The Austerity Pantry Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted on an an experimental approach to food in Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry.

I had challenged myself to pare the contents of our pantry down to 35 items including herbs, spices and beverages. It still seemed extravagant in the face of this family’s meagre week’s worth of groceries.  Having switched to a vegan diet for ethical reasons with comparative ease and a minimum of fuss 20 months earlier, I was keen to see what other possibilities opened up:

  • To eat a nutritionally sufficient, wholesome diet at a much lower cost
  • To eat a delicious diet without recourse to rare and exotic ingredients
  • To align our diet to global norms rather than those determined by our gluttonous society
  • To prove it possible to eat well on £15 per head per week
  • To save money by buying ingredients in bulk that would definitely be used
  • To cultivate an enjoyment of a simpler palette of tastes
  • To remove fatty and processed foods from the menu altogether
  • To flirt with the tantalising possibility of going fridge-free
  • To minimise trips to the supermarket

Well …

I have to admit a number of additional ingredients and indulgences have crept back onto the shopping list in the intervening months due to bad habits and convenience,  but not due to necessity. I also discovered a couple of new delicious dishes that didn’t fit the restricted pantry. Nevertheless, there seemed to be something attainable here that just slipped away.

Three particular areas were especially challenging:

Bread – I wanted to commit to only consuming bread that I had baked myself. The plan was to get a sourdough going that would not require yeast to be replenished as one of the 35 items. In reality, sadly my life is too hectic for sourdough and bread products on supermarket shelves proved irresistible.

Spices – These are relatively cheap and add instant variety, and 25g of most things lasts a good while, so the spice rack was never really reduced.

Staples – Under the heading of  “rice”, I managed to sneak in four different varieties (that’s cheating), and I  started exploring quinoa. I have since decided that quinoa is a “no-no” because it has become stupidly expensive and the poor Bolivians who grow it can’t even afford it.

However …

 

Bean Slop and Polenta

Bean Slop and Baked Polenta

I was recently summoned to view the multicoloured spreadsheet of household finances that my wife painstakingly keeps in order. It was there in black and white (or rather pink, green and blue) that I have failed on numerous promises to bring the wayward grocery bill under control. A few hours later, my reflection in a shop window provided an unwelcome reminder that the mirror on our landing is unreliable and distorts my wayward girth in a flattering way, too.

It is time to recommit to “The Austerity Pantry”.

This time, I am anchoring it to a rolling menu of eight or nine basic evening meals with porridge for breakfast and  soup or jacket potatoes for lunch. For the curious, this is how it looks at the moment:

  1. Lentil hotpot
  2. Pasta and sauce (generally prepared with leftovers)
  3. Chilli beans with rice
  4. Savoury rice (pilau)
  5. Chick pea curry (type and strength varies)
  6. Roast vegetables with polenta or couscous
  7. Bean slop (this is somewhere between a soup and a casserole and goes well with leftover polenta)
  8. Lentil dal
  9. Risotto (with mushrooms or whatever vegetables are to hand)

In theory, this regime can be sustained on a monthly bulk-buy of pulses, staples and spices, supplemented with a weekly selection of local organic veg … and a fridge is not really needed …

WIN!

Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry

Before we got rid of our TV, I was becoming weary of the amount of hours dedicated to cookery programs which encourage people to “fetishize” food and slaver over exotic culinary preparations. Historically, an unhealthy fascination with gourmandise seems to have proliferated in civilisations on the cusp of decline and I think we are no exception.

It was this extraordinary photographic project from the book “Hungry Planet” that gave me the impetus to embark on my next experiment in simplicity.

Not only do I feel convicted about the excesses of our western diet but it has become a matter of financial importance to rationalise our grocery bill. I have also noticed that the only times I have been successful in losing weight and enjoying the benefits of a healthier diet where when I pursued a simple and fairly repetitive “ethnic” diet in the past.

Previously this consisted of a “raw” porridge of soaked oats for breakfast (with salt or honey), miso soup for lunch and simply prepared vegetables for tea (usually stir fried with rice or noodles). Knowing that the majority of people in the world do a full day’s work on a bowl of rice or some other staple, with some sort of garnish, convinces me that it must be possible to flourish on a much simpler diet.

Kneading

Only eating our own baked bread has helped me to cut down a bread addiction.

