I said that BSE started this way, the swine flu, H5N1, strains of bird flu did, even Ebola was traced back to the hunting and consumption of wild animals. And the point was basically, “Look, if we lived in a vegan world, we wouldn’t have these viruses in the future. How many more viruses will we not have if we went vegan now?”
That point didn’t go over particularly well outside the vegan circle.
It led to this publication in USA Today using a fact checker on it because the post had been shared quite a lot, there was a lot of conversation on whether it was true or not. They reached out to me and we had a long conversation. They said it wasn’t completely true, they labelled it as “partly false” or something. I think that’s a strange labelling because it doesn’t accept that it’s false or true, it just sits in the middle. But what happened after that was interesting, a couple of articles came out in The Guardian. One of them referenced the posts I put up and it agreed with the post, it actually said that this is correct. After that, I saw a couple more articles, not because of the post that I did but I think there was a growing conversation being created at that point in time which I think continued to change consumer attitudes.
What we then started to see was some polling that came out that in lockdown, people are more inclined to buy and try out plant-based foods. One of the reasons was the pandemic.
And Big Ag was in the news as well.
We saw an effect on slaughterhouses where workers and work exploitation was really driven to the forefront of conversation. Because of what it was showing in relation to the industry, I think that drove people away. And on top of that, we had the mass exterminations that were taking place on farms where pigs and chickens in particular were being killed en masse because there were no animals to take these animals to. That upset a lot of people as well and not just vegans.
What the Covid-19 pandemic showed particularly in the beginning is how fragile the animal agriculture industries are, how financially motivated they are, and how little regard they have for animals. And indeed for the humans who work in these environments. Now, the bad thing is of course that politically speaking we have huge bailouts being given to those industries. The government didn’t seize the opportunity to at least regulate these industries more, let alone help them transition into a more sustainable future.
The thing is, the pandemic gave us a great opportunity to sit back and reflect and say, “We’ve realized all this, we have to change, let’s make a sustainable change.” That didn’t happen. It’s just such a destructive move. We have leading infectious disease experts, reports being published by some of the top environmental and scientific bodies in the world, really drawing people’s attention to how industrialised animal agriculture is jeopardising human life. At the same time, nothing meaningful is being done outside of consumers reducing their meat intake and buying more plant-based products, so that’s a big problem.
I just hope that we as consumers and citizens through our actions every day can lead the challenge to change before it’s essentially too late.
What are your thoughts about a post-pandemic world? What do you think is going to change, or at least what would you like to change?
I think that people are craving that normality again, the freedom to travel, the life that people always lived and I think that people crave to live more in excess than they did before. I think it’s a real issue that as soon as we can go back to ‘normal’, we will just do that because we are craving that sense of familiarity that has been taken from us. That concerns me.
But I think there will be a long-lasting effect from this. I think that people are fed up with lockdown and these restrictions and I believe that there are now many people who will realize that the taste of a cheeseburger or halloumi or whatever they enjoyed previously is not worth the risk of having to repeat something like this again, let alone something that could be considerably worse which of course it absolutely could be. I think there will be a lot of heightened focus on outbreaks. I’m constantly reading news articles now on bird flu outbreaks in the UK, there are three happening as we speak. And those outbreaks wouldn’t necessarily have been reported on in the way that they are now.
When it comes to animals though, it’s so hard to know because as it stands now, the rate of animal exploitation is increasing globally. And so how do we change that now? And how do we get out of this pandemic and hit the ground running to create meaningful change? I think most vegans hoped at the beginning of the pandemic that this would translate, but as of now, it hasn’t.