Thursday, 5 November 2009

Why so many vegetarians in the UK?

Why are people vegetarians? This is the question I've been asking myself for the last couple of days. I appreciate some of you may think the answer is pretty obvious, but you need to bear in mind that I come from a country where being vegetarian is almost a sin - as Stephen Clarke wrote in his book Talk to the Snail: "In France [...] vegetarians are regarded with extreme suspicion, like a guest at a jacuzzi orgy who stays dry and fully clothed". I've been trying to understand WHY so many people in the UK become vegetarians whereas French people consider this habit as a kind of mental disease.

There are several reasons which motivate people to be vegetarian:

Some people just don't like the taste of the meat, which is fair enough.

Some people are vegetarians because of their religion: for example, Seventh-day Adventists and Buddhists are encouraged to have a vegetarian diet.

Some people give up meat for health reason: they want to lose weight, or have arteries problems etc. I believe this is not a good reason to become a vegetarian, simply because some meats (chicken, turkey) are not very fatty, it's just the way they're cooked that make them unhealthy. Moreover, if people do not compensate the lack of proteins and vitamins with substitution products, they will inevitably get nutritional deficiencies, which can be a very serious problem. Doctors recommend to eat meat twice a week; so if people don't cook it in a pool of oil, eating meat is a healthy habit. It is the same for everything: if you consume any food in big quantity you'll get sick.

Some people are vegetarians for environmental concerns: it has been proved that producing meat necessitates a lot of energy and that the CO2 emissions are very high. I think this can be a good reason to give up meat, though I admit I wouldn't do it myself, I'd rather have an electric car ...

I believe that some teenagers become vegetarians just because it's a kind of fashion. It's a way of belonging to a group, to feel different and also probably because they can't bear the idea of eating cute fluffy animals. The problem is that many teenagers do not fully understand the consequences of such a diet, ending up less healthy than they were before becoming a vegetarian.

The last main reasons for being a vegetarian are ethical and moral concerns. Many people give up meat to protest against cruelty towards animals, and I think this is the difference between France and the United Kingdom. Indeed, the British farming system is completely different from the French system, and this difference has been accentuated by the World War II. Before the war, The United Kingdom was very industrialised, the farming industry was modern. On the other hand, France was a rural country and not modern at all. The war left both countries destroyed, with a disastrous economical situation. In 1947, the U.S government decided to help financially European countries that were affected by the war (Marshall plan, which was worth more than $13 billion in total). The United Kingdom received the biggest percentage of this help (approximately $3 billion) followed by France ($2.5 billion). An important part of this money was used to re-build the farming industry in both countries, but in a different way. Whilst the United Kingdom used it to turn the farming industry into farming factories in order to produce enough food to feed the whole population, the French government decided to modernise the existing agriculture, giving farmers subsidies to allow them to buy new machines. This made the French farming industry faster, more efficient, but it didn't lower the quality of the products, contrary to battery farming, where animals were often ill and badly treated. This difference still exists nowadays: battery farming is a very important industry in the UK, and it has provoked waves of protests since the seventies.

I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many vegetarians in the UK: people do not want to support an industry were animals are ill, fed with antibiotics and hormones to fatten them faster. Moreover, this industry produces poor quality meat, which has been revealed to be a threat to human health because of all the hormones/ antibiotics contained in the meat. In France, the battery farming exists, but it's much less spread: in the past people have been used to eat good quality meat that comes from the closest farm, therefore that generation has past on this habit. So, if the animals have been fed with good food and been able to run happily in the countryside for their whole life, I see no reason why we shouldn't eat them.


JargonJoker said...

I agree with you Julie, on account of your belief in the consumption of meat, which I deem as vital to a healthy diet - sure there are substitutes, but what are they worth when compared to the beneficial properties of a good meaty meal.
Good job on the blog; you present a well-balanced argument

dave said...

fantastic post. I think it's good that you have actually challenged vegetarianism from a scientific point of view, and as seb said, a very balanced argument.

Andrew Giddings said...

Definitely some good thoughts, though I think it painted a rather bleak picture of British farms. People all over the world farm using all sorts of methods, some hold animal and environmental welfare in higher regard than others. The problem is the lack of traceability for most farm products so you can't tell what kind of methods were used to produce this steak or that pork chop. Even eggs aren't as clear-cut as people think.

It takes guts to comment on a subject which may get some peoples' backs up. I think you should be ready for some vegetarians to argue that feeding an animal well and allowing it a happy life doesn't justify killing and eating it.

You'll get no such argument from me, though. I like meat.

the-looking-glass said...

its great to see such a unique cultural view point which is coupled through research and fact

i love the taste of meat, but i am vegetarian because of ethics. I wish i had the time and effort to cook you some home made vegetarian dishes such as sagaloo, vegi lasagne, falafel and chickpea dahl

isnt france quite notorious for its production of foie gras?

p.s i would love to take some of my vegan friends to meet some french chefs

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