The Real Problem With Vegans

I'd been feeling sporadically guilty about eating meat ever since a two-year relationship with vegetarianism ended in a drunken assault on a chicken carcass in the summer of 1999.

Reading a lot about Buddhism over the past five years only made matters worse. You can't believe wholeheartedly in the interconnectedness of all things and still feel comfortable with the unutterable cruelty and assured environmental destruction that's inherent in animal agriculture. I've felt very strongly for a number of years that the only remotely ethical way to exist on this planet is to be vegan. I knew that one day I'd have to take the plunge.

Then in January 2016 I saw a video about the dairy industry that made me switch from cow's milk to soya milk. But even then I continued to eat cheese, butter and yoghurt (as well as meat and fish) and then when I moved to Amsterdam a few months later, I started drinking cream every day in my coffee. Frankly, at that stage, I would not have blamed you for doubting my commitment to animal welfare.


Fully committed vegans protesting sexily in Simon Amstell's Carnage.

The Straws That Broke the Camel's Back (Poor Camel)...
Then in March of this year I saw Carnage, Simon Amstell's funny and moving film set in an idyllic vegan future, and a few weeks later I went on a short holiday with friends of a friend, two of whom happened to be vegan. Once again, the guilt kicked in. I was not living the life I knew in my heart I should be living, and I had no excuse.

Then, on Tuesday 3rd May, someone didn't turn up to a sold-out screening of a new documentary film called What the Health at the Ketelhuis in Amsterdam, so at the very last minute, I was allowed in to see the film.

And that was that.

By the time I left the cinema that night, following the Q&A session with one of the film's writer-directors and the main on-screen protagonist, Kip Anderson, I knew the time had come. What the Health was the final straw.


As it was four weeks from that night to my birthday, I decided to go vegan on my birthday, giving myself a month to eat a freezer full of fish and ween myself off of some of my most powerful addictions: cheese, tuna, mayonnaise, cream, eggs and milk chocolate.

Ultimately, making the transition was easier than I thought. Rewatching the film online consolidated my decision and I actually poured my last half-carton of cream down the sink with still a week to go before my birthday, because I knew what it was doing to me, and I really wanted no further part of it. The genie was out of the bottle, and its pockets were full of falafel.


Mmmmmmmm, falafel.

Two Things What the Health Taught Me That I Didn't Already Know...
I have to be honest and confess that the main reason I decided to go vegan was finding out how bad meat, fish and dairy are for human health. So I'm a little ashamed that ultimately, it was selfishness that tipped the scales for me, but I guess there's no point beating myself up over it. The important thing is that I made the change.

What the Health concentrates — as its title suggests — on the impact eating animal products has on human health. Where Cowspiracy (the same filmmakers' previous documentary feature) focused on the environmental destruction of animal agriculture, What the Health focuses mostly on the effects on individual health, which, it transpires, are equally devastating.

The other thing the film made me aware of was the extent of the collusion between the meat, dairy and pharmaceutical industries, and the world's governments. What the Health brilliantly exposes the efforts made by these industries to promote the consumption of their products, in exactly the same way the tobacco industry did, despite the vast body of scientific research that illustrates how harmful it all is.

Watch this clip of corporate shill Robert Ratner rattled when challenged as to why the health organisation he represents (The American Diabetes Association) recommends bad food...

Unfortunately, when you start talking about global corporate conspiracies, you start to lose a lot of people. Even cynical people who might be instinctively predisposed to distrust the government roll their eyes when you tell them they've been systematically lied to all of their lives. I guess people don't want to admit that they've been manipulated. Which is silly. There's no shame in it. 

For me, once I saw the evidence placed before me in this film, I had no difficulty at all swallowing it. Rather, it dovetailed perfectly with everything else I've learned about capitalism and the relentless pursuit of profit at its heart. Of course the dairy industry does everything in its power to convince people that milk builds unbreakable bones and that eggs are a nutritional superfood. Of course meat and dairy behemoths fund study after study that support their products. And of course the pharmaceutical industry want you to get diabetes and osteoporosis. Your being sick is their bread and butter.

The Proof of the Bread and Butter Pudding...
What the Health is at its most powerful and incontrovertible when it delves into the lives of its case studies. In the first half of the film we meet three fairly typical middle-aged Americans, each of whom has a variety of diseases and ailments that must be maintained (not eradicated, mind you, but maintained) by a daily diet of endless pharmaceuticals.

Each of them, as a last resort and out of utter desperation, switches to a plant-based diet and in each case, they undergo extraordinary transformations within a matter of weeks. Ultimately they are all able to radically reduce the amount of pills they have to take, including medication for high blood pressure, constant pain, asthma, diabetes and depression.

And these are not isolated cases. Research I conducted on the back of the film turned up the same story again and again and again. People live longer healthier lives when they eat food made from plants. This is not up for debate.

The fact is, Meat is murder doesn't really begin to cover it. It's suicide too. And so is cheese.



