Helen Martin: Rise of vegan diet may mean Cowmageddon for farm animals

The Scottish Government has threatned to pull out of UK co-operation on agriculture. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Scottish Government has threatned to pull out of UK co-operation on agriculture. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Have your say

Coming from a family who farmed for hundreds of years leaves me facing a permanent dilemma.

I am so animal-orientated that I have never lived without at least one pet. I put cruelty to animals on a par with cruelty to children.

On the other hand, I eat meat. On the farm, all the animals led a happy, free-range life … until they went to slaughter. It’s difficult to explain that logic to city folk, I know.

And nowadays, intensive factory farming is a very different world from the one in which, as an eight-year-old, I collected eggs from the boxes while the hens were pecking and scrabbling in the yard, or opened the field gate for six cows to meander up to the byre for hand-milking, before strolling back to their meadow.

I tried being vegetarian once, and managed to go meatless for only six months. I admire those who stick to it for life. But there’s more to this dilemma.

What does veggie-dom mean for farmers? Indeed, what does it mean for cows and sheep whose agricultural breeding over decades leaves them with no chance of survival without human husbandry? And what would our countryside look like with empty fields and farm animals becoming as unusual and exotic as zoo inhabitants?

READ MORE: Is Edinburgh becoming Scotland’s vegan capital?

One diet that is now soaring in popularity is veganism, with nine per cent of UK adults estimated to be taking that challenge over the next year.

Not everyone who turns vegetarian or vegan does so for the love of animals. Some simply don’t like the taste or texture of meat or fish, and for some it’s about eating what they see as a healthy diet.

For vegans, there’s a lot to learn in order to create tasty dishes with sufficient protein, calcium and other nutrients. Hence almost 60 per cent give up within a year or two.

The other sector that struggles with modern, meat-free, preference diets is the restaurant trade. A Shropshire chef resigned last week following death threats after posting online that she had “spiked” a vegan diner.

In fact, she went to great lengths to create special dishes for a vegan group booking. Her online comments were borne out of frustration when one of them ordered instead a pizza from the standard menu – topped with mozzarella.

Some vegans and vegetarians are informed and devout. Some are air-heads who simply think it’s all about avoiding meat.

READ MORE: Scottish vegans are going wild for vegan square-sausage rolls

Dairy cows have to be inseminated and made pregnant once a year, after which their calf is taken from them so humans get the milk. And if it’s a bull calf? Well, that’s usually bye-bye baby, killed at birth. Yet that Shropshire vegan opted for mozzarella.

Biscuits, bread, sweeties, doughnuts, crisps, chewing gum, and even some frozen veg, packets of nuts and other foodstuffs contain milk, rennet from calves’ stomachs or gelatine. Many wines and beers are made with fish bladder.

For a general restaurant to produce a truly vegan menu is hard work. And for an individual to be truly vegetarian or vegan involves an immense amount of study, precise food preparation, and acceptance that a lot of food – apart from fish and meat – is off-limits.

I take my hat off to the genuine Vs. For most, it’s pious pretence.