The politics of food

IssueOctober 2005
Feature by Jenny Gaiawyn

An important part of nonviolence is respect for the sanctity of life and the rejection of behaviour that humiliates or degrades other humans.

People all around the world make nonviolence a part of their life, work and activism, yet it is a minority who extend the practice to include animals.

Concurrently there are people who campaign for the right of animals not to be mistreated whilst seeming to ignore the same abuses when they are used against people.

I believe that nonviolence and veganism are part of the same thing and that--if we are serious about creating a more peaceful and just world - the politics of food cannot be ignored.

Destroy the myths

From piglets cramped into tiny pens turning to cannibalism out of boredom, to women in Bangladesh raped and abused as a result of the Mafiosa-style running of shrimp farms, the meat and dairy industry is steeped in violence and abuses of both animals and people.

Forget the idyllic images (myths) of farming where sheep and cows roam the countryside peacefully eating. There is nothing pretty about the meat and dairy industry.

As well as the inherent torture and murder involved, animal and dairy farming also represents a misuse of finite resources: millions of gallons of water are wasted irrigating crops to be fed to cattle in countries where the majority of the population do not have access to clean and safe water.

Change starts at home

The excuse often given that "I could never go vegan because I would miss bacon/cheese/chocolate/etc" is naive and an attempt to avoid responsibility over individual actions.

Not only are there now tasty alternatives to all non-vegan foods, the unnecessary suffering of animals and people to satisfy a food craving is obscene.

It is easy to look around the world at things like the "war on terror", take to the streets and proclaim our objections to violence in far-off places and calling on the world leaders to do something about it without looking within our own lives and taking responsibility and control over them.

There is no need to inflict torture, suffering and pain on enslaved animals, we have the intelligence, knowledge and technology to eat a normal and healthy vegan diet. It doesn't have to mean giving up eating for pleasure (check out a recipe opposite!).

Expanding the analysis

Veganism is not necessarily ethical in itself, there are other issues to be considered too when buying food, such as where the food has come from, whether the soya is genetically modified (though the greatest consumers of soya are not vegans, but cows), fair-trade and organics.

People around the world living in poverty spend their lives tied up in an endless struggle to provide goods and commodities to the richer countries, for example farming their land to produce tobacco for export rather than food crops for local consumption. Rainforests are felled threatening the survival of indigenous peoples and irreplaceable ecosystems to produce cheap meat, rivers and seas are polluted with pesticides and farm run-off.

Make a difference

Eating ethically is an easy way to make a real difference: rather than giving money to companies and practices that are abhorrent we can chose to support those that are in line with our politics.

Being vegan, and eating ethically and sustainably, is an integral part of acting in a responsible, civilised and humane manner and creating a world that is more just for all.