The Antagonism of Carnists...
So it's coming up to one month now that I've been eating a plant-based diet. At first I wasn't prepared to call myself vegan, because I thought I might still eat honey and might one day require another leather jacket. I also thought it'd be easier to stave off criticism if I didn't toss the v-word around.

After four weeks, however, I've decided to embrace it. Early criticism has fortified me. Watching Earthlings has fortified me. I can live without leather and honey and wool very well. I'm doubling down. I'm saying it proud. I am vegan. And if you decide you can't respect that, then frankly — and I say this will all due respect — off you fuck. If I can live without mozzarella and parmesan, believe me, I can live without your negative ass too.

So yes, 28 days in, I can confirm that there are downsides to being vegan. I can also confirm that none of them matter a fig. There are, for example, definitely some restaurants that are neither equipped to cater for plant-based dietary requirements, nor particularly keen to learn. Oh well. Never mind. All that really means for me so far is that I will never return to Café Lennep.

The only other downside to switching to a plant-based diet is having to put up with the antagonism of other people. A disppointingly large number of people seem to take veganism as a personal affront, as if vegans choose not to be complicit in the murder of animals and the destruction of the environment solely to make meat-eaters feel slightly uncomfortable. I guess mostly, they feel judged. And perhaps that's understandable.

Still, the responses of some people have surprised me. One person told me that to give up meat and dairy for health reasons without simultaneously having a very active lifestyle is hypocritical. This, of course, is nonsense. It's the equivalent of saying you're not allowed to give up smoking if you're not also going to go to the gym three times a week. It simply isn't true. Even if I never did another stroke of exercise as long as I live, it would still be worth my while to stop ingesting things that are likely to negatively affect my health.

Another response is the simple dismissal of the notion of meat and dairy being bad for you. Those that argue this also seem to believe that vegetarians and vegans (especially vegans) are misguided extremists, unaware of the simple fact that human beings were actually designed to eat animals, that it always was this way and forever will be this way. End of.

But what about the science that points out our frugivorous past? What about our teeth and our intestines? What about our biolog-

"Bullshit!" they interrupt. "Man needs meat. And milk. And eggs."

You might then mention the many years of the dairy industry fabricating studies and lobbying the gov-

"Conspiracy theory!" they interject.

Then what about the unnecessary torture and murder of an-

"MAN NEEDS MEAT!" they bark, incredulous. 

And at a certain point, it becomes very easy to think, OK. Fine. Eat your meat. Drink your milk. Clog your arteries and to hell with your karma. See if I care.

But of course I do care. For I am vegan.


The Real Problem With Vegans
As I say, it's only been four weeks and already I find myself looking at the world in a very different way. I guess it's inevitable that once you stop taking part in something so incredibly pervasive — in this case animal exploitation — you start to notice it, and its direct links to suffering, death and destruction, absolutely everywhere. And although it's only my perception that has changed, the world now seems a slightly crueller place.

The fact is, I feel pretty ashamed that it took me so long to make the change, but now that I have, a small, silly and not particularly fair part of me expects everybody else to follow suit immediately. I keep thinking, with all of the evangelism of the newly converted, What on earth is wrong with you fuckers? Can't you see what you're doing?

Which reminds me of an interview Simon Amstell did with Russell Brand, in which he talks about a sad moment post-Carnage, when he was confronted with the effect of his film on people he knew.

"I'd whipped myself up into a bit of a fervour that the whole world was going to turn vegan after [Carnage] because we'd worked so hard and made it so funny, and then I went to a dinner party and there were people eating sausages in front of me and I was like 'What? Didn't you -?' and they'd seen it! And they told me they liked it! What's going on?"

I've done absolutely nothing of course, except have a few conversations and share a few documentaries, yet even so I still expect everyone to turn vegan instantly. I mean, come on! It only took me half a century.

So I understand that the problem with vegans, at least as far as non-vegans are concerned, is that a lot of them — us, sorry, for I am vegan — a lot of us might seem hectoring, judgemental and irritatingly superior. This would explain the extraordinarily large number of YouTube videos entitled "I HATE VEGANS".


Anti-vegan propaganda. The internet is full of it.

In our defence, I admit that hectoring is not great, and is rarely useful. Being judgemental is not good either, and I know that I for one am going to have to work on that. My excuse for being judgemental has always been that I judge myself plenty, so why should anyone else get away with it? But I realise that's not helpful and like I say, I'm working on it.

As for the other part, the bit about vegans being superior, well, I'm sorry to break it to you, but vegans are superior. I believed this long before I was one, so it would be disingenuous to shirk from it now. It's obvious. At least in terms of their moral choices regarding the relationship between human beings and the environment, vegans are very definitely superior to carnists, and what's more, the future of the human race rather depends on them. 

So the problem with vegans, the only real problem with vegans, is that — as yet — there simply aren't enough of us. 

You must know I'm right. You're a caring, intelligent person.

Aren't you?


What's your excuse? 

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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