“Are backyard eggs ethical?”

As the information becomes more freely available, people are becoming more aware of the extreme cruelty involved in the egg industry, and so are choosing to raise their own chickens and consume their eggs. This is a positive step away from supporting industrial animal agriculture, and it is certainly better than buying from a store or a farmer directly, but it is still not ideal.

While chickens do produce eggs on their own with no encouragement from us, the volume they produce is highly unnatural. This is because chickens have been intensively bred to overproduce eggs for human consumption. The Wild Jungle Fowl, the closest wild relative to our domestic hens, lay somewhere between 10-15 eggs per year in only two clutches, whereas our modern farmed chickens can lay more than 300 eggs per year. This is extremely energy intensive for the chickens concerned, and is the loss of these calories and vitamins can cause a wide range of health problems. It is better for the chickens if they are allowed to eat their eggs instead, so that they can restore their invested calories, protein and energy. This means that the chickens are benefiting from their own production, rather than us.

We’ve all been conditioned to think of a chicken eating their own egg as strange, but chickens will actually do this anyway without any human intervention. In fact, if you type “chickens eating their own eggs” into any search engine you’ll be presented with almost nothing but advice articles and problem pages from farmers to try to get their chickens to stop doing this, or as they put it, to “break them out of this bad habit.” That “bad habit” being their natural way of regaining lost calories and energy from overproducing eggs. If you have hens and they don’t do this by themselves, cracking the shells will usually do it, otherwise chickens love to eat eggs mashed up or scrambled. Either way, feeding eggs back to the chickens means that they get to benefit from what they produce, rather than us taking it from them.

This concept that it matters who benefits from what hens produce is an important one, and it’s the primary reason why taking eggs from captive hens is unethical. An animal shouldn’t have to pay “rent” for their care, and they shouldn’t need to be exploited for us to keep them safe and healthy.  Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare. This is not a case of a symbiotic relationship, as is often claimed with animal farming, since chickens do not have the capacity nor the opportunity to enter into this relationship willingly, nor are they able to leave them if they would rather you didn’t take what they produce. Using another being for your own personal gain is clearly exploitation, and even if that isn’t the primary reason you keep chickens, we shouldn’t need to find ways to benefit from our relationships with animals in order to care for them properly.

Taking eggs from backyard hens is not even close to being the most significant animal rights issue in the world, but it is part of a wider narrative where animals are subject to us and it is okay to take from them whatever we want so long as it benefits us. Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare. Considering the fact that chickens clearly benefit from eating their own eggs, taking them because we like the way they taste is a clear demonstration that we think that think of our desires and preferences as inherently more important than theirs. Rescued chickens should be pets and companions, treated no differently and valued no lower than our dogs or cats. It is not for us to decide that it is okay to take something from them which they make, which they spend energy and time producing, just because we like the way it tastes.

“Is veganism more expensive?”

It is a common misconception that veganism is inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products, and this is often an assumption based on seeing people eat speciality vegan ready meals and faux products. These products are popular and can be really helpful for a transitioning away from animal products, but they aren’t necessary for a vegan diet at all.

Vegan staples include things like pastas, noodles, rice, breads, grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, bread, potatoes, soy, oats, cereals, and frozen, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables. These items represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it is. This is why most of the world’s poorest people subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet. Often getting the cost of veganism is a simple matter of understanding what plant based options are available, and how to buy them cheaply.

Despite popular opinion to the contrary, vegan meals can be extremely cheap, even when compared with the lowest quality meats. The first thing to do is to get out of is the mindset that a complete meal must include meat or a faux meat alternative, as this is just not the case. As a general rule meals should include both carbs and protein, and so instead of a staple meat based meal like chicken and rice, you might substitute the chicken for lentils, chickpeas or beans. All three of these plant based alternatives are high in protein, lower in saturated fat, have no cholesterol and are much cheaper per serving than cooked chicken. You can be as creative with a meal like this as you could with chicken, you could make a bean and lentil patty or a bean chilli to go with the rice, or use the chickpeas to make a chickpea and rice curry, all very cheaply and easily. These are just examples, but you can see how many variations of meals you could make with just these four basic, very cheap ingredients.

A related concern is often based on cooking times, that you will not have enough time to prepare these dishes. But using the examples already discussed, there is no extra preparation time when comparing cooking canned beans, lentils or chickpeas to cooking chicken, in fact, in most cases it will actually be quicker. With plant based options you also have the advantage that you don’t have to worry about it going off as quickly as meat will, so you can prepare dishes in advance and keep them in Tupperware boxes in the fridge for quite a while. Most plant based dishes will keep for a long time this way, so you could cook your lentils, beans and chickpeas, keep them in containers, then just add them to some cooked rice for when you don’t have the time or energy to prepare on the day.