I think it was Mahatma Gandhi who said the table fork is the most destructive weapon wielded by humans. For ethical reasons, meat and dairy no longer make an appearance on our plates but I have noticed how I have still clung to the pursuit of a rich and exotic palate. After paying our mortgage, it is our grocery bill that consumes the next greatest segment of our household income. No small contributor to this is the tendency to need a specific, exotic ingredient for a particular dish, that usually prompts a trip to the supermarket where a number of luxury “treats” also tend to be put in the basket before the checkout is reached.

For the sake of austerity and health and in order to bring our pantry more into line with the simple food of our fellow humans in poorer parts of the world, the next step was to cut the number of ingredients available.

Initially I have opted to limit the entire grocery stock to 35 items. This is still incredibly generous in world terms and I think we will still be enjoying a richer and more varied diet than most global citizens. However, it is just an experimental step in the general direction of a simpler existence. At the same time I hope to cut the weekly grocery bill to £30 a week for the two of us. I think that is realistic.

So, for the curious, here is the new stock list:

Staples
1. Rice (at the moment this is white basmati rice)
2. Pasta (dry fusilli)
3. Rolled Oats (jumbo organic – for raw porridge and the occasional flapjack)
4. Wholemeal Flour (for bread making and other baking)
5. Maize or Plantain Meal (African staples that are filling and nutritious and hopefully making more frequent appearances as I learn how to prepare them)

Pulses (Our core source of protein – I adore all beans but had to pick my favourites)
6. Lentils (for bulking up soups and preparing dhals)
7. Butter Beans (I usually use in stews or mash)
8. Mung Beans (for sprouting and other uses)
9. Chick Peas (one of the most important items in our diet of curry, hummus and falafel; also delicious roasted as a snack)
10. Red Kidney Beans (mainly end up prepared with chilli or refried, Mexican style)

Ingredients
11. Olive Oil (only used sparingly for dipping and dressing)
12. Rapeseed Oil (absolutely my oil of choice, a great “butter” substitute in most recipes and doesn’t burn easily)
13. Salt (of course)
14. Agave Nectar (trying to switch refined sugar out for this)
15. Vinegar (prefer cider vinegar for most purposes but it will be a case of what is available)
16. Cocoa Powder (Probably one of my most useful ingredients, not just for hot chocolate and baking projects but I have it on my oats and am currently exploring other uses)

Seasoning (these tend to be ones that are easily and cheaply bought in bulk)
17. Chilli Powder
18. Paprika
19. Coriander
20. Cumin
21. Black Pepper
22. Mixed Herbs

Miscellaneous
23. Dessicated Coconut (for baking and dhals and other curries, can be soaked and blended for use as “creamed coconut”)
24. Almonds (appearing a lot these days, I’m learning to prepare my own almond milk)
25. Dried Dates (use as a sweetener and a snack)
26. Tinned Tomatoes

Beverages
27. Tea (for drinking but also makes rice more interesting, just as toasted rice makes a cup of tea more interesting …)
28. Ground Coffee
29. Rooibos (also known as Red Bush Tea, can be used as a herb in cooking)
30. Peppermint Tea

Vegetables
31. Garlic (I’m not ashamed to say we eat a lot of it and I believe in its medicinal properties)
32. Onions (everything starts with onions)
33. 3 Other Seasonal Vegetables

I don’t expect to be either bored or malnourished … but I’ll let you know how we get on.

Milk Monday: Thoughts on a Calf Killing, Carbon Footprints and Consumerism

Calf roping

Not to mislead you, this is a calf being roped at a rodeo, not shot at a dairy. (Image via Wikipedia)

Last week was interesting …

For a start, the Daily Mail published a story about a deformed calf being taken from its mother and shot on a farm in the Bristol area that supplies milk to Cadbury’s. It was just one of the many cruel details uncovered by a Viva! investigation. This was “shocking” enough to make national news, heart-rending pictures of a helpless baby animal being dragged away from its mother and killed. However, as many commenters on the article pointed out, this sort of thing happens every single day and it is an unavoidable practice, necessary to the continuing production of milk, cheese, yoghurt, and chocolate that our nation is so addicted to.

Implicit in the practice of taking milk from cows for human consumption is the need to remove their calves. The fate of these calves depends on their sex. If they are males, they will be slaughtered in one way or another. If they are females, they can look forward to a fraction of their natural lifespan which will consist of 4-5 pregnancies before they are exhausted and only good for pet food – either way, it’s “shocking”.

