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Land of hope and glory: the truth behind British farming

In the last ten years the number of vegans in the UK has grown by 360%. Ask the average vegan their reason for adopting the lifestyle, and the majority of the time the answer will be “for the animals”. This comes despite the evidence that going vegan is great for our health and is hugely beneficial for the environment. It seems compassion for animals is still the number one driving factor for the huge surge in veganism in recent years.

Nowadays there is a wealth of information available online, and thousands of videos on YouTube showing the cruel nature of modern animal agriculture. However, so much of the available footage and statistics are from other countries, mainly the USA, that critics of veganism in the UK are quick to dismiss them. A common argument used against animal activists in the UK is that we treat animals so much better here than in other parts of the world. Many people refuse to believe that farmers in the UK would allow such obscene and cruel practices to take place on their farms, and are able to justify their continued support of the industry by adhering to this narrative.

This is what the makers of new documentary film “Land of Hope and Glory” have set out to change. Spurred on by the line “that doesn’t happen in our country“, the team behind the film travelled up and down the UK, working with a number of different groups to bring the reality of British animal agriculture into the limelight. According to the makers of the film: “through Land of Hope and Glory we aim to show the truth behind UK land animal farming by featuring the most up to date investigations as well as never before seen undercover footage, with a total of approximately 100 UK facilities featured throughout the film“.

Land of Hope and Glory tells the story of the 1 billion land animals slaughtered in the UK each year. Following the process involved in rearing, transporting and slaughtering pigs, cows, sheep and poultry, the film paints a bleak picture that conflicts heavily with the rosy image of British farming we are so often offered by the industry itself. What filmmakers Ed Winters and Luna Woods, of Surge Activism, have delivered through this film is a look at the inhumane methods that most people in the UK don’t realise are standard practices in British farming.

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Presented in four parts each focused on a different group of animals, the film guides us first through the world of pig farming where we learn about the bodily mutilations carried out on piglets without anaesthetic including teeth clipping and tail docking. The cramped conditions that the vast majority of pigs are kept in in the UK makes for difficult viewing, and the treatment of unwanted or unhealthy piglets and sows shown in the film is deeply distressing.

As the film moves on to cows, we learn of the heartbreaking fact that dairy cows have their calves removed from them just 24-48 hours after birth. This is not something that can be attributed to rare or isolated cases, as this is the case on the majority of dairy farms in the UK and is actually recommended by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This is sadly not the worst thing that will happen to the animals during their lives – as the film shows – and for the calves is just the beginning of a short lifetime of misery and abuse.

The awful living conditions and brutal practices shown in this film will no doubt come as a shock to many, especially those who attempt to make more ethical choices by purchasing “humane” animal products. Sadly much of the footage shown throughout this film is taken from farms classed as free-range, organic, high-welfare, red-tractor approved and RSPCA-approved producers. What is most prominently highlighted in the film is the sad truth deliberately hidden from consumers which is that labels such as “free-range” are mostly arbitrary and actually misleading due to the rules applied to them. Most consumers who purchase free range eggs would be horrified to learn that the hens producing them were housed in dark, cramped barns, with virtually no access to the outside world, yet this is so often the case. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that there is no legal definition of “free range pork”, meaning farmers can keep pigs in any of the awful conditions depicted in the film, and still label their product as “free range”.

The film also dispels any myths about sheep and goats being the more fortunate of farm animals due to their generally being free roaming. Just like pigs, cows and chickens, sheep and goats are forced to endure a series of brutal procedures without anaesthetic, and are also subject to a number of terrible and widespread diseases. It is stated in the film, for example, that foot rot is present in 97% of British flocks.

Much of the film focuses on the hugely traumatic experience the animals all must go through on their way to the slaughterhouse. The animals, as young as 4-6 months old in the case of lambs, are transported for huge distances in cramped and overcrowded trucks, with no food or water and often in sweltering heat. Many animals do not even survive the journey to the slaughterhouse. Those that do are subjected to cruel and often ineffective stunning methods prior to slaughter. A statistic that will no doubt stand out to many viewers is that an estimated 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness on the production line each year due to poorly executed stunning techniques – and that this practice is still certified “humane”.

