traditions that exploit animals and why that needs to change

Culture and animals

Cultural traditions are passed on through generations, perpetuating our use of animals for food and pleasure. In upholding religious festivals and food practices, medicinal ‘cures’, and superstitious beliefs, animal abuse continues without question. We can be reluctant to let go of cultural traditions, seeing change as a rejection of our culture, or even an attack on our identity. Continue reading

World’s rarest penguin suffers disease, starvation and selfies

By Tracy Brighten
Since human settlers stripped its land-based habitat, New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin has been fighting for survival

Yellow-eyed penguin and chick

The Emperor penguin is arguably the most familiar penguin in the world, the poster penguin for climate change as global warming melts Antarctic ice. Films such as March with the Penguins document this magnificent penguin’s survival in such an inhospitable environment.

But not all penguins live in sub-zero temperatures. Some endure challenging environments higher up the temperature scale, but their battle for survival goes almost unnoticed despite being an ‘Endangered’ IUCN Red List Threatened Species. Continue reading

Must we teach children to kill?

By Tracy Brighten

There’s something perverse about teaching children to hunt

enfance-et-violence

The slaying of Cecil the lion last year epitomises everything that’s wrong with a hunting culture that now seems to be more about pleasure and ego. A dentist who learned to shoot when he was five years old hops on a plane from the U.S to Africa and buys himself a baited lion which he slaughters, all for the thrill and the trophy. He doesn’t see the wondrous animal that others see. He sees only himself. Continue reading

Rabbits blasted by hunters in New Zealand Easter fun day

By Tracy Brighten

Children in Central Otago see a dark side to the Easter bunny

Rabbit    

Easter is a time for celebration, whether it’s the Christian celebration of resurrection, or the Pagan celebration of fertility, symbolised in community Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny.

What you wouldn’t expect is a family bunny hunt involving the slaughter of 10,000 rabbits. But that’s what happens every year in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. The Great Easter Bunny Hunt seems to be a celebration of killing. Continue reading

Malta set to slaughter 5000 turtle doves in spring hunt

By Tracy Brighten

Migrating turtle doves will be shot down as they fly over Malta.

European turtle dove

The Maltese government has sanctioned the slaughter of 5,000 European turtle doves as they fly over Malta in the last stages of their 5,600 km journey from wintering grounds in West Africa to breeding grounds in Europe.

No other European country allows spring hunting of turtle doves. Continue reading

Dairy-free for three months and counting

By Tracy Brighten

A dairy-free diet hasn’t been as difficult as I thought, even in New Zealand

dairy free milk options

After reading about New Zealand’s dairy industry, I was unable to convince myself the abuse might be a one-off as claimed by the industry, so as I wrote in a post last year, I’m now on a dairy-free diet. I survived the festive season with a delicious vegan nut roast and hadn’t given my new eating plan much thought until recently. Continue reading

African grey parrot silenced by trapping and logging

By Tracy Brighten

Our fascination with intelligent parrots drives harvesting and poaching of wild birds, with the African grey suffering catastrophic decline

African grey parrot head    

When we’re looking for an animal to keep as a pet, we think about food, exercise, and affordability. But how much thought do we give to where the animal came from? When we buy exotic birds through online ads or breeders, we may unknowingly support the plunder of wild species. The African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is one such species. Continue reading

Blind love for cats is killing our songbirds

By Tracy Brighten

As cat ownership soars, we need a radical change in attitude to save mammals and songbirds from cats’ claws

Cat whiskers

Despite evidence from camera traps and Cat Tracker devices showing predatory behaviour, cat owners tend to describe their pets as too slow or too gentle to harm wildlife.

But Kitty is equally at home stalking wildlife as she is sleeping on our lap.

