Vegetarian Debate

This week has seen one of the most significant national weeks of the year and no, I’m not talking about the Markle Debacle, I’m talking about National Vegetarian Week!

As an agency with a special interest in the hospitality industry, it’s important for us to keep on top of all the latest food trends, changes and advancements; both locally and nationally. This week has been especially important for all food and beverage establishments out there so we wanted highlight the changing trends in relation to animal consumption in the UK and discuss the views of meat-eaters and non-meat eaters.

As the only vegan in the office, I was set the task of writing this blog and to give little context and introduction without getting into the nitty gritty, meaty parts (excuse the pun) of the reasons we should ALL be vegetarian (that was my only preachy point – I promise).

I’m a near life-long veggie. The transition from meat-eater to herbivore was made when I was three years old after being horrified that the naked pink lump of meat being put into our oven for Sunday lunch was in fact once a living, breathing REAL chicken. Much to my mother’s frustration and dismay, I decided from this young age that I wouldn’t let another piece of meat pass my lips for as long as I lived and 22 years later, I’ve kept my promise.

For me, my decision to be a veggie was a very personal one, dictated by no one and nothing other than my own feelings towards the idea of eating meat. To me as a child, there was never a difference between Bambi and venison, Flounder and fish and chips, Zazu and poultry… The Disney personification of animals was how I saw them every day – full of love, feelings, tangible and relatable emotions and intelligence that sometimes far surpassed that of most adults I knew (ah to be young and naïve). Other than when I was offered meat, I didn’t talk about my vegetarianism.

Throughout my school years it was never really discussed and I would just tell people that I didn’t eat meat (vegetarianism was still somewhat of a dirty word that wasn’t considered ‘proper’ in my family). When I went to university, for the first time I found myself meeting other like-minded people who had also opted for meat-free diet and I found myself in discussions and debates with people about animal welfare in meat production, the environmental impact of the meat industry and the health benefits of both consuming and not consuming meat.

Over my three years at university, I delved further into my research and started to discover the unfortunate horrors associated with meat production and consumption. My feelings towards a vegetarian lifestyle progressed from not just avoiding meat because I loved animals, but because of the inhumane ways in which a lot of animals are treated in the lead up to and during slaughter. My eyes were also opened to the issues surrounding the dairy industry too and that’s when I decided to go the whole hog (another meaty pun) and went vegan.

I’m not going to list these reasons here (as much as I’d like to), but I do encourage you to just do a littleGoogle research and see if anything you find is of educational value.

Over the past few years, the debate on vegetarianism has picked up traction. It’s now a discussion that’s open in the media, on social forums, between friends and is being welcomed with open arms by many restaurants – some of which are now totally vegetarian and vegan. I regularly find myself engaged in debates and conversations on meat consumption and production and it’s amazing to see the open mindedness and understanding growing amongst the British public.

Finally, this week at the Big Cat Office, we got into one of these ever-so controversial debates.

Vegetarian Debate2

I asked three simple questions to all my lovely colleagues and was met with a range of diverse answers – from those who would consider going vegetarian given the right nutritional information, to those who “can’t think of anything worse than giving up Dixy Chicken” (valid point Jonny).

Question one was about whether or not they would go vegetarian. We found out that our graphic designer Karen was in fact vegetarian for 12 years and Design Director Marv is vegetarian apart from the occasional fish & chips on a day of weakness. Other than that, the Big Cat office are generally open to the idea of cutting down their meat consumption, with several considering a more pescatarian diet with the addition of chicken (you’ll find that chicken is a common theme in these answers…) except our Senior PR Exec Helen who stated that she was ‘too much of a meat fan’ to ever go veggie!

The second question I asked was if being more educated on the suffering of animals in production would influence their decision to turn vegetarian. It was discussed that there is quite a lot of shocking footage and images that are circulated, particularly on Facebook but it is hard to know when the footage was taken, what country it was in, what the circumstances were etc. A feeling that was pretty predominant amongst the team here was that they would certainly like to be more educated on the method of meat production clearly presented on the meat they buy.

Transparent, honest and easy to understand information on supermarket packaging would mean they could know precisely where the meat had come from, how the animal was treated during its life and what the process of slaughter was. Other Big Cats said that people are already aware of what goes on in the meat industry and therefore they already pick their meats accordingly. However, a few said they didn’t want to be educated on the suffering of animals in production because they don’t want to be put off meat.

This last point interestingly reflects the results of a study conducted by Winterbotham Darby on current consumer attitudes and behavior around animal welfare among Continental Meat buyers. They found that consumers often abdicate responsibility to help peace of mind and ‘continue to eat the foods they like – [and] avoid thinking about it’.

Marv, however said that it was through education on animal suffering which encouraged him to go vegetarian and he puts a lot of emphasis on just how important education and listening is (although he’s not quite yet vegan because ‘WHY IS CHEESE SO GOOD?!’).

The final question I asked was a little more emotive: Do you believe that a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle is ethical?

Apart from two Big Cats, everyone agreed that it was; not only from an animal cruelty perspective, but from an economical and sustainability point of view too. It was agreed that there are many sides to this debate, from raising the issue that consuming large quantities of almond milk has had serious impact on soil quality and over-reliance on water supplies, and the fact that some radical activism from the vegan community has led to unethical behaviour.

Communications Director Christie led with the idea that ‘everyone has a right to make lifestyle choices without feeling judged’, highlighting the sensitive nature of the discussion. It’s so true – either one way or the other, we often feel that our opinions on meat consumption are judged, whichever way we turn.

Our Managing Director, Anthony, highlighted that he believes animal consumption is ethical as it’s a natural and evolutionary process that humans eat meat. However, he did state that meat consumption is only ethical if the animals enjoy a natural life, suffering is minimised to zero and that no nasty chemicals are used in the production. However, Marv came back with quite a simplified response of: ‘For me this is a rhetorical question. It’s ethical, sustainable and healthy #plantpower #wecanvegan #withgreatpowercomesgreatresponsibility’

This was a super interesting exercise for us in the office, and a discussion I’d been eager to have for a while! Britain in 2018 has seen a real shift towards awareness of the use of animal products for human consumption; in the form of cosmetic testing, fur and leather, milk in your cereal or the chicken in your KFC popcorn. Many cosmetic brands are opting for cruelty free products, higher end supermarkets are sourcing dairy from more ethical farms and abattoirs are now having CCTV installed to avoid the cruelty that has previously been so prevalent in these institutions (we’ve all seen If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls right?!).

For me, this is a hugely positive shift. Whilst I would like the whole of the UK to adopt a vegan lifestyle that avoids all animal cruelty, unfortunately, I know this will not happen in my lifetime (one can hope though!).

We would love to hear your thoughts on this debate and learn about what you might be doing a little differently this National Vegetarian Week!

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