Land of Hope and Glory may be a difficult film to watch, but at its heart it is about educating consumers on where their money goes when they use it to purchase meat, eggs and dairy. It’s also a reminder that cruel farming practices are not something on which countries such as the USA have a monopoly. Modern British farming is not what the industry wants you to believe it is. The “happy cow” is a myth, and “humane meat” is a lie. Coming to terms with the truth behind how meat, eggs and dairy are produced in the UK is the first step towards making more informed, ethical decisions, which is something that we should all aspire to do. As Ed says in the closing chapter of the film: “it is ignorance that allows us to consume and purchase without considering the industries that we are supporting. And therefore, informing ourselves of the horrors our purchases perpetuate is not only a liberation for the animals, but indeed for ourselves as well.


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The Virtual Vegan

Vegan, it’s the latest buzz word isn’t it? A fad diet for those who followed Atkins and/or declared themselves gluten-free a few months ago. Those who like to starve themselves for 2 days a week and consume only green smoothies, or for hippies of course.

Not so. Well, not completely so anyway.

I’m guilty of trying most new diets and fitness trends and then failing miserably when I get tired, hungry, depressed or demotivated.

But veganism is different. It’s a movement. It’s about so much more than health and image. I am here to explain why I decided to move towards this way of life and the difficulties I have encountered along the way. One thing’s for sure – there is no turning back!

Let’s start at the beginning. I am certainly no stranger to tofu….back in the 80’s my strict vegetarian, activist mother was piling carrot sticks and raisins in my lunch box, while my mates were treated to um-bongo and wagon wheels. I felt so deprived……(not really, Mum……just a little).

In those days I was unusual. In fact, I have always been a little bit different. Mainly due to my Mum, who has always stayed ahead of the trend when it comes to consuming ethically – be it food, washing up liquid or packaging. Ahead of the trend = not trendy by the way…..perhaps a better way to describe it is ‘against the grain’.

And, that was part of the problem. Unlike these kids that grow up in super alternative families: live off the land, wear hemp, sing round the campfire, get immersed in a community and grow up the same, I was part of a much more conventional setup.

My mum was a teacher, my Dad worked in sales. We bought stuff from Marks and Spencer and we went to the Berni Inn (a steak house) for a treat. We appeared an ordinary, 2.4 kids type family – aspiring working class to outsiders. My Dad ate meat, so did my brother and I. Meanwhile, my mum’s publications came through the door covered in pictures of mutilated animals; charities asking for donations. Letters were drafted and posted to local MPs and governments further afield about all sorts of cruelty afflicted on animals and humans.

It was all there, but she didn’t shout about it. It was all done quietly, with little fuss. It was only when challenged that her face would go bright red and her chest blotchy as she prepared to defend herself and all that she stood for. Inevitably it would end with her being ridiculed and accused of being extreme.

So, for me, although I always admired her for her conviction to her beliefs and values, I saw a great deal of pressure, accusation and grief and that came with it. I became desensitised to the pictures – to the reality. I didn’t want to be like that. I thought it was okay to eat meat and stuff. I didn’t join in with the others giving my mum a hard time, but I self-identified with my Dad. He was more rebellious in the traditional sense – smoking and drinking etc. – which was far more seductive a role model – especially as a teen!

It’s only with age and experience that I am able to look back and see things more clearly. I have grown up!

My first bout of vegetarianism came a few years back after reading a book called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (2004, Cannongate Books) which has a fierce vegan sub narrative. Her description had a visceral effect. I heard and saw cows crying for their babies as they were separated just after birth. I ditched the dairy immediately….and all poultry and meat. I didn’t understand the environmental aspect back then; but the suffering was enough. And it was easy! My then family (ex-husband, couple of kids) were living with my parents, so mum and I ate the same meals together. She was virtually vegan by then anyway (eating only ethically sourced, local, free range eggs – and she’s never stopped the honey).

Only later, when pregnant and living independently again, did I reach for a burger one day (it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick) and it all went downhill from there. I did the same as I had always done before – buried the truth deep within my psyche and returned to cooking spag bol and chicken salads – after all, this was now easier. I was a full-time working mum and it was what the family demanded.

Jump forward 5 years, I find myself divorced and in a new relationship with an open-minded, environmentally-aware and super likeminded fellow. We had talked about vegetarianism quite a bit, but it wasn’t until a do in October 2015 that the fantastic documentary by Leo Dicaprio – Cowspiracy was recommended to us. We went home and watched it open-mouthed. How could we have been so ignorant and so naïve? Animal consumption has grown to record levels worldwide and we are literally killing the planet!

I’m not going to go into the detail here, when so many fantastic documentaries explain it better than I ever could, but there are so many things wrong with the way we consume food. The way we treat animals for our own pleasure is barbarically cruel and unnecessary, and the impact on world hunger, rainforest depletion, global warming and contamination of our seas is off-the-scale devastatingly bad.