As human populations and domestic cat ownership explode, especially in urban areas, more small mammals and birds fall prey. When breeding can’t keep pace with predation, species numbers decline. Well-fed domestic cats might even be compared to trophy hunters in the sense they aren’t hunting for food. Continue reading

Catios and collars cool for cats and wildlife

By Tracy Brighten

Cat predation is wreaking havoc on wildlife, but an open-air safe haven for domestic cats and a collar that warns birds could be the purr-fect solution

Cat wearing Birdsbesafe collar

I’ve written in the past about the threat to wildlife from domestic cats and owners’ reluctance to accept their cat might be involved. While exact prey numbers are difficult to determine, camera traps show that small mammal and bird populations are threatened in areas with high density cat populations.  Continue reading

When dietary changes make you a social outcast

By Tracy Brighten

Vegetarian sandwich

Make a decision to lose weight, change career, or have children, and friends and family generally meet the change with excitement and words of encouragement. But tell them you no longer eat meat, fish, or dairy, or even that you’re just thinking about it, and you find yourself being interrogated!

If your reasons for dietary changes are health based, you risk the usual ill-informed response that you can’t be healthy without meat. But if your reasons are ethics based, be prepared for an even rougher ride. Continue reading

Spreading the word on birds

By Tracy Brighten

A profile of volunteer Sylvia Durrant who has been caring for sick and injured birds on Auckland’s North Shore for over twenty years

Sylvia Durrant

In his book The Art of Work, Jeff Goins invites and challenges us to recognise and pursue our calling. By spending more of our time working on the things we love, we can enrich our life. Sylvia Durrant found her calling when she replied to an advert for an SPCA bird rescue volunteer. Sylvia’s previous career as a nurse had prepared her for this life-saving work with birds and educating the community. She is an inspiration, as I found when I had the pleasure of meeting her. Continue reading

Should we care about future generations?

By Tracy Brighten

Future generations

The agreement by 195 countries at the Paris Climate Change Conference is a landmark consensus that climate change is a global problem requiring global commitment. Some people believe spiralling populations and associated development in India and China is the biggest issue. Others believe greenhouse gas emission control will be ineffective with the growing trend of factory farming. Not only do farm animals produce methane, but forests are felled to plant crops for animal feed.

Another question often asked when considering climate change and the depletion of non-renewable resources is why should we care about future generations? Don’t we just live the life we want and leave future generations to deal with the fallout?    Continue reading

Let’s put the pure back in New Zealand

By Tracy Brighten

New Zealand owl

Imagine British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been invited to give a speech at a university conference on sustainability. Imagine her topic was the discrepancy between the clean, green image created by the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign and the environmental reality. Imagine she wanted to inform the audience of this discrepancy; to persuade them it is economically damaging as well as morally unacceptable; and to motivate them to take action. As a scientist and politician, she knew the importance of commerce, government and environmental groups working together, and as a superb public speaker, she knew the power of words spoken with passion. Imagine this was her speech. Continue reading

New Zealand dairy cruelty divides opinion and loyalties

By Tracy Brighten

Dark side of the dairy industry could see consumers making ethical choices

Dairy calf

Animal welfare group Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) has released shocking footage of dairy cruelty filmed by Farmwatch in an undercover investigation of dairy industry practices in New Zealand.

Video footage from hidden cameras shows cruelty to cows and bobby calves involved in producing milk products. A byproduct of dairy production, bobby calves are calves under 30 days old taken from their mothers to stop them drinking milk that will be used for human consumption. While female calves are usually reared as replacement dairy cows, male calves have no use and most are killed at only a few days old.

Farmwatch’s evidence of dairy cruelty was broadcast on New Zealand’s TV ONE Sunday program. Continue reading

Free Range to End of Range

By Tracy Brighten

A poem written in the style of restaurant discourse to voice the plight of  New Zealand’s native birds

Tui in Kowhai tree

Although native birds aren’t normally eaten, I am appealing to the reader’s sense of taste, while simultaneously repulsing them with how wild birds are being killed.

Native birds are facing increasing threats from non-native predators such as possums, rats, stoats, cats and dogs, and also from human behavior such as irresponsible pet ownership, beach and car use, hunting, longline fishing, overfishing and oil spills.   Continue reading

Local nature puts a spring in our step

It’s easy to overlook the local nature in our gardens and neighbourhood, but regular contact helps us tap into our roots 

Yellow Flower

Unless we’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, if we want to spend time in nature, we might wait for a day when we can head to a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary, or the coast. But in our busy life, days can turn to weeks, and weeks to months while we miss out on local nature.

