Wednesday 30th May 2018, I attended the Suffolk Show with my parents. They knew I wanted to go and take photographs, witness the ‘show’ and speak to farmers. All aspects were achieved.
On the live Facebook show ‘Inside Veganism‘ we discussed the support network of veganism and if that includes our family. My father became uncomfortable with my regular outbursts of frustration at the Suffolk Show and my mother listened to be supportive but I could tell it was ‘too much’. We decided to go our separate ways and meet again later. This is where my ‘fun’ began…
After witnessing the goats in extremely small pens, followed by pigs being smacked with sticks around an arena for onlookers, I walked into the ‘Udder Barn’. I didn’t want to appear as an angry vegan, nor ask farmers to stop raising animals for slaughter. But I did want to ask them some moral and personal questions;
- How and why they remove the tail from a lamb?
- Why they are part of the farming industry, what led them to be here?
- How do they see farming? Normal activity and part of life?
- What has their experience been encountering vegans?
- How do they feel when they send their beloved animals to slaughter?
- Is this a necessary practice to kill animals for food?
- Do you think the animals here at the Suffolk Show look comfortable?
- Could you kill your own animals?
I spoke to two farmers on the day and wanted civil conversations. I wondered if they ask themselves such questions? It got me thinking… Are farmers also being exploited? After all, farmers are supplying the demand for animal based products which is desired by the consumer.
The first farmer I spoke to was Cameron and he was exceptionally polite, kind, knowledgeable and compassionate towards animals. I asked him the process of tail docking and albeit he gave his reasoning in a ‘convincing’ manner, fundamentally this happens because the consumer wants wool. Explanation:
- A tail is removed before the lamb is 7 days old. One method is to tie an elastic band around the tail to stop the blood supply and it will eventually drop off.
- Docking happens to minimise the attraction of flies to sheep. When a sheep passes urine and faeces, it would naturally get stuck to the tail, thus attracting flies. When a sheep is growing wool on its body, flies will embed themselves in the wool, lay eggs, maggots form and begin to eat the sheep and it’s wool.
- This was the explanation I was given.
Fine, that’s their reasoning, so I asked why the sheep aren’t sheered more often? I was given the impression that wouldn’t be financially productive for the farmer. I do not agree in removing the tails of animals, but I want to speak to farmers and hear their side. I believe it’s important to discuss these issues with farmers as it helps us to formulate and strengthen our own opinions and views on the subject.
Cameron has been farming throughout his life. For him, farming is his life. We spoke for around 15 minutes and I enjoyed the conversation. As the conversation casually progressed he stopped momentarily, folded his arms and said ‘are you vegan?’ to which I laughed and said ‘yes, I am and consider myself an animal rights activist too’. I explained my visits to a chicken slaughter-house, my involvement with activism, the Suffolk Vegan Club I organise and attending Anonymous for the Voiceless. He laughed and seemed somewhat surprised I was a ‘normal’ person. His personal experience of vegans in the past had not been pleasant and he said how aggressive and verbally intimidating some vegans had been to him. I like to think the conversation we had painted us ‘angry vegans’ in a new light. I never want to come across as the aggressive, angry, abusive, intimidating vegan.
The conversation with Cameron covered an array of questions, but the most important was: ‘Cameron, could you kill these animals yourself?’
As a tall and slender, young man, his hand reached up, he scratched his head, relaxed his body language and paused… In a calm, delicately quiet voice he said; ‘if I had to, if I really had to, then yes’. I could see this question had pulled somewhere on his good nature and he continued; ‘if the animal was in pain and I had done everything I possibly could to help it, medication, etc and the vet had told me there was nothing else I could do, then yes, I could’.
I believe most of us would agree that if an animal is in pain, suffering and there isn’t anything else to be done, that euthanizing is the best option. I looked at Cameron, smiled and said, ‘that seems a sensible answer for an animal that is effectively dying and in pain, but what about those animals whom you have raised, cared for, loved and aren’t in pain? The ones that you send to slaughter, could you kill one of those animals?’ His eyes dropped and he frowned, he darted the question and he said it was ‘part of life’. I didn’t want to press him on this, as I could tell by his body language that having the animals he raised sent to slaughter was something that genuinely did make him sad. It’s only natural to feel sadness for killing an animal that doesn’t want to die. However, the second farmer I spoke to was not so compassionate and took great joy in telling me that I could make my own burger patty if I wanted, around 10 yards behind the 18 month cows that would be slaughtered in the very near future.
The conversation with Cameron made me question animal exploitation in farming and if farmers are part of this problem or equally exploited? Okay, a controversial question for some vegans, but think about it… These industries exist because the public demand it. Young farmers like Cameron, genuinely love and care immensely about their animals and sending them to slaughter is not a happy thought. But for the farmer it is the reality and nature of their business and farming isn’t necessarily something they fall into by chance. The majority of farms are family led businesses, generational businesses and served their ancestors well for income. But with price of grain/food increasing, the need for medication for the animals, water, shelter, general maintenance and care, farmers are under extreme pressures to deliver these products to the GREEDY consumer for cheap resale whilst having to make a profit for themselves to live.
I havent always been a vegan and throughout the majority of my life I ate animals. I feel that I did what was socially acceptable, was unquestionable and I followed the guidance of my peers. Farmers too, are doing what they have known for generations and accept to be ‘part of life’. I am not one to judge farmers, because I once paid into this exploitation machine so I could eat the flesh of animals. I craved it, I demanded it and thought it was my right to have it. Are farmers really any different? They are doing a job that creates an income for their family, it’s what they have been raised into and don’t know any different.
Now, I am not saying that all farmers do care about their animals, what they are doing is right and shoud continue, nor that we should neccisarily sympathise with them, but I do believe that we need to target the consumer. The consumer is the problem. The ‘supply and demand’ for these products needs to stop. As a vegan and through activism I intend on targeting the consumer even more than ever, to make them realise what they are paying for, where their animal based products are coming from and that if they love animals, why love some and eat others?
Overall I did enjoy the Suffolk Show for the nice weather, comforting some of the animals, talking to Cameron and trying to find vegan food with my dad! Attending the Suffolk show allowed me to realise where I need to focus my energy regarding veganism.
Going forward, it’s all about targeting the consumer…
Dad and I looking for vegan food, we eventually found something, but what?