Comments on the original article in the Mail have been locked, as I imagine it quite quickly descended into a shouting match. I got to read a few on the day it was published and they certainly seemed to be going in that direction with the same tired views being wheeled out. It is certain that issues such as this have an extraordinary potential to bring out very strong feelings. people commenting on the article seemed to fall into one of three categories:

The Compassionist

This is a meat and dairy consumer who is outraged, “I think it is awful, how could they do that to the poor calf, this has to be stopped“. This person may or may not change their buying habits and seek out “ethical” sources and they may or may not seek to apply pressure on producers and retailers by political methods. They hope that things might change so they can continue to consume with a clear conscience.

The Farmer

These are the people who I have personally had the most anger from, “you have no idea how hard it is to make a living out here, you city people are so soft and sentimental, we love our animals, you have no right to comment.” This is like a shop keeper shouting at a customer, “you have no right to ask stupid questions about my wares, just shut up and buy them and leave the selling to me!” At the end of the day I know farming is a hard way to make a living and our farmers are like public servants, working against the odds to keep the country fed, but I’m the customer. In some ways it doesn’t matter if the producer agrees with what I do or don’t want, nobody is obligated to buy the product if it disgusts them, and everyone has a right to know about and hold an opinion on where something they are going to eat or drink comes from.

The Vegan

Smug sometimes but generally exasperated in tone, “yeah, this is the exact reason why I don’t consume animal flesh or secretions, there is no way round this except to stop consuming as I did 20 years ago.” This person is likely to believe that putting pressure on suppliers through various means is a waste of time and that the real power lies in reducing demand through abstension and educating others so they can make reasoned choices.

I’m sorry, it’s obvious that I am biased here. I love vegans, I admire them and I feel at home with them. They frequently strike me as people who don’t have time for excuses and who are prepared to change themselves before they try to change others. They come from all faiths and no faiths and all walks of life, they are (in my experience) generally pretty unsentimental about animals, too, believing that non humans don’t need our pity, they just need their dignity.

In Other News

The Environmental Working Group  published analysis of the “food footprint” of the western diet, based mainly on US data, revealing (not unexpectedly) that lamb, beef, cheese, and pork have the most extreme carbon footprints per kg produced. The analysis included production and processing costs for these foods. Dried beans, milk, tomatoes, and lentils found their tiny way into the bottom of the graph.

The report states:

By eating and wasting less meat (especially red and processed meat) and cheese, you can simultaneously improve your health and reduce the climate and environmental impact of food production. And when you do choose to eat meat and cheese, go greener. There are many environmental, health and animal welfare reasons to choose meat and dairy products that come from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. It may cost more, but when you buy less meat overall, you can afford to go healthier and greener. (A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health: by Kari Hamerschlag, EWG Senior Analyst)

It’s a shame that this report was very much aimed at promoting the “go on consuming, folks, just make sure you do it greenly” approach. It makes me aware of a growing discomfort I sense in myself over the whole “ethical consumer” thing; and I am just about to unfashionably question everything in this area from “happy” eggs to Fair-Trade, so cover your ears now …

The Jugular

What if the answer is not to try to swing the whole consumer paradigm around to something that is more “ethical” but to actually boycott the game and find something that goes a lot deeper. When I “went vegan” I suddenly found that I had not escaped this, I had just transferred myself into another niche market and suddenly I was the recipient of, “BUY this, it’s vegan.” As a Christian, I am likewise a nice little category of consumer, “BUY this it’s Christian, it will change your forever and revolutionise your spiritual life.” As someone who wants to be ethical, I haven’t bucked the system at all I’ve just made myself open to “BUY this, it will enable you to continue to live as you always have but with a clearer conscience.”

BUY fair trade coffee and bananas? Shouldn’t I be asking, “do I really need coffee and bananas in my life” and “do the people who grow them need my nice money so that they can become consumers like me?”

I’m thinking out loud, here, so please don’t shoot me down. Constructive engagement is appreciated if it will help me (or us) to work these things through.

Milk Monday: Why Aren’t You Vegan?

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I get asked why I am vegan. This was more common when I first transitioned into abstaining from animal products. Nowadays I am more likely to get what seems like polite and accommodating indifference. I sit at tables longing for someone to pop the question and give me permission to discuss something that is very close to my heart. I don’t know why the opportunity is so rare, I get the impression that veganism is still considered to be a bit extreme and I also live in fear of putting people off by claiming a moral high ground – which it is hard not to do.

