The Big 3 at Oxford University Freshers Fair

Viva! bring their Big 3 campaign to the University of Oxford Freshers Fair on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 October. The Viva! stall will show university students how easy it is to swap chicken, cheese and chocolate for a cruelty-free alternatives, without compromising on taste! The products showcased will include Taste & Glory’s BBQ chicken, VBites VDeli sliced chicken, and Applewood vegan cheese. This year’s fair will be held in University Parks, and online through the Oxford Student Union website as well as being available as an app for iPhone and Android!

Paul Appleby

Book review: Why Vegan?

Why Vegan? by Peter Singer. Penguin Books, 2020, paperback.

Veganism has surely come of age when it merits a place in Penguin Books’ Great Ideas series. This is the twentieth book in the series, the previous nineteen including essays by Aristotle, Epicurus, Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde and Martin Luther King, Jr. Exalted company indeed for Peter Singer, described as “one of the great moral philosophers of the modern age” on the back cover, and best known as the author of Animal Liberation, long considered the bible of the animal rights movement.

Why Vegan? is a selection of nine articles from Singer’s considerable body of work. They include the preface to the 1975 edition of Animal Liberation and an earlier book review with the same title, a personal account of the Oxford Group of young academics who effectively founded the modern animal rights movement, essays on chickens (co-written with Jim Mason) and fish, and more recent articles on cultured meat (2018) and the role of Asian ‘wet markets’ in the spread of infectious diseases (2020). In The Case for Going Vegan, Singer concedes that “being selective about the animal products you eat could provide an ethically defensible diet” but advocates veganism as “a simpler choice that sets a clearcut example for others to follow”.

At just 85 pages this pocket-size book makes a concise but disjointed case for veganism and is best regarded as an introduction to Singer’s writing on farmed animals and the ethics of diet, which is a recommendation in itself.

Paul Appleby

New Online Vegan Magazines from Vegfest UK

Forca Vegan and Plant Powered Planet are two new online magazines from the Vegfest UK team. They are digital only, and links to the magazines can be found on the Vegfest UK website. However, if you prefer to pick and choose individual articles in a more readable single column format (avoiding the eye-straining magazine design), it’s better to open the separate links given below and then scroll down to ‘Stories Inside’. These stand-alone articles taken from the magazines are usually added gradually after an issue is published, and are especially suitable for reading on a mobile device. 

Both magazines are published approximately every three months, and they are free to read although voluntary subscriptions are welcomed. Forca Vegan has a “strong and unapologetic ethical vegan position and animal rights focus” (with a strong concern for human rights too), while Plant Powered Planet has “a more mainstream, consumer feel to it”.

I found Forca Vegan to be the more interesting of the two. Issue 1 (March 2021) carried an interview with Jordi Casamitjana (author of Ethical Vegan), a long feature on Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary, and the start of an absorbing series of articles on the history of veganism by Roger Yates. Issue 2 (June 2021) included a 20-page feature on Gaza (“a brief history of animal and human liberation struggles in Israel and Palestine”), plus a lengthy feature asking “Is your vegan chocolate cruelty-free?”.

Issue 1 (May 2021) of Plant Powered Planet covered the success of Veganuary, and also included an interesting article on the relatively new Vegan Compassion Group (who provide vegan food relief to people and animals in countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia and Uganda). Issue 2 (August 2021) included an interview with vegan vet Lucy Claire McKinna, an article about Feeding Your Vegan Child by Sandra Hood RD (reviewed elsewhere on the OxVeg blog), and continued its series on veganic growing.

Proofreading does go seriously AWOL at times, as in the startling remark (Forca Vegan 2 p.157) that the strapline on the cover of the Vegan Society’s magazine from 1948-1951 stated that the Society advocated “living with exploitation” (my emphasis). At an average of almost 150 pages, both magazines are a lot to wade through and arguably too long. Nevertheless, they contain several informative features, and Forca Vegan in particular has more thought-provoking content than any other vegan magazine I’m currently aware of.   

Malcolm Horne

The disturbing world of micro deliveries

During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 the demand for supermarket deliveries rocketed. Another thriving business was app-based restaurant or junk food chain home delivery. Subsequently, several start-ups offering very fast warehouse to doorstep food deliveries have entered the market. Speed is the essential factor, with deliveries often taking less than 15 minutes. The obvious catch is the delivery charge, but numerous customers are perfectly happy to pay £6.42 for a latte coffee (£3.30 plus £3.12 for delivery). That’s a whopping £2,343 per year if ordered seven days a week. You could buy a top of the range coffee machine for less than that, but you would have all the tedious bother of switching it on and filling it with water and beans. Even worse is the way that some people use the micro delivery service for a single item. No minimum order means that a 35p lemon will set you back an outrageous £4.35. The obvious excuse is the ‘time poor, money rich’ cliché, but I can think of several less complimentary phrases including having more money than sense. On the BBC World Service series The Food Chain (24/6/2021) one devotee of on-demand groceries declared: “It’s like having a butler available 24 hours, and when you get used to this it’s difficult to go back.”

