As Animal Rebellion begins a series of well-planned demonstrations, in partnership with Extinction Rebellion, who famously brought the streets of London to a standstill earlier this year, there are few who would not sympathise with their ultimate aims. They plan to force governments, not just in the UK but all around the globe, to “end the destructive animal farming and fishing industries, and lead a transition to a just, sustainable plant-based food system.” They recognise that “a plant-based food system is the only way to minimise the risk of climate breakdown, halt mass extinction and avert social collapse”.
All very noble, and few of us could find fault with their ultimate goal. Personally I would question the effectiveness of their means to that end, which could ultimately turn the general population against their cause. I have previously questioned some of the methods used by radical vegans to get their message across to as wide an audience as possible, preferring education and non-confrontational persuasion to mass disruption and shock tactics. But nonetheless there can be no denying the truth behind the the message they propound.
But just how realistic is the aim to lead the world to an entirely plant-based diet? Yes, prominent experts in a report to the United Nations have described how a mass transition to a worldwide plant-based diet could have massive positive implications for the climate change crisis we are currently experiencing. However, they recognise that even if more people reduced their consumption of meat, there would still be a positive effect.
And this is at the crux of the whole matter. Powerful political lobbyists from the farming industry, perhaps most notably in the US, would have a strong say if there was any attempt to curtail their production. But even more of a barrier, at least initially, is resistance from the general public. To be frank, people just enjoy the taste of meat too much, and are so entrenched in what they see as their traditional diet to fully make a change to plant-based. And, of course, many companies have recognised huge potential in a rising market of those who either want to reduce their meat intake or at least still be able to enjoy the taste of meat without actually eating it. The massive rise in plant-based meat is certainly a growing industry.
Given the resistance to radically changing traditional diets, and also recognising the right of personal choice, I would suggest that the encouragement of a reduction of an individual’s consumption of meat is a way forward. At least in the short term, until people become more used to plant-based diets and experience that vegan food can be every bit as tasty as more tradition dishes. And this is where the concept of flexitarianism comes to the fore.
Many leading food experts say that what is important is that most people reduce their consumption of animal products to reduce their environmental footprint. And while recognising that many would be resistant to losing the taste of meat they crave, food technology has advanced to create plant-based meat tasty enough that carnivores – at least those who are ethically-concerned – will make the switch. Call it a gentle introduction to veganism! Hence the more recent rise of Meat Free Mondays, which has actually been going for 10 years.
So the mass demonstrations organised by Animal Rebellion will undoubtedly go ahead, and be praised as a huge success for the cause of veganism and the saving of the world. And rightly so. It is all part of the freedom of choice and expression that I have always advocated. But let us be realistic about its overall effect on changing the dietary habits of the nation. We cannot turn the country vegan by halting traffic. And certainly this government would not capitulate. But what we can do is educate and encourage more and more people to become flexitarian, in the hopes that in time they will fully make the transition to vegan.