The fact that this can be done can be demonstrated in no clearer terms than just how many poor vegans there are. Check the comments on any post about how veganism is expensive and you will find tonnes of poor vegans telling you that they exist, and how cheaply they eat. Most vegans I have met have been poor, or students with very little income at the time they went vegan. In the US, most vegans are in fact on the lower end of the economic scale. Personally, when I went vegan as a student with a part time job as my only income I cut the cost of my weekly shop by a full third, and many other vegans report similar figures. It is very understandable why someone might see vegan ready meals or faux meat products at the supermarket and assume that being vegan is too expensive for them, but whether or not you want to invest in these products, which undoubtedly are more convenient, is entirely up to you.

There are undoubtedly real barriers to going vegan for some people, from lack of food availability to not being in control of what food is bought for you, but the idea that veganism is in some way inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products is nothing more than a myth. You can make veganism cost a lot of money if you have the budget, with fresh, organic vegetables, faux products and vegan speciality items, but if you stick to basics it can be done extremely cheaply, we can’t reasonably judge how expensive veganism is by looking at luxury vegan items any more than we judge how expensive a meat based diet is by looking at high end meats and ready made fresh meals. Plant based foods are almost always the cheapest items in any supermarket, and in contrast, you’ll find that the most expensive items in most people’s shopping carts are animal products.

It can be really daunting to start out with veganism when you’re on a strict budget, because you don’t have the luxury of being able to get it wrong one month and overspend. But with a little research it absolutely can be done, I have a guide on how to go vegan on a budget here, a list of cheap vegan essentials here, and some cheap vegan recipes to go with them here. If you need any additional resources, some food ideas or some cheap meals plans then feel free to get in touch; I’d be more than happy to help.

“Why go vegan instead of vegetarian?”

Despite the growing popularity of veganism, there remains significantly higher numbers of vegetarians in comparison. The primary reason cited for going vegetarian instead of vegan is not wanting to give up a particular animal product, usually cheese. If someone is a vegetarian on ethical grounds however, there is no morally justifiable reason to be opposed to the consumption of flesh but not other animal products, such as dairy, eggs and honey. I will discuss some of the main issues with these products individually.

Like all female mammals, cows only produce milk when pregnant and after childbirth. Cows therefore, are restrained and forcibly impregnated so that they will produce milk. Naturally, this milk is intended to feed their calves, however, in order to take her milk, farmers separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, causing extreme distress and sometimes resulting in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mother on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and are not considered profitable for meat production, so are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond formed between cows and their offspring, it is common for the mothers of dairy calves to quite literally scream for their lost calves, sometimes for days at a time. Cows are put through this agonising process three or four times, before they too are killed.

The life of an egg-laying chicken normally lasts 12 to 18 months. During this time, in most commercial egg operations they will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their natural cycles and keep them laying all year round. These facilities are often extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to sear or cut off portions of the beaks of laying hens to prevent them pecking or cannibalising each other due to stress and boredom. This prevents chickens from engaging in most of their natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. In order to maximise profitability, most hens are raised with the minimum required space of 600cm squared useable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. These laying hens are sourced from vast hatcheries, where male chicks are commonly ground up alive as they do not lay eggs and are not considered profitable for meat production.

Bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them  leaving the hive. It is standard practice for commercial operations to take all or most of the honey bees produce, and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, and some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Many people are willing to overlook welfare concerns because it is popularly thought that consuming honey helps bees and the environment. Contrary to popular belief, Apis mellifera (the species of bee we use for honey production) are not even close to being endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees.

If you oppose eating animal flesh because you think it is wrong to kill animals because we like the way they taste, then you should object to dairy, eggs and honey on exactly the same basis, since animal deaths are usually directly involved in the production of all of these products. If it wrong to kill an animal for their flesh, then surely it is equally wrong to kill them when their milk or egg production slows, or because you want to harvest what they make.  All of these welfare concerns aside, even without animal deaths at the heart of these issues is the fact that animals are being exploited for human gain. In all of these cases, we are taking something which quite simply doesn’t belong to us, and causing harm to animals concerned in the process.

Even in those few cases where no deaths are involved, an animal does not have to be directly killed for this product in order for them to be harmed, breeding an animal and keeping them in captivity their entire lives, solely to make a profit from their bodies is harmful in and of itself, and regardless of whether or not they are killed during or afterwards, their entire lives have been taken from them because we enjoy the taste of what they produce. Treating animals as mere commodities to be manipulated, exploited, bought, sold and killed is denying them their right to their own lives, and that is the core of the issue.

