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

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

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

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

Must we teach children to kill?

By Tracy Brighten

There’s something perverse about teaching children to hunt


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


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

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

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

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

Blue whale drags fishing line from Los Angeles to Mexico

By Tracy Brighten

The blue whale entangled in fishing line off the Californian coast has moved south towards Mexican waters and could die if not found

Blue_whale_tail by Michael Baird

On Friday, whale response teams attached a buoy to the whale, found between Santa Catalina Island and the coast, to make it more visible before high seas thwarted rescue efforts, reported the Guardian.

Federal government officials assisted by boats, aeroplanes and helicopters searched the West coast on Saturday and Sunday, but were unable to locate the whale. Continue reading

Could a legal ivory trade save the African elephant from extinction?

By Tracy Brighten

Legal trade of “conservation ivory” could end black market trade in “blood ivory”, but opponents say stigmatisation and a trade ban is the only solution

Carved elephants by William Warby

African elephants are in crisis, threatened by extinction like the woolly mammoth wiped out by man in the Arctic. Farmers attack when they roam on land that was once elephant habitat; zoos remove them to an unnatural life as exhibits; and trophy hunters take pride in slaying this ‘big five’ giant.

But most of all, elephants are at risk from poachers who hack off their face for tusks. Continue reading

Trophy hunting: ‘A way of honouring that animal for all time’

By Tracy Brighten

Big game hunters have a perspective on wildlife slaughter that is difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.

Louis the lion med by Tambako“Of course, it is a personal achievement to harvest any big-game animal with a bow and arrow,” said Glen Hisley of the Pope and Young bow hunting organisation in The Telegraph. “It is a way of honouring that animal for all time.”

This is an interesting perspective and one reserved for the animal kingdom. After all, the desire to honour a person by murdering them, posing beside the body, and keeping the head as a trophy would surely be considered psychopathic. And deriving pleasure just makes matters worse.

If it’s the chase and the thrill of danger that drove Palmer, then killing might have been replaced by capturing living images of “the magnificent, mature lion,” described by his accomplice. But there isn’t the same sense of mastery that must come with a deadly weapon. Continue reading

Gadhimai slaughter festival to be reincarnated

By Tracy Brighten

The Gadhimai Temple Trust says the slaughter festival will be ‘free from bloodshed’ in 2019, but over two million pilgrims must be persuaded first

Calf in Gadhimai killing fields

The statement made by the trust chairman at a press conference in New Delhi this week is an important milestone, with a compassionate plea to make this traditional slaughter festival a blood-free celebration of life.

The decision follows negotiations and campaigning by Animal Welfare Network Nepal, Humane Society International/India and People for Animals, who organised the conference.

Heartbroken at witnessing the bloodshed at Gadhimai, Gauri Maulekhi, of HSI/India and People for Animals, welcomed the announcement. “Animal sacrifice is a highly regressive practice and no nation in the modern world should entertain it.” Continue reading

Faroe Islands pilot whale massacre ‘a natural way of life’

By Tracy Brighten      Contains graphic images

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd estimates 250 pilot whales were killed last week. Is it time tradition was buried with whale bones littering the seabed?

Pilot whale slaughter 2 by Sea Shepherd Peter Hammarstedt

Sea Shepherd protestors have been arrested trying to stop the pilot whale hunts in the Faroe Islands, but video footage and photographs by other group members captured the horrors of the mass slaughter.

The whale hunt known as the grindadráp, or “grind”, is a centuries old tradition with recorded history dating back to 1584, according to whaling proponents Whaling.fo. The whale meat and blubber once provided an important food source for the Faroese people, and whale oil was used for cooking and export. Continue reading

Endangered porpoise thrown lifeline as dolphins drown

By Tracy Brighten

The Mexican government makes a late bid to save the world’s smallest marine mammal, while New Zealand lets the world’s rarest dolphin drown 

Vaquita porpoise Natural History Magazine

The vaquita porpoise population has declined as a result of drownings when porpoises are unable to reach the surface to breathe after entanglement in gillnets used in shrimp fishing. More recently, the gillnet threat has increased with the illegal fishing of the endangered totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is a Chinese delicacy fetching up to $10,000 a kilogram, smuggled to China via California. Continue reading

Condemnation and controversy over livestock export of 50,000 sheep

By Tracy Brighten

Animal welfare groups and opposition MPs say slaughter, not breeding, awaits livestock export survivors

The News Hub - Sheep Muster med

The Green party, NZ First and animal welfare group SAFE are concerned the New Zealand government may be using a breeding claim to circumvent the ban on livestock exports for slaughter. The ban was implemented by the NZ Labour government on animal welfare grounds after international public outcry when 5,000 sheep perished in an Australian shipment bound for Saudi Arabia in 2004.

Animals loaded in secrecy

Livestock carrier NADA, registered in Panama, docked in Port Timaru in the South Island on Thursday when 50,000 sheep, and 3,000 cattle were loaded on board the multi-storey vessel overnight. NADA departed on Friday morning carrying the largest ever livestock cargo to leave New Zealand since 35,000 breeding sheep were exported to Mexico in 2007. Continue reading