Book review: How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World

How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance. Vintage, 2021, 320pp; hardback, £20

“Before I started researching this book, I was a vegetarian with an unfocused love for nature. I am now a vegan, who supports hunting and fishing in certain circumstances, and who thinks we need to set aside large parts of the planet for other species.”

So writes Henry Mance, Chief Features Writer at the Financial Times, in the introduction to How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World.  In the following chapters, the author makes a convincing case for not eating meat, dairy products or fish, describing spells spent working in an abattoir and on a pig farm, although he blots his copybook with the bizarre suggestion that “mussels, clams and oysters – farmed, not dredged – may be the only seafood that a vegan can eat in good conscience.”  This is obviously a contradiction in terms (sea vegetables are the only seafood that vegans can eat), and is based on the assumption that bivalves cannot feel pain and therefore do not suffer if eaten.  Although these aquatic molluscs have no brain and only a rudimentary nervous system, many can move to escape predators (sometimes quite quickly, for example a Pacific razor clam can bury itself in sand in only seven seconds) and they are clearly sentient, so they have no place on a vegetarian or vegan dinner plate.  That said, How to Love Animals is a personal statement rather than an animal rights manifesto, and vegans will agree wholeheartedly with the author’s closing advice to readers to “stop eating meat”, “give up dairy (foods)”, “promote vegan foods” and “cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Later chapters examine other animal welfare issues such as companion animals, zoos (“a pastiche of the natural world and a recipe for frustrated animals”) and hunting, which the author considers justifiable “when it can provide money for conservation and when populations of deer, wild boar and other animals threaten ecosystems.”  Again, many readers will disagree with this, but Henry Mance is a thoughtful writer and he is right to raise these issues.  For him, it is not the killing of animals that is the crucial factor in determining how we should treat them (death is inevitable), so much as their quality of life, underpinned by his belief that animals farmed for their meat or milk, plundered from the seas, or imprisoned in zoos, represent so many wasted lives.

Paul Appleby

OxVeg records archived at the Oxfordshire History Centre

On 4 May 2021 I took nine lever arch files of OxVeg records to the Oxfordshire History Centre (OHC) in Temple Road, Oxford.  Described by OHC as “Records of OxVeg including newsletters, correspondence, publicity and membership lists, 1983-2009”, the archive has been allocated accession number 6867.  The records cover the years when I served on the OxVeg committee, mostly as secretary (1983-2008), and also include events diaries, minutes of meetings and other paperwork connected with the group, which was called Oxford Vegetarians for much of that time.

The records are a deposit, which means “an indefinite loan of the records to OHC, ownership remaining with the depositor.”  Thus, ownership remains with OxVeg (currently under my name and address), although they may be transferred to another OxVeg official or person connected with the group.  OHC may not dispose of the records “without the owner’s consent, unless all reasonable attempts to contact the owner fail”, in which case ownership would pass to OHC.  Copyright of the material is retained by the owner, but “access will normally be granted to members of the public to materials held in OHC, subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act and other legal stipulations”, and the “deposit of archival records is deemed to imply permission to reproduce deposited material, subject to copyright provisions.”  In other words, OxVeg supporters and other members of the public will be able to inspect the records, and records can be copied at the discretion of OHC staff “for private study with a non-commercial purpose”.  Over time the records “will be listed or catalogued by professionally qualified archivists” working at the OHC, although no fixed date is given for the completion of cataloguing.  Additional records, for example newsletters from 2010 onwards, may be added to the collection over time.

Paul Appleby

Book review: Feeding Your Vegan Child

Feeding Your Vegan Child by Sandra Hood RD. Hammersmith Health Books, 2021; £14-99.

Feeding Your Vegan Child is a practical guide to raising children on a vegan diet, guiding readers through six stages of parenting: preconception, pregnancy, birth, weaning, childhood and adolescence. Each chapter is packed with nutritional information and advice, meal plans and recommended foods, ending with a summary of the main points. Parents and parents-to-be will particularly appreciate the case histories chapter in which six mothers recount their experiences in raising their vegan children of ages ranging from nine months to twenty years. There is also a recipes chapter covering first foods up to one year of age, with a selection of easy to prepare meals, snacks and sweet treats that have been “tried and tested by children”, and appendices listing recommended nutrient intakes, nutrient sources, useful organisations and tips on vegan-friendly shopping. The author – a diabetes specialist dietitian and Honorary Nutrition Advisor to the Vegan Society – recognises that parents “are the experts in (their) youngster’s care”, and this book will be of great assistance to anyone planning to raise their children as vegans.

Paul Appleby

Have we learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic?

As a species we have developed a quite extraordinary brain. It is truly remarkable and yet, it seems, rarely used to actually think. Have we actually learnt anything from the pandemic? Some world leaders have declared “this must never happen again” but the pandemic and the climate crisis are entirely self-inflicted. Without confronting this inconvenient truth it’s laughable to imagine that humans are even slightly better prepared to deal with the next pandemic. It’s blindingly obvious, even to my very average brain, that our species has to stop destroying the natural world, and shamelessly exploiting every living thing without the slightest concern for the consequences. Instead of preparing for another deadly virus why not aim to prevent it jumping the species barrier in the first place? Crucially, human interference ensured that coronavirus didn’t have to jump very far. Zoonotic viruses account for 75% of all new human diseases, and there’s a long list of priors (ebola, swine flu, bird flu, etc). Learning from your mistakes is a key indicator of intelligence, but the most horrendous mistakes, such as the coronovirus pandemic, instigate a desperate urge to blame anything other than ourselves. It must be those bats, and for good measure an intermediary (the persecuted pangolin is an easy target) but definitely nothing to do with us.

It had seemed almost certain that the disgusting wet market in Wuhan was the origin of the pandemic, but now there are rumours about a research laboratory in the same city. China’s totalitarian regime has ensured that there is little chance of ever finding out what really happened, and they made the WHO team that recently went there look like a bunch of idiots. The only certainty is that human activity is to blame for the lethal virus that spread across the whole planet.

Homo sapiens is the most adaptable species that has ever existed on Earth, and this has been a key factor in our ability to survive desperate situations while other species have become extinct. Paradoxically, we dislike any sort of change and have to be pushed into a very tight corner before we take action. The current climate crisis couldn’t be more urgent, but the latest G7 summit in Cornwall didn’t produce anything apart from vague promises. Meanwhile, Arctic ice is melting twice as fast as previously thought, but instead of galvanising positive action the exact opposite is happening. The loss of almost impenetrable ice sheets means that humans can easily access the whole area and exploit the natural resources. The virtually pristine polar caps will be devastated in double quick time, with the inevitable disastrous consequences for ecosystems and polar animals. All this is bad enough, but rising sea levels will be difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of time to deal with the climate emergency. I always laugh when I hear projections for the rest of the twenty-first century. I’m not optimistic about the end of this decade, but many citizens seem more worried about their cheap flights this summer, and the most effective carbon reducing lifestyle changes are considered too extreme by many. The meat, fish and dairy industries are directly responsible for catastrophic environmental damage, and anyone who claims to care about their carbon footprint should drastically reduce their consumption of these foods. Livestock farmers across the globe will fight any measures to reduce production, so individual action is essential, and foods with a high carbon footprint could be taxed accordingly.

Paul Freestone

Witney Vegan Fair, 19 June 2021

Vegan Fairs & Markets are hoping to hold another Vegan Fair in Witney on Saturday 19 June, 10 am to 4 pm. If it goes ahead, the Fair will be held in the Langdale Hall, Witney, OX28 6FG. Entry costs £2 for adults (free for accompanied children). Further details here.

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