If I’m feeling belligerent I want to throw back the question, “why aren’t you vegan?” It seems odd to me that I should justify choosing not to consume certain things rather than asking others to justify why they do consume certain things.

On the rare occasions when I do get asked, I feel as if I have just a sentence or two to summarise a multi-faceted and very profound lifestyle choice and hook people into the fascinating conversation that may follow. The door is open for a moment to talk about non-violence as a way of life, about the glory and riches of a vegetable-based diet, to uncover the moral contradictions that appear on our plates and, hopefully, help that person to come a step closer to deciding to change one thing that will change a thousand other things for the better.

However, since that door opens very rarely I have to store all my openers somewhere, so please forgive me, dear reader, if I dump a few of them here. In all this I need to remember that I was once a fully signed up carnivore and a practitioner of polite indifference myself:

Actually, I’m not “a vegan” and I don’t consider that I belong to a certain category. I am simply someone who chooses as a matter of preference on a moment by moment basis not to participate in all that consuming animal products entails – for all sorts of reasons that I’d be happy to discuss.

Because I am an incurable epicurean hedonist and I have to confess that living animals give me a lot more joy than dead ones, and no amount of mint sauce is going to change that.

Because I am morally opposed to violence and the exploitation of all sentient creatures for the transparently frivolous ends of my own personal gratification.

Because I ran out of reasons not to be.

Because my body can get all it needs from delicious fruit and vegetables and no-one gets hurt.

Because I was vegetarian for a few weeks before I discovered that it was a meaningless gesture.

I don’t like violence in my food-chain or anywhere.

Because being vegan is probably the biggest single thing I can do to reduce my carbon footprint.

Because I can’t morally justify our use of animals.

Because if everyone isn’t vegan in ten years time then the world food crisis will be much worse and society will be sicker than ever.

Because meat is dead flesh, milk is for baby cows, eggs are a chicken’s menstruation and leather is somebody else’s skin.

Because I think consuming animals and animal secretions is wrong.

Because I wouldn’t eat or milk my dog or wear her skin, why should I do that to any other creature that has an equal interest in living and thriving.

Because I live in anticipation of a day when God says “nothing will hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Because I think scripture teaches that the shedding of all blood is an extremely serious matter.

Because I think it is self evident that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak whoever they are.

Because being vegan helps me to integrate my beliefs with my actions in a concrete way.

I think most people would be vegan if they really thought through what our use of animals involves.

Because it is about a lot more than what we eat or wear. Veganism implies an integral commitment to non-violence and fighting all forms of oppression.

Because the only argument I can find in favour of continuing to consume animal products is that they taste nice and as an anthropologist I am convinced that taste is cultural and not chemical.

For people, for animals, for the planet and for my own health.

Because it is fun.

I guess that’s my starter for ten. Being vegan is very easy and simple, talking about it is difficult and complex. What would be your answer in a nutshell as to why you are or are not vegan?

Here are a couple of good websites about veganism that have some great resources:

Vegan Means

Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach

Foraging Friday: Chicken … of the Woods!

Pic of Chicken of the Woods

You might have to climb for these!

One of the most exciting things to find and eat at this time of year is Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly and aptly named “Chicken of the Woods”. Appearing from April and sticking around into November, this bracket fungus grows mainly on dead and dying Oaks in the UK. It is nice and easy to recognise but may be inaccessibly high for foragers without crampons. Look for the distinctive clusters of overlapping fans that are bright yellow, turning more orangey as the specimen matures. It takes a good while to establish itself before the fruit actually appears, but once you have located one of these, you will generally be able to revisit it for several years.

Eating

This is a great eater and it really does behave and taste a little like chicken when you cook it. It is important, though, if it is your first time, to try a small quantity as it has been known to cause stomach upsets in some people – and it must ALWAYS be cooked. When gathering it, make sure you pick the younger yellow fans as older parts of the fruit are more bitter and tough.

A lot like chicken

When you get them home, clean them up and chop into slices. The mushroom will keep well in the freezer for later use. I generally blanch them before cooking them, to be sure that they are well cooked and to take any bitterness off. My favourite way to eat these is to make up a fairly heavy batter to dip them in and then fry up some “chicken nuggets” using oil that has been sitting for a week or so with some lemon rind in it to give it a citrussy edge. You can use it as you would use chicken in any recipe but make sure that it is always well cooked.