So, I do my best these days. I haven’t eaten meat for ages. I decided to have a go at veganuary in Jan this year and haven’t stopped trying since!

The secret to success is support, availability and ease. Unlike my Mum, I am not ahead of the trend! According to The Telegraph (18 May 2016) ‘the number of vegans in the Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade’ and there are many signs that veganism is set to continue to rise – especially among the more ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious younger generation.

Even in Woking there are many vegan options in various restaurants and cafes; a Woking vegan Facebook group; vegan runners and even a festival took place earlier in the year.

It’s so encouraging. And I hope not a fad. Meanwhile, I will continue with my own battles at home. My 19 year old (brought up with the spag bol) demanding his daily animal protein fix (what’s wrong with mung beans for goodness sake?) and my 6 year old struggling to give up her ham sandwiches. Not to mention my step-daughter. She is not happy at all about the vegan switch….although she loved her ‘chicken’ nuggets the other day (“are they real?”, “yes, of course they are real, Ams!”)

Perhaps, they will just be late to the party? After all, mums are not cool. Not when you’re young. It’s only later when you realise they were right all along! Especially when you have a super switched on trail-blazer mum like me. Even my Dad has joined in. He switched to a largely plant-based diet not long ago. So there is less discrimination in the family home now…..and certainly a lot more hummus!

Thanks for listening. I promise you vegan food is amazing. And it is so important we all consume less meat – for the sake of the planet and the other humans and animals we share it with.

To find out more please visit:

www.plantbasednews.com

www.thevegansociety.com

And watch:

Cowspiracy (2014, Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, available on Netflix)

Carnage (2017, produced by Simon Amstell, currently available on BBC iPlayer)

That will get you started….and there is plenty more where that came from.  Join the revolution!

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It’s not easy being green

Hey bullshit, Kermit. Look at us all. We’re positively thriving! But  actually to be fair, 18 months ago I would have said the same. And by green, I mean vegan. Plant based foods. All that lovely vegetation that so many of us miss out on because vegetables seem to get such a bad rap.

Before I became vegan, it seemed like an extremely alien premise. Give up pizza and coleslaw and oh my God halloumi? It all seemed like such a sacrifice and to what end? Having been vegetarian for 20 years already, why would a bit of cheese matter? It’s not a dead animal after all, everyone’s still here so what’s the fuss?

Major misunderstanding on my part; in order to obtain most, if not all animal products, pain and suffering and often death is involved. Upon being given more information about everything, there really was no other option. And I tell you what – green is great!

So what’s the advantage? I hear you cry. Okay, sit down and listen. Advantage plural, please.

Apart from the fact that every time you use an animal, you’re contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and the razing of rain forest and other wooded areas to make way for grazing pastures or crops to feed the livestock,  you’re also contributing to their misery, suffering and ultimately their death.
Now that’s a horrible thing to be funding, isn’t it?

So here’s the other side.

By eating the amount of meat that we seem to think we need, it means that the amount of vegetation we grow on the earth could comfortably feed our entire population.  So why are there starving people on our planet? Because all those veggies I just mentioned go into feeding all those animals rather than providing nourishment for those who are in desperate need. Cows are a darn sight bigger than a human and therefore take in a vast amount more than we do. All those calories grown, just to be fed to an animal to make a minuscule amount of meat. Not to mention the sheer amount of water used to produce this stuff. Other side? Oh no, sorry. Same side.

How about a plus side? Let’s say you don’t mind about animal suffering or the environment. Sounds like you only give a shit about yourself.

If you do, then hey, go vegan for selfish reasons if you’re that way inclined. (It also means that you’ll be  fulfilling the other specs by proxy. Big whoop) It means that you’ll be less likely to have diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, hypertension, the list goes on. Basically, most preventable diseases can be boshed off your agenda by going vegan. Oh, and you can shed that spare tyre while you’re at it. Bonus!

So there we go. There’s all the reasons why I changed my life for the better. I know the point was that it’s not easy being green, but look around you. These days there are hundreds of alternatives to those things you like. Experiment! Find the ones you like. You know what a vegetable is, right? Well, it’s not just carrots and veggie burgers. It’s a whole new world of stuff that you’ve yet to explore.  Oh, and just so you know, Kermit changed his mind:

“When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder?
Why Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!
And I think it’s what I want to be.”
Muppets – It’s Not Easy Being Green

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