These start-ups are booming because vast amounts of money are being invested in them. Many of the already established food-to-door companies command ridiculous valuations, but most of them currently survive on a meagre or non-existent profit margin. Investors believe that one clear winner will emerge in each large country or territory, and the glittering financial prize for online dominance is huge. Internet marketplaces including Rightmove and Auto Trader operate at minimum profit margins of 70%. However, the economics of food delivery are very different to the online selling of property and cars. Many investors will find their funds disappearing down the proverbial plughole. Deliveroo was founded in 2013, valued at $2 billion in 2019, but has never actually made a profit, and it had a disastrous London stock market floatation earlier this year. Nonetheless, instant groceries start-ups such as Weezy and Dija are still attracting big money.

There are numerous issues with instant food delivery, but the main one is that it denigrates the fundamental importance of food. Why bother to cook from scratch with available ingredients, or construct any sort of daily meal plan for the next week when any groceries or meal you fancy is available within a few minutes, 24 hours a day. One regular customer declared: “It’s perfect if you run out of a vital ingredient in a recipe.” Indeed, whoever heard of substitution or experimenting when cooking? When chatting to regular consumers of Deliveroo meals, certain themes crop up repeatedly. Apart from the predictable complaint that “we don’t have the time to cook”, there’s the consistent habit of ordering too much and boasting about it. This generates a lot of waste, and one devotee casually remarked that her husband “wouldn’t dream of eating leftovers”. Perhaps she could find another husband? I’m sure there’s a plentiful supply available online, and a suitable replacement could be dropped off at her door within the hour.

Other disadvantages include the impact on small local food shops. On demand grocery companies frequently operate by selling at less than cost price and have the investment funds to sustain this model for years, but small stores can’t possibly compete. The rapid delivery is achieved using food stocks in so-called fulfilment centres (also known as dark stores) located within customer catchment areas.

There are plenty of old timers (like myself) who are horrified by certain features of the modern technological environment which now seems to dominate every aspect of our lives. I don’t engage in any form of social media, and view this pernicious addiction with disdain. Whenever footballers or celebrities complain about abuse or trolling on social media my reaction is “then remove yourself from it”, but apparently that’s just too simple. Food delivery apps reflect the instant gratification world that so many find irresistible.

Paul Freestone

Dirty bonfires and double standards

It might be surprising to learn that I have a dark secret. Beneath my carefully controlled ultra-cool persona, there is a mass of seething rage. This frequently expresses itself when I’m watching TV or listening to the radio, and I’m fully aware that shouting at a screen is a pointless exercise. However, the BBC Radio 4 programme Black Hill, Bleak Summer, recalling the UK’s worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, reduced me to speechless horror. The outbreak resulted in the slaughter of over six million sheep and cattle, with the media reporting huge funeral pyres of blackened carcasses and interminable billowing clouds of acrid smoke.

Black Hill, Bleak Summer examined the impact in one hot spot; the Craswell Valley near Hay-on-Wye on the edge of the Black Mountains. Several farms had their entire herds shot and burned, the documentary concentrating on the viewpoint of the farmers and it’s their comments that left me staring at the radio in silent fuming anger. They complained about every aspect of this “mishandled invasion by the Ministry of Agriculture, officials, vets and the military”, and the loss of so-called pedigree herds and flocks that they had spent their “entire working lives building up to pure bloodlines”. Instead of sending their animals to the nearest abattoir, as would normally be the case, these devastated farmers had to suffer the indignity of their prize cows and sheep being shot right in front of them, and then dumped on a stinking bonfire. One farmer complained that all his animals were shot, and then just left to rot in the yard for a week, subjecting him to the sight and smell of decomposing animals every day. The farmers had to endure weeks of “the smell of burning flesh”, but the irony of slaughtered animals being barbequed on mass in this unsavoury fashion was obviously lost on them.

The programme pointed out that the source of the outbreak was in Cumbria where a pig farmer was illegally feeding the animals untreated catering waste, but there was no mention of the widely reported stories of farmers deliberately infecting their livestock. It was claimed that the going rate for an infected sheep was £2000, and farmers received £90 compensation for every culled sheep – at least double their market value at the time. Black Hill, Bleak Summer did mention that “the farmers who had stock culled often received large sums of taxpayer’s money in compensation”. In fact, there was a compensation bonanza.

Inevitably, many farmers cried as they related their stories but their lack of self-awareness was absolutely staggering. Being confronted with the reality of massacred livestock didn’t make them reflect on the usual of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to animal farming. Only one farmer in the Craswell Valley didn’t continue to keep livestock, but not because he was overwhelmed by an attack of conscience. As livestock farmers, none of them acknowledged that they were directly responsible for the tragedy.

Paul Freestone

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