The Shame of Being a Meat Eater

I have a terrible confession to make: I really like meat. I know, I’m a monster. Not literally, like the Loch Ness Monster or Albi the racist dragon, but for liking and consuming my fair share of beef, chicken, pork and lamb et al. I do sometimes feel rather under the cosh. At best we’re viewed by ‘the other side’ as ignorant and irresponsible citizens unaware of the terrible treatment we’re subjecting our fellow animal earth dwellers to, and at worst we’re condemned as callous and evil murderers with a disgusting lust for sweet chilli chicken.

I’m slightly over exaggerating of course, but I can’t be the only one who has noticed the increasing number of social media content from animal rights organisations such as Mercy For Animals, the UK Cattle Protection League, Colin the Chicken for President (ok I made the latter two up) showing often graphic content depicting animal cruelty and death. The point of such content appears pretty similar all round, to encourage the consumer to abandon meat and embrace a vegetarian lifestyle, or even better, a vegan one. Moreover, such campaigns seem to imply that in continuing to eat meat we’re responsible for the suffering of farmed animals, and that if we all just embraced a meat free lifestyle everything would be ok. It’s all enough to make this writer feel rather guilty.

Now I’m not here to deny that animal cruelty is indeed cruel and that more should be done to encourage more compassionate practices throughout the world, absolutely, 100 per cent. Yet I’m really not sure shifting the burden of responsibility on to the consumer is the way to go; this being the case both from a pragmatic perspective – I’m not sure this is the most effective strategy to achieve better animal welfare practices, or from a fairness perspective – whilst consumers make certain choices in terms of what they buy it is unfair to blame consumer for animal cruelty. Both points centre on a number of key variables which as far as I can tell are almost entirely ignored by social media campaigns; industry, government and regulation.

In shifting the focus almost exclusively on consumer ‘choice’ such campaigns and organisations ignore the levers and powers of industry and government to affect change. After all, isn’t this where the real problem lies, in industry practices and techniques used to exploit animals for profit? It is these powers that ‘hold all the cards’ in terms of controlling conditions for millions of animals, and as a result it would surely be a better use of time to lobby these stakeholders rather than target individual consumers by shovelling guilt onto them.

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say such campaigns actually let industry, government and regulatory bodies off the hook. This is done by implying (albeit implicitly) that individuals are to blame for animal cruelty for making the choice to buy meat, and not those with legal duties of care who could implement wide scale reforms that’d improve conditions for livestock and still ensure a healthy profit for industry. Put another way, if I were a large scale meat processor or farmer I’d actually get behind campaigns like those by Mercy for Animals. I might say for instance; ‘yeah look guys, we’re just producing what consumers want here, if consumers told us that they wanted more ethically produced meat then we’d do it, but they don’t, so they’re the ones actually responsible for the cruelty.’

Having said all of that, let’s assume industry and regulators actually do take the mettle and agree to transnational change which results in happier more, less ethically challenged animals. Would that be enough for some animal rights campaigners? Not a chance. There’s a strong underlying moral assumption at play here, namely that animals and humans are of equal value. To eat them is implied as being akin to murder and morally reprehensible. Meat consumption should therefore be eradicated and veganism should be embraced by the World’s populace. True, other motivations such as the supposed health and financial benefits of veganism are also touted as motivators (worth an article and more in itself) but the truth it seems to me underpinning the philosophy of many of the more radical animal rights groups is that animals are on a par (in every sense of the word) with homo sapiens. This in turn explains why they employ the tactics that they do.

This I think needs addressing. What if, like me, you think animals do have intrinsic worth as living organisms and should therefore not be cruelly treated but that humans are uniquely and inherently more valuable? If you believe in animal testing for cancer treatments, or merely eating meat because it’s just so darned tasty then this principal won’t be new to you. In other words, if you do believe in a ‘hierarchy of value’ then you should have no qualms and feel no guilt about utilising animals, whether for survival or enjoyment.

In closing, I like meat. I always have done and probably always will. Yet I also accept the arguments regarding how animal welfare standards could and should improve. But what is the best way to go about this? Lobby government, regulators and industry. Don’t load all the responsibility onto the consumer. Doing so is both futile (whilst some may be converted to vegetarianism and veganism, many more will go about their lives eating meat like it’s on sale for £19.99) and ignores where the real power lies in the battle for improved animal welfare. Thus, those who wish to pursue a meat or animal product free diet should of course be entirely free to do so. But I beg of you, please no more sensationalist videos or photos? Write a letter to your MP, go and have a nice chat with your local cattle farmer, fly to Brussels! All three would surely be a better use of your time.