Truth is that for many of us, the benefits of time in nature can be enjoyed much closer to home. Continue reading

Respite in Nature

By Tracy Brighten

A story of the stresses of urban life and the need for respite in nature 

Autumn tree for respite in nature

FICTION 

The car won’t start. Flat battery. It looks like I’ll have to catch the bus. But I’ve not been on a bus for years. Anxiety charges through me.

I’ve psyched myself up and I’m ready to go, but it’s pouring with rain. The windows will be steamed up and I won’t see a thing. I’ll have to rub a circle to see out and hope that my breath doesn’t fill the space faster than I can take in the view of the hills. Then there’s the smell of damp raincoats. I loathe the smell of damp raincoats. Continue reading

Joy in fostering an African elephant orphan

I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild, but still these majestic, intelligent, social mammals stir strong emotion. Fostering an orphan is a way of helping 

elephant orphans sharing water

I’ve long known the African elephant is endangered. But until I started writing about wildlife conservation and animal welfare, I wasn’t aware of the complexity of their survival problem. Continue reading

Taiji fishermen dump Risso’s dolphins at sea

By Tracy Brighten

Marine conservationists claim that dolphin hunters may be dumping slaughtered calves and juveniles at sea to avoid quota counts
Risso's dolphin on rocks

Young Risso’s dolphin washed up on rocks in Taiji

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Cove Guardians are on the ground in Taiji, documenting the dolphin hunt season from September through March. Operation Henkaku is reporting the drive hunts to the world through live stream, press releases and social media.

This season, Cove Guardians have documented small boats covered by tarpaulin leaving Taiji cove after the slaughter of Risso’s dolphin pods. Continue reading

Spending time in nature is good for our soul

By Tracy Brighten

Spending time in nature has many health benefits, yet we find ourselves more removed from the natural world

Walk in nature

In economically developed countries, we enjoy medical and technological advances that improve our health and lifespan. We have education, transport, energy, and communication systems that give us greater opportunities for careers, business and travel, as well as a more comfortable lifestyle.

You might expect people to be happier than ever. Continue reading

Nature prevents disease and boosts wellbeing

By Tracy Brighten

Scientific research supports the advice of conservation groups and nature enthusiasts: spending time in nature is good for us

In the growing body of research on the importance of public health intervention for disease prevention, nature is gaining ground as a natural approach to tackle a range of health problems. Continue reading

Chinese ‘ivory queen’ arrested in Tanzania for ivory trafficking

By Tracy Brighten

The alleged notorious leader of an ivory trafficking syndicate operating between East Africa and China has been arrested in Tanzania

Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) had been surveilling Yang Feng Glan for over a year, before arresting the 66-year-old for her 14 year involvement in ivory trafficking Continue reading

Equal consideration for people and animals

By Tracy Brighten

Animals feel pain and suffering, yet are denied equal consideration in a world that places human preferences above compassion for animals 
veal calf

Calf in veal crate

Philosopher Peter Singer criticises philosophy for failing to challenge accepted beliefs. He argues for a change in traditional Western ethics, which is human-centred, or anthropocentric, and which denies any direct moral obligation to the natural environment. Continue reading

Elephant orphans find comfort in wool blankets

By Tracy Brighten

When baby elephants lose their mother, soft blankets give comfort and protect them from wind, rain and sun at an elephant nursery in Nairobi

DSWT elephant orphan

Elephants are victims of habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict, and more significantly, ivory poaching, which leaves dependent young elephants unable to survive. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an anti-poaching, rescue and rehabilitation charity operating aerial surveillance teams and working with the Kenyan Wildlife Service to rescue rhino and elephant orphans.

The Trust warns of the consequences of not taking action to save elephant populations. Continue reading

Offshore wind farms threaten northern gannets at Bass Rock

By Tracy Brighten

Northern gannets around the UK are at much greater risk from wind turbine blades than previously thought, according to new scientific research  

northern gannet

Several wind farms are due to be built in the next five years at locations within 50 kilometres of Bass Rock, the world’s largest gannet colony, located in the Firth of Forth off the east coast of Scotland.

The northern gannet is amber listed according to a UK national assessment of Birds of Conservation Concern. This new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, highlights the urgent need for further research to inform wind turbine specifications and locations.  Continue reading