The first public awareness campaign in Europe advocating a vegan lifestyle was launched in Ireland this month by Meath based Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary (EFAS). The launch takes place in tandem with World Vegan Month, held annually each November.
The campaign which sees advertisements encouraging individuals to make the switch to a vegan lifestyle is being run across public transport such as Iarnród Éireann’s DART services, Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, on billboards, and in third level education institutions across the country.
Veganism was defined by Donald Watson in 1944 as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Exploitation of animals occurs when we use them as food, clothing, labour, in entertainment or for research. The ‘Go Vegan’ campaign aims to demonstrate that non-vegan lifestyle choices are causing harm to animals, the environment and other humans unbeknownst to us.
Psychologist, Sandra Higgins, founder and director of EFAS said of the campaign that it is her hope to connect us with the unknown individual animals who suffer the consequences of our lifestyles. Speaking to the College Tribune, she explained that “Most people believe it is wrong to unnecessarily harm others. Yet we live in ways that contradict that belief, hurting and killing innocent animals through our lifestyle choices.”
A survey undertaken in the UK in 2012 commissioned by Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) found that more than a third of 16 to 23-year-olds (36%) do not know bacon is the flesh of a sentient pig. 40% failed to link milk with an image of a dairy cow while almost two thirds (59%) were unaware that butter comes from the milk that was produced by mother cows for their calves. Higgins attributes this to the notion of speciesism which she says causes us to view animals as being “only of value, when they are of value to us, even though life is of most value to the one whose life it is.” “Other animals are not food” she points out. “They are no more food or clothing than a human would be if we used them as our property, for our own ends, on the basis of some arbitrary factor that makes them appear different to us or distant from us such as skin colour, or belief system, for example.”
Although statistics for vegans in the UK indicate that the number has stayed at a steady 1% for some time, the number of vegans in the USA has doubled since 2009. The figure also is said to be as high as 5% in countries such as Israel. Several studies have linked the consumption of animal foods to some forms of cancer, heart disease and Type II Diabetes, the most recent being the WHO report ascribing carcinogenic properties to meat.
“The public need a clear explanation of the rationale for ethical veganism, and practical help for people to become vegan and stay vegan. That includes government supports for farmers to transition to veganic agriculture, a lifestyle that would be economically viable and much easier for farmers.” says Higgins.
Higgins puts forward the idea that the decision to become vegan is an ethical one, stating that “We live unaware of the havoc we wreck with our choices. Few of us are aware, for example, that when we choose to eat eggs we pay for day old male chicks to be suffocated or ground alive. We purchase dairy products with no consideration of the calves and their mothers separated at birth so that we can have their milk, even though attachment in mammals is not confined to humans. If we thought about their grief, or the bewilderment of a new born separated from their mother, most of us would choose vegan every time”
When asked about the difficulties in adopting a vegan lifestyle, Higgins dismissed concerns that cessation of animal use in our lives is overly challenging, saying that “Any change requires effort and initial inconvenience. However, being vegan is easy, healthy and enjoyable. When we go on holidays everything is unfamiliar at first, including the food, but before long we adjust and become accustomed to the change. The initial inconvenience of lifestyle change for us means everything to other animals.”
The campaign comes just weeks after Diageo, parent company of Guinness, announced their intention to move to a vegan friendly brewing process. This is to be achieved by ceasing to use isinglass, a fining agent produced from the swim bladders of fish. Isinglass is currently used to filter the beer ahead of distribution. It is understood that in addition to commercial concerns, the company intends to establish its product lines as accessible to a broader range of consumers, including vegans.
The removal of animal products from our lives can also be beneficial to those living on a tighter budget such as students simply put making a go at a adopting a vegan lifestyle by removing meat from our diets is cheaper than the alternative.
Higgins, who specialises in the study of compassion in her profession as a psychologist raised the point that veganism is a non-violent philosophy. In her opinion, the vegan lifestyle is about justice and compassion; it is about how we treat ourselves and how we treat other lives. She distinguishes between charity and compassion. “Veganism is not an act of charity”, she insists, “it is an act of justice”. She stated that “We all began life as children who would never dream of harming the animals we met through our books, or films or in person. Veganism will bring you from that place of knowing that it is unacceptable to harm other lives, to living your life according to that value. The animals we use can feel. It is time to stop harming them. ”
You can learn more about adopting a vegan lifestyle at govegan.ie
By Seán O’Reilly, Editor