Let me start by stating that I am an unlikely vegan and not a particularly good vegan. So any ethical vegans; feel free to criticise me and I will not defend myself. It is true. I am a bad vegan.
As a teenager my loves were chemistry and biology, in that order. But as I approached university, I realised I lacked the maths skills for a career in chemistry. Also a work placement as an analyst put me into the way of professional chemists, who advised me to take any career path other than the one they had chosen. So I spent three years at Queen Mary, University of London following a degree course in Zoology and Comparative Physiology and a further few years at what is now Royal Holloway, University of London studying for my doctorate in a small, old fashioned Department of Zoology. During that time, I was elected a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, an honour I retain, and I held a Home Office licence which enabled me to conduct small animal surgery under anaesthesia. Not very vegan. I also loved meat and all things meaty.
After 13 years in the pharmaceutical industry and five years back in academia in New York I bought a small farm, where I spent five years as an ethical farmer, rearing sheep, pigs, cows, goats and chickens, all with names. From time to time I took one into the barn, killed it, butchered it and ate it. The children asked not “what is for dinner tonight”, but “who is for dinner tonight”. All any of us can hope for is a good life and a good death. My animals enjoyed both.
But now I no longer rear animals and I cannot say how they live and die. So I have stopped eating them. I have to report that not eating animals was one of my better decisions and i cannot help but recommend it to all my friends and everyone else as well.
However I am a bad vegan. I put milk in my tea and put butter on my bread. There: I admitted it. Oh and I sometimes even wear leather shoes. I don’t think I could manage without a splash of Alderney milk in my tea. Nothing else tastes the same. And on Alderney, the local farmer makes the most wonderful butter from the cream he skims off his skimmed milk. It is rich and golden and hard as nails. The cows look happy and eat grass in the summer and silage in the winter. The calves are not slaughtered for veal, but have a good life as bullocks until the time comes for them to make the very short journey to the Alderney slaughterhouse. I feel no need to eat them myself, but it does not seem too bad a life.
A few minutes spent online will catalogue some of the horrors of factory farming. The unimaginable cruelties suffered by some pigs and chickens in particular. The barbaric ritual methods of slaughter practised by some whose lives are still ruled by stone age superstitions. The environmental problems caused by slurry and factory fish farms. I do not need to repeat them here – the information is there for all to see.
My message today is simple. If you eat meat 7 days a week, try to cook without exploiting any animal products on at least one of those days. You will find that a meal can be just as satisfying, just as full of flavour – certainly more interesting than meat and two veg. Again, just go online and search for vegan recipes – or vegetarian if you want a halfway house. If you go out for a meal – try a vegan restaurant if you can find one. My favourite treat when I pass through Edinburgh is a meal at Hendersons. If you end up somewhere else that caters primarily for carnivores, take a close look at the vegetarian/vegan options. Push your boundaries. Be brave. You never know, you just might like it!