Right, I’m off to McDonald’s for five Big Macs.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Win is Good News, Even if you Don’t Agree with him

So, apparently the ‘unthinkable’ has happened. In shock news, the polls (and YouGov in particular) were absolutely spot on and Jeremy Corbyn, maverick socialist, was by some distance elected leader of the Labour Party. It’s clear, given the massive margin of victory, that his views and general way of ‘doing politics’ resonate with many. It’s also obvious that a number of others, not least in his own party, do not see things his way. Yet I want to argue that whether or not you happen to personally approve of ‘Corbynism’, his arrival into the upper echelons of UK politics is good news.

First and foremost, it’s abundantly apparent that Corbyn and his team (not least his left wing firebrand friend John McDonnell, now shadow chancellor) will vociferously challenge the neo-liberal consensus that has dominated the middle ground of British politics since the mid 1990’s. That is, Tony Blair, through his New Labour project embraced and promoted policies that quite simply would have been unheard of in the Labour Party before the mid 1990’s – epitomised through, for example, PFI and New Labour’s various economic policies. Corbyn and his team, who comprehensively reject this way of doing things, will offer an alternative to the British electorate. It won’t be unbridled communism (despite what some commentators say) but it’ll be genuinely different from what we’ve been offered by the major parties in the past 20 years or so.

This presence of an alternative (not just economic, I hasten to add) isn’t just good in itself; it’s good for democracy and it has the potential to reignite what for many UK citizens has become an increasingly stale, boring and irrelevant political and policy process. In other words, the arrival of Corbyn will give the British political process a kick up the proverbial. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying what Corbyn is offering is necessarily better than what we have now, but it’s an alternative that could engage people and get them thinking about politics in a way they haven’t before. This has to be good for British democracy.

Corbyn has already shown that he intends to do things his own way, and that he won’t be corralled by Westminster hacks into presenting himself in ‘the right way’. This is apparent through his shadow cabinet selection, his refusal to commit to doing TV and radio interviews, and his commitment (confirmed by his first appearance today) to approach parliamentary institutions like Prime Minister’s Questions differently. Out with the theatrics and Punch and Judy pantomime style hectoring and in with more reasoned, fact based and sensible debate.

Further, many seem to underestimate the pronounced anti-establishment and markedly left wing mood present throughout much of Europe at the moment. As such, lots will baulk at the prospect of Corbyn winning in 2020, but who could have predicted what has happened in Greece with SYRIZA and what is happening in Spain with Podemos? It would be wrong of course to blindly assume what has happened elsewhere in parts of Europe will happen here, but present events around the continent is showing politics to be an increasingly unpredictable beast. As such, it would be unwise to rule anything out come 2020.

Secondly, even if (as I suspect) Corbyn doesn’t win in five years time, his leadership won’t have been for nothing. No, as well as the reasons already given, Corbyn’s promotion may finally force Labour to have a tough conversation that in all honesty it needed to have since its defeat to Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010. Namely, what does its future look like? Does it go back to the centrism that gave it power for 13 years under Blair and Brown, or does it carve out a new direction under a new leader? One got the impression that Ed Miliband tried to do this under his own headship but couldn’t quite pull it off, whereas a more fearless Corbyn may force Labour to confront its divisions front and centre. Yes, this might mean a Labour loss in 2020, but such an approach could reap dividends in the longer term as Labour is compelled to carve out a new direction, with or without Corbyn as its leader. This is both good for Labour supporters and has the potential to win back those previously unimpressed with what they’ve put forward in the past.

Others also seem to forget how dull as dishwater the Labour leadership election was before Corbyn turned up. Let’s not kid ourselves, neither Burnham, Cooper or Kendall would have (barring a massive economic catastrophe between now and 2020) stood a real chance of leading Labour to victory in the next election. In light of this, why not use this time to both take a calculated risk (which could very well pay off) and give Corbyn a go and try and come up with a new direction to give the Tories a real fight? Again, this is good for those who identify with the left, those hoping for an effective opposition against the Conservatives and those as yet unconvinced by Labour. It is also worth mentioning that this process may have already begun via Corbyn’s apparent willingness to include the more centrist MP’s in decision making regarding party policy.

In closing, Corbyn’s leadership is good news, regardless of whether you agree with him, for two key reasons. First, and most importantly, Corbyn’s comparatively fresh approach to the political process has the potential to shake up politics, engaging those who have lost interest in recent years. This has both wide democratic benefits and may encourage those previously disenfranchised and uninterested in politics to take a greater interest. Second, Corbyn’s win may force Labour to engage in an honest conversation with itself about how it moves on from Blairism, a conversation which up until this point it had patently failed to have.

Hence, Corbyn’s arrival is likely to include a fair number of thrills and spills, and represents the most major political event in recent years. As such, you’d be very wise not to take your eyes off this one!