There are cases where a person cannot eat 100% plant based, or is using vegetarianism as a stepping stone, both these cases are completely fine and that is not what is being criticised here. The issue is when someone chooses to be a vegetarian when they have the option to be vegan, despite the fact that the exact same reasons people oppose meat apply to other animal products, too. Sometimes this is simply a case of not knowing, and no one can blame you for that, but if you have read this post then you can never again say that you did not know, so it is now up to you to live in a way consistent with your values. If you any help going vegan I would recommend you look at these resources, and I would be more than happy to offer my support if you want to get in touch.

“Consuming soy is just as bad as eating animal products.”

There are legitimate concerns regarding the damage that growing soy causes to the environment, but unfortunately this is often bought up less out of concern for the environment and more as an attack against veganism and the vegan community. What is most often argued is that since soy also causes harm, and vegans eat soy, vegans shouldn’t be critical of eating animals or claim to hold any sort of moral high ground. This is a fallacy of course, even if soy were just as bad as meat this wouldn’t justify consuming meat on the basis that another product is also bad, but these claims do warrant a closer look.

Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that soy does cause a great deal of harm. Soy production requires vast expanses of land, and is overtaking fragile ecosystems all over the world, but especially in South America. This has resulted in significant deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats, which is effecting countless species. There are also many concerns regarding the treatment of those who grow soy to feed the west, which is again a legitimate problem which must be improved on as a matter or urgency.

The issue however, is that discussions of this nature almost never acknowledge why most of this soy is grown in the first place, which is for animal feed. About 70% of soy produced globally is fed to livestock, in the US this figure is 98%, and 90% in the EU. Farmed animals, without exception, take far more calories to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever give out in meat, meaning that every kg of meat requires a significantly higher input of crops. This means that despite assertions to the contrary, your average omnivorous diet will require significantly more soy than a vegan diet ever will. It is deeply unfair to hold vegans responsible for the global soy problem when we are a tiny percentage of the population, accounting for a minuscule percentage of soy consumption worldwide. If people genuinely do have legitimate concerns with the production of soy, then adopting a plant based diet would be one of the most effective means of lowering their soy consumption as much as possible.

The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to consume soy in order to be vegan. Soybean oil is often used in plant products, and fermented soy is frequently used in vegan meat alternatives and to make tofu, but these are by no means necessities. The primary advantage of soy is that it is cheap and a good source of protein, but plenty of other plant products fit this bill too, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, broccoli, nuts and seeds, to name a few. If you have moral objections to the use of soy then you have the option to go vegan and soy free, which would be very doable and likely quite a bit healthier than relying on soy based, faux meat substitutes.

The problems raised by soy consumption, including deforestation, water and energy use, soil degradation and land acquisition, are endemic with all monocrops, but especially those used for animal feed. Our massive appetite for meat, dairy and eggs requires huge amounts of crops be grown specifically for that reason; assigning blame to vegans because they also consume a tiny percentage of these crops is blatant scapegoating. Yes, soy is destructive, but we cannot be held responsible for it’s negative impact any more any more than we can be held responsible for global quinoa demand, despite the fact that we so often are.

There are inherent issues with all crops, but even the most resource intensive plant pales in comparison to the environmental destruction caused by meat, dairy and eggs. Criticising vegans on the basis that they consume these things, as someone consuming foods far more destructive and far more resource intensive, is hypocritical at best. Those concerned about the damage caused by soy production should be engaged in meaningful activism to boycott producers or pressure governments to change this system, rather than using this serious issue as little more than an excuse to attack vegans.

Going Vegan on a Budget

There are some real barriers for many people going vegan, from the heavy subsidies governments place on animal products but not on produce, to food deserts and lack of availability of plant based options in certain areas. It is a common misconception however, that veganism is inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products, and this is often an assumption based on seeing people eat speciality vegan ready meals and faux products. These products are popular and can be really helpful for a transitioning away from animal products, but they aren’t necessary for a vegan diet at all.

Vegan staples include things like pastas, noodles, rice, breads, grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy, oats, cereals, and frozen, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables. These items represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it is. This is why most of the world’s poorest people subsist on primarily a vegetarian diet.

While plant based eating is very accessible for most people, there are a few things you can do to make it even cheaper.

1) Buy in bulk. Items with a long shelf-life can often be bought at a significant discount in bulk. This means having to pull together more money for the initial purchase, but in the long-term it works out far cheaper. Some of the most notable items are rice, pasta and noodles. Buying small packets of these products are cheap, but buying large sacks of them usually ends up costing as little as a quarter of the original price for the same amount.