Disclaimer

Please don’t use my Foraging Friday posts for identification purposes, get a couple of decent books to double check your identification. You are responsible for what you eat. Follow the guidance in my article on “Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms“. I won’t be held responsible for people falling out of trees, either (ahem).

"Chicken (of the woods) Nuggets"

Milk Monday: What Are We Consuming?

A cow restrained for slaughter. Some ethicists...

Terrified Cow Restrained for Slaughter (via Wikipedia)

I am often asked about my abstention from animal products, by someone sitting across the table who is tucking into a cheesy chicken breast. I never fail to be amused by the oddness of the situation but people are often quite surprised to hear the lowdown on what they are chewing on.

I’m indebted to the Not In My Cuppa campaign for the compilation of “Milk Facts” from various sources and Ahimsa Diary’s “Questions to Discuss” documents for giving me some ammo. My aim is always to help people to be informed and leave them to make their own choices.

I frequently highlight the impending danger that dairy production in the UK is about to take a big step in the wrong direction if plans for the Nocton super dairy go through. You can read more about this threat in other Milk Monday posts.

As a society, we are addicted to milk, drinking about 5 billion litres a year. In spite of this, as a nation, we produce all our own milk. Supply is neatly balanced with demand, with farmers getting about 23p per litre of milk that is then sold on from the supermarket shelves at about 90p per litre. Most supermarkets have their own dedicated suppliers and long term relationships with individual farmers. Many major supermarkets have also declared that they do not intend to resource milk from the proposed factory farm and a Mori Poll uncovered that 61% of Brits would not knowingly buy milk from such an intensive line.

Quite apart from the potential effects on the environment and local community and the industrialised exploitation of animals, the question has to be asked whether we really need the Nocton Dairy. Traditionally our needs have been supplied by hundreds of farmers managing herds of between 50 and 200 animals. Unless demand is set to increase, there is the very real potential of direct competition from the 3000 plus Nocton herd forcing many farmers out of business.

The dairy industry would like to convince us that we cannot live without milk. We have all been drip fed from childhood that the white stuff is essential and healthy. If demand does grow it will be a triumph of marketing and a headlong plunge into what I consider to be an unthinking consumerist addiction to the milk myth.

I like to think that if people really knew what our choice to consume dairy products involves, they would consider total abstention.

The livestock industry is one of the largest sources of carbon and methane emissions in the world. Both these greenhouse gasses are driving global warming. In terms of land use and energetics, it is extremely inefficient and unsustainable.  Since animals consume more protein that they put into the food chain, and the average dairy cow consumes a staggering 100 litres of water a day. Sustaining the western diet in this way is leaving other people hungry. As prosperity increases in non-western nations they will tend to transition to a western diet so the effect is only set to increase.

The natural lifespan of a cow is about 20 years but a dairy cow can expect to be slaughtered after just 5 years having been exhausted by calving 3-4 times in her life and milked dry for our benefit.

For people who consider that giving up meat is sufficient to avoid complicity in animal slaughter, it needs to be pointed out that dairy production requires that male calves and spent females are disposed of in slaughter houses just like their beef-producing cousins. In order to take milk for human consumption it is also necessary to remove a young calf from its mother before it is naturally weaned and this is extremely distressing to both mother and calf, severing one of the most primal and instinctive bonds that exist in nature. It is extremely difficult to resource slaughter free milk in the UK at the moment and pretty much impossible to buy milk from cows that have not had their calves prematurely taken from them.

Humans managed without milk for millions of years and we could do so again.

Additional Sources:

dairyco.org.uk

thisisdairyfarming.com

Milk Monday: Twelve Talking Points

Notes on a Personal Journey Towards Veganism

This is a long “thinking out loud” post and so I apologise but also want to say at the outset that I am a work in progress and just finding my way along; so I’m happy to engage in constructive discussion.

Sometimes I am embarassed to admit that it was “Skinny Bastard” (The male version of “Skinny Bitch“) that tipped the balance for me. It is rampant vegan propaganda, it is emotive, it repeatedly uses a mere handful of original scientific sources, it relies on shock tactics but … it was enough to provoke me to respond to some nagging thoughts in the back of my mind.

