I must declare an interest. My mother’s family have been farmers for generations, raising stock, milking cows, growing crops, in a small area of Somerset, definitely since the Eighteenth Century, and probably for centuries prior to their recorded activities on the land.
Perhaps, then, I have accumulated centuries of prejudice against those who would presume to criticise my family.
I know of no-one who cared more about animals, or had a greater love for the natural world around him, than my late grandfather. I would defy anyone to claim they were better at caring for animals than a man who called each of the twenty cows in his dairy herd by name, or that they were better environmentalists than someone who would spend cold winter days laying hedgerows by hand.
It is galling, then, to see vegans present themselves as people who care for animals and as people who protect the environment. They do neither.
Human beings have been omnivores since prehistoric times. An omnivorous diet has not only been what has sustained humanity through millennia, it is what permits the survival of countless millions of people. Fishing communities, indigenous peoples in inhospitable terrains, there are numerous examples that could be cited of lives that could not continue without animal produce.
Veganism is not an option for many people, nor should it be for those who believe in the conservation of rural landscapes.
William Blake’s ‘Green and pleasant land’ was not something that occurred by chance, it arose from centuries of work by farmers, hard work, often unrewarding work. The vegan vision is of numerous landscapes gone to waste, for many areas are suitable only for grazing and without the work that goes into sustaining that grazing will become places of thistles and docks. The vegan vision is of the disappearance of livestock, for no-one can afford to maintain stock for no reason. The vegan vision would bring the destruction of rural England, the end of farming across much of the country.
There is an unscientific anthropomorphism in vegan objections to farming. Animals are accorded a status equal to that of humans. Given the choice between saving the life of a human and that of an animal, some vegans give the impression that they would save the latter.
Inevitably, vegan choices are choices that affect market prices, but they would be loath to accept that their desire for imported foodstuffs such as rice inevitably affects the cost of those staples for poorer people. Nor do they acknowledge that their diet requires the considerable processing of foods.
If vegans wish to pursue their anti-environmental lifestyle, rejecting millennia of human development, that’s their choice. I’m not going to go around putting up posters highlighting the destruction they would bring, perhaps it is too much to expect that they would show a similar tolerance in return.