Veganuary Chats to Pete the Vet!

The Telegraph’s Pete the Vet joined thousands all over the world and tried vegan for January. 

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We caught up with him in early February to him to find out what he thought of his vegan month…

  • What do you think the word ‘vegan’ means to most people?

To most people, “vegan” used to mean sandal wearing, braided hair, nose ring and long flowing clothes. There has been a change in the past few years and vegan now means smart, attractive, ethical, trendy and “switched on”.

  • What does it mean to you?

Vegan means highly disciplined and principled! It’s a worthy but challenging aspiration

  • Why did you take part in Veganuary?

I have been increasingly uncomfortable about industrialised factory farming, highlighted to me last year when I read the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by historian Yuval Harari. In this thoughtful review of the human race since we appeared on this planet, I was shocked to come across Harari’s statements on livestock farming. He described the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms as perhaps the worst crime in history. I have grown used to hearing animal rights activists criticise factory farming, but I was taken aback to hear it being denounced so vocally in a history book written by an author with no previous animal-related focus. This served to remind me how we all become immune to the daily cruelty of inhumane farming, putting it to the back of our minds.

I have always been an animal welfarist rather than an animal rightist – I see nothing wrong with using animal products as long as they die without fear or pain, and as long as they have lived enjoyable, comfortable lives. However, with the increasing intensity of livestock farms, the aspirations of animal welfarists are becoming harder to fulfil. I believe that the EU has reasonable legislation to protect animals, but I have two issues. First, implementation of EU law (see the recent reports on pig farming by Compassion in World Farming) and second, the inclusion of unlabelled animal products from outside the EU on our supermarket shelves. For these reasons, I realised that I was accidentally supporting factory farming by my casual purchases in my local supermarket. I wanted to stop doing this, and Veganuary was the perfect opportunity for me to change my diet to achieve this goal.

  • What did you discover during Veganuary? 

I was forced to read labels, and in doing so, I learned how widespread animal products are on the supermarket shelves. And while I might not mind free range pig, free range eggs and milk from small family dairy herds, I do not want to eat intensively reared pig, battery hen eggs or milk from super dairies where the cows never see daylight nor graze on grass.

I discovered that a wide range of standard products (from potato crisps to ready-made meals, to cheese and yoghurts) included animal products, but declined to tell me where they sourced their ingredients. So I learned that I cannot go back to eating those products until the day when their source is defined clearly.

  • Is being vegan expensive? 

Not in my opinion. Nothing is as costly as a leg of lamb or a beef steak for everyone in the family. Pork and chicken may be cheap but that’s for a reason! And I am not prepared to accept that reason.

  • What would you make if hosting a vegan dinner party for family and friends?

Vegetable casserole with chick peas followed by an avocado and maple syrup based chocolate cake 🙂

  • Did you enjoy Veganuary? If yes, what did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the high levels of vegetables and salads that I ate compared to normal. I enjoyed new experiences, like Soy Cappuccinos and soya yoghurts. I also enjoyed the conversations that followed on from telling people that I was doing Vegnuary. They gave me a chance to get on my soapbox to talk about the iniquities of modern factory farming.

  • What was your biggest challenge during Veganuary?

Eating out at other people’s houses. I felt that I was putting them out by telling them that I was vegan, and it seemed ungracious to bring my own food, as if I didn’t trust them to do it properly. This was awkward sometimes.

  • If you could give one piece advice to someone taking part in Veganuary, what would it be?

Be prepared! Shop beforehand rather than going to the cupboard and saying “what’s for dinner”. Phone restaurants and friends before you arrive to let them plan for your vegan diet (or to tell them not to plan because you are bringing your own).

Will you take part in Veganuary again?

Maybe (probably).

  • Is there anything else you wish to add?

I think it is interesting that there are now at least three types of “vegans”:

  1. Orthodox vegans – people who believe in animal rights
  2. Environmental vegans – people who are motivated by caring for our planet more than concern for animal sentience
  3. Vaguely vegans/Reducetarians – people like myself who are motivated by animal welfare and who find it increasingly difficult to source animal products that are guaranteed not to support industrial scale factory farming.