I think the most significant change came when I was empowered to challenge the myth that humans NEED animal products in order to thrive. I had enough good ammunition for this from three years at university, studying anthropology and particularly specialising in behavioural ecology – but I had never really worked it through. If I didn’t need meat then the only arguments in favour of it were that it tasted nice and (as I’ll discuss shortly) what we think of as “delicious” is culturally constructed.

Vegetarian

The first and easy step was to stop eating meat. For this I was convinced initially by the environmental arguments and secondly by the animal welfare perspective and the health implications. I had already reduced meat consumption deliberately in light of the recognition that our western habits of meat eating once or twice a day are simply unsustainable in global terms. Giving up meat is a “no-brainer”.

It is easy to give up meat and it is enormously enjoyable to rediscover the joy of vegetables in their own right. The only awkwardness was dealing with the social fallout of changing from someone who would eat anything to being the fussy one when giving and receiving hospitality or eating out.

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

Yuk!

Initially, I determined to be vegetarian at home but when receiving hospitality, to allow gratitude to triumph and to eat whatever people were kind enough to prepare for me. However, a vegetarian friend gently suggested that this was ethically inconsistent and that abstaining from meat at all times was an opportunity to “witness” to my moral principles. Fair point. So now I was the fussy one and proud of it.

Ovo-vegetarian

I quicky surmised that all the arguments in favour of abstaining for meat held for dairy as well. I have had quite a bee in my bonnet about it ever since as my “Milk Monday” posts will make clear. At the end of the day, dairy products are not kind to animals, the environment or our bodies. It is clear to me that the only morally consistent way someone can be vegetarian but continue to consume dairy is (once again) because of taste. I know a few vegetarians who simply do not eat meat because they don’t like the taste of it. That’s fine, but if there is an ethical dimension to the choice then I don’t see how it is consistent to eat dairy which is just as dependent on slaughter and exploitation and just as damaging to the environment as meat. In fact, as Gary L. Francione points out (rightly I reckon) that there is more animal suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak.

So dairy was off the menu, too. At this stage I had not given much thought to eggs and didn’t want to go there just yet, relying on them for nutritional reasons and not yet having got used to cooking differently.

At this stage it was interesting to note some of the responses:

What do you do for protien?

Well, we don’t need as much protien as we think we do. 50-60 grams a day is enough and we can get that from a variety of nuts pulses, grains, vegetables and fungi.

What about Calcium?

Firstly it is not a matter of forcing as much calcium down our throats as possible, there are other factors that affect the absorbtion of calcium and particularly the need for vitamin D and magnesium. Secondly, there are plentiful non-dairy sources of calcium, like brown bread and green vegetables.

What about B vitamins?

Again these can be sourced from judicious use of green vegetables, fruit, yeast extracts and so on in the diet but I do take a supplement and some of the soya products I use are fortified.

What about humanely reared and slaughtered animals and “happy” milk?

These responses are getting into more interesting territory. Is there such a thing as “humane slaughter”. I think there might be. Roadkill might be a good example of this. The animal doesn’t see it coming and death is hopefully instantaneous. It is possible to sneak up on a hog and stun it before bleeding it, sure, but unless I saw the animal die I can’t be sure; and all the meat available to me comes from a process that happens behind closed doors. I cannot garuntee that just because the packet says it had a nice life and died happy that this is true.

There are different sorts of Happy Milk, too. The bottom line is that in order to consume milk we have to take from a cow what was intended for it’s calf and we at least need to rely on it to produce enough for us as well as the calf. From where I am standing, all this seems to be quite bizzarre considering that milk is a luxury and not a necessity. Nobody would suckle from a cow, but this is what we do, albeit in a clinically removed way. I suggested that it would make more sense if supermarkets sold human milk but who is going to agree that that is a good idea?

Why don’t you eat, say, wild caught fish?

Good question. The person who asks this has seen that there are environmental implications for farmed or trawled fish; but surely a salmon that has been hunted with a fair chance of escaping the hook is okay. Now the question comes down to an animal’s capacity to suffer and a humans moral right to inflict that suffering. It was pondering this question that lead me to make another step towards veganism.

Veganish

I concluded that there is enough scientific evidence to suggest that birds, mammals and fish are sentient beings with a capacity to suffer. I have also thought long and hard about my right to be complicit in the infliction of pain and distress in any form. I have concluded that it is not acceptable, and it could in fact be dangerous to our collective conscience as a race.