2) Buy frozen/canned goods. Frozen and canned items usually have a significantly longer shelf life at a mere fraction of the price of fresh. The good news with frozen produce in particular is that you really don’t lose much of the nutritional value, if any, and they’re very quick to prepare if you’re short on time. You should also get into the habit of freezing items you usually might not, like bread, which will extend it’s shelf life significantly rather than wasting it.

3) Buy “irregular.” Many supermarkets will sell irregular produce, these are usually purely cosmetic issues and won’t have any impact on taste or nutrition. Things like bruised fruit can be purchased and used for desserts or cooked, and damaged vegetables aren’t even noticeable once they’ve been properly prepared. Keep an eye on sell by dates though; many out of date items are perfectly edible but it will depend on the specific food, so you may want to do further research before purchasing those.

4) Buy seasonally.  Fresh vegetables are not always expensive. Seasonal vegetables are usually cheap in most supermarkets; you just have to be a little adaptable in terms of what you are using to prepare your food. Some vegetables like carrots, turnips, onions, cabbage and cauliflower are inexpensive all year round. Similarly, bananas and citrus fruits are available in most places fairly cheaply throughout the year.

5) Prepare simple meals. Relying on simple meals can get you into the habit of living and eating plant based on a budget. A meal like beans/chickpeas/lentils and rice/noodles/pasta is incredibly cheap, very easy to prepare, filling and pretty healthy too. If you can throw together quick sauces you can make a huge variety of dishes with just simple ingredients like these, with minimal time or cooking ability required.

6) Prepare in batches. Instead of cooking enough for just one meal, try to use all of your ingredients and cook enough for multiple servings. If you invest in some tupperware you can freeze or refrigerate these meals for later. This usually works out cheaper too, since it cuts down on waste and will let you reuse leftovers. It is also likely to make you less tempted to spend money on takeaway, expensive ready meals or fast food when you don’t have the time or the energy to prepare a full meal.

7) Invest in spices. Setting up a decent spice rack isn’t just for foodies, it can make your cooking much more interesting, and crucially, much less expensive. Buying pre-made sauces when you can prepare your own very simply with cheap spices is a waste, and you can make the simple meals much more appealing with some flavouring. Don’t worry too much if you don’t know which spice goes with which ingredients- just experiment and you’re bound to pick this up over time.

8) Grow your own. This can sound like a lot of effort, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if you’re just keeping a couple of herb plants like mint or sage by your window, or growing salad leaves in a pot, they’re really easy to maintain and will save you some money in the long run. If you can then extend that to simple vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes, which can also be grown in pots, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of produce you have to buy. It’ll take some time to get started, but it could be worth your while in the long run.

When it comes to other aspects of veganism like clothing, the good news is that veganism doesn’t limit your options a great deal in this respect. Synthetic or plant fibres are usually either similarly priced or cheaper than their animal based counterparts, and materials like faux leather are hard wearing and cosmetically very similar to the real thing. They are even cheaper when bought second-hand from thrift stores or online.

For household products and cosmetics, you may be surprised to find out how many brands are not animal tested and don’t contain animal ingredients. They aren’t usually any more expensive than animal tested products are, either. Many budget drug stores offer “accidentally” vegan items, and many makeup brands offer a wide range of good vegan options. You’re looking for the leaping bunny symbol on labels, as well as checking the ingredients to make sure that animal products are not used.

If you don’t feel like you are in a place where you can go 100% vegan at this stage in your life then don’t worry, veganism is about avoiding animal exploitation as far as is practicable. So long as you’re doing your absolute best to be as vegan as you can be, then that is really all anyone can expect. Veganism isn’t about purity, it’s about doing your best to reduce the harm you cause as much as you’re able to, given your own health and circumstances.

If you’re interested in trying to go vegan while on a strict budget, then you may find the following resources helpful:

Cheap Vegan Essentials

Below is a short list of foods which I think should be in the basket of every new vegan when they go on that first vegan shopping trip. Prices will vary according to location, but in the vast majority of places these foods will be some of the cheapest items in any supermarket.  You can find a selection of simple recipes that make use of these items as their main ingredients here.

Continue reading “Cheap Vegan Essentials”

What’s Wrong With Fishing?

Fish, contrary to popular belief, are sentient beings who do experience painRecent research shows that fish are extremely intelligent and have complex inner lives. Fish have been shown to be capable of complex communication and cooperation within schools, and even of deceiving others and making social judgements as to the trustworthiness of other members of their group. Fish are often considered to be mindless, but if other animals are not mindless, then we must conclude that fish are not either, since the level of mental complexity fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates. Continue reading “What’s Wrong With Fishing?”