In conversation I keep coming back to the fact that consuming animal products is a choice based on taste rather than necessity. To abstain from them is not to make a great sacrifice at all but to embrace an integrated and wholistic way of life that is non-violent and ethically consistent. We are addicted to animal products and that can change. Honestly, food actually “tastes” better this way – in the broadest sense of the word. Show me an aubergine or a pile of lentils and a steak and ask me which one “tastes” better and there is no competition. For some, purely on the level of chemical pleasure, the steak might taste better, but surely there is more to the flavour of something than that? When we elevate stimulation of the senses above morality we are on shaky ground.

This is what is at the front of my mind when people in conversation try to ascertain under what circumstances I might be prepared to consume animal products. There is a sense that they are trying to find a way for me or them to escape from the ethical ban and find an acceptable way to maintain the addiction. That is honestly what it feels like to me. Whichever way I look at it I can’t escape the conviction that the aubergine is a wholesome, joyful and virtuous thing and the steak and cheese has nothing to commend it. I don’t need rescuing from an austere self-imposed diet I just want other people to be set free.

The Abolitionists

More recently I have stumbled accross a new sort of human, a growing global movement with a compelling vision of a vegan world in the future.

Abolitionists are part of a movement that draws inspiration from those who campaigned to end slavery in bygone times. They emphasise the personhood of animals and challenge our “speciesist” ideals. At the same time their critique goes deeper, challenging any form of oppression from a non-violent platform. In years to come, they believe we will look back on our exploitation of animals in the same way that we now regard slavery. Abolitionists are highly critical of “welfareists” who they regard as enemies of the true and fundamental ethical shift that needs to take place. The welfareists are just soothing our consciences without tackling the moral problem. I can’t do all the arguments justice here but encourage the curious to explore.

Check out the Abolitionist Approach Commentary Podcast, for instance.

I am really grateful to the abolitionists for the debate they are opening up and the ways they have helped me to think through my own ethical choices. However I am not quite ready to sign up wholeheartedly.

Pragmatics?

From a pragmatic point of view I would like to know what the plan is for humanity to transition away from dependence (psychological and otherwise) on animal products. Here I think some kind of “step-down” process would be necessary. We have created this monster and it needs to be dismantled carefully otherwise we have herds of dairy cows turned out to die. Transitioning to small-scale localised agriculture practicing as humanely as possible in respect of animals may be a way to go? From an educational point of view, too, welfarist organisations such as Peta and Animal Aid have helped me to progress in my thinking and have awakened my conscience rather than  merely soothing it.

I guess that is why I want to keep exploring dairy issues on Milk Mondays by keeping the debate open and exploratory, rather than coming down hard on one side.

Gary L. Francione who is a primary architect of the abolitionist approach seems like quite a reasonable guy who wants to really have conversations with people and help them think. But some of his disciples come accross as a bit shrill in their attacks. I can understand, because sometimes I want to shout at people to think about their choices and want to aggressively dismantle their thinking. I have not made any progress by being attacked but through having the opportunity for dialogue without feeling judged.

What about the Inuit?

Is there an abolitionst answer for ethnic groups who have good reason to depend on animals for survival because of where they live? It is difficult to see how their way of life could be suddenly altered without causing more suffering.

Theology

Ultimately, I think I am on a subtly different track to the abolitionists while very much appreciating their contribution. At the end of the day, it is us, not the animals, who are thinking about these issues and have the power to do something about it. That is a reflection of the fact that humans are uniquely placed in a position of responsibility and stewardship in relation to the rest of creation. I think this is not coincident but divine design. It is out of that sense of responsibility that I am making my choices. That makes me speciesist because I think humans are special – it’s what we do with that specialness that matters.

Scripture, which abolitionists may see as a homophobic, speciesist, racist, and sexist collection of documents, nevertheless begins and ends with a vision of a vegan world. Originally, humankind lives harmoniously in a garden, eating fruit and lording it over creation without a hint of exploitation. Ultimately, even the lion eats grass in a new creation and nothing hurts or harms on God’s holy mountain. I think that is the creator’s ultimate intention. That’s my dream, too. Being vegan gives me a taste of a time yet to come and is part of making it a reality now.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says Yahweh. (Isaiah 65:25 – WEB)

Veganism: A Truth Whose Time Has Come – M Butterflies Katz

The Vegan Solution – Angel Flinn