Monbiot on veganism

That great iconoclast and environmental activist George Monbiot has flirted with veganism before. Then he went away from it.

Now he’s back and committed, with the strong environmental arguments to do with land use and over-population, in addition to the views we know he espouses of the effect of meat-eating on deforestation and climate change.

This is worth reading in its entirety, so I won’t paraphrase it here.

‘No apologies’ (reblog)

FROM All-creatures


‘No apologies: Why ARA writers should not fear accusations of ‘Anthropomorphism!’ ‘Sentimentality!’

By Heidi Stephenson
June 2016

Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.
– (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– (Mahatma Gandhi)

Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.

The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.

But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “live stock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”

Ours is the herd mentality.

How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side.)

It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.

The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.

Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.

We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.

Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.

Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”

To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.

There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.

Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?

By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.

That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”

Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what we are contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”

I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.

The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century.) It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.

I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.

Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.

One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.

Title borrowed in part from Kurt Cobain who turned me from pescetarian to vegan, when I finally heard the painful irony in his lyrics: “It’s OK to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings.”

sowing the vegan garden: guest blog by Amy Dyer


Becoming vegan is like planting the most delicate seed within yourself. You’re not quite sure what to do at first, or what’s going to happen. Everyone will have an opinion on how to care for the seed, or whether you should have even planted it at all!

But just be. Listen to yourself, to your body, question everything, do your own research ( for example) and the seed will flourish.

You may have planted this seed for the animals, for your health, or for any number of other reasons, but which does not matter. All roads lead to this place, and as with all things the more you read and experience, the more you realise how interconnected all things are!

When you nourish your body, you feel lighter, for you are not having to carry the burden of suffering within you, and if like me you have low self-esteem then please remember how much you are helping yourself, the world and the animals each and every day just by what you eat.

But, ultimately these choices are your choices and they need to be sustainable.

Be gentle with yourself, you will reap the rewards of your toil, of your mistakes, of your triumphs, your garden will be beautiful but it takes time. It may not look like anybody else’s garden but that’s the beauty: it is yours, your offering to your body and to the whole of creation.

Enter this garden by your own path, let each step be a day of inquiry, of enjoyment, of sustenance.

One step is better than standing still, paralysed by fear and the restraints of the society in which we live.

Science is slowly catching up and we are finding that, for the most part, it is knitting wonderfully with sacred plant medicine.

Please do not feel overwhelmed by the opinions and ways of the world around you. Be strong, tolerant, compassionate. Experiment, enjoy and watch the doors of friendship and opportunity open up to you.




the downturn in animal welfare

So the British Government has stated its intention to scrap animal welfare codes in the farming industry. Instead – get this – the industry will regulate itself. You can see where that will go, can’t you: only downwards. I am despairing.

We have supposedly some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and it is still appalling. Battery hens still only have a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper; one-day old male chicks are minced alive, or gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags; breeding sows are still kept in in tiny metal breeding stalls (and it’s said the piglets are dropped through metal bars onto conveyor belts); veal calves are taken from their mothers at a few days of age and raised in the dark, in small areas, for all of their short lives; and mares are kept pregnant, in confined spaces, in order to produce the hormone used to make HRT for menopausal women (it is NOT necessary, folks; go the herbal route; contact me, or better still, search the web, for more info) – hence some of the brand names (eg Premarin). This is our ‘high welfare’.

As John Vidal said in yesterday’s Guardian (March 26, 2016), the plans may knock a penny or two off an already-cheap chicken, but are likely – quite apart from all the welfare issues – to see the continued disruption of health scares.

How can deregulation do anything other than intensify the conditions, ripe for disease, in which already-intensive animal farming rears its victims?

Vidal points out that ‘it was the total failure of the industry ability to regulate itself that led to last year’s chicken bug scandal when [it was found] that nearly 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, costing the NHS nearly £900m… more than 240,000 people a year were getting ill and up to 100 were dying… Salmonella in eggs, BSE in cattle, foot-and-mouth disease* and swine flu – all followed cuts in animal welfare standards or inspection services.’

This is environment minister Liz Truss’ drive. Vidal points out that under TTIP, if it happens, there will be a downfall in food and farming standards; the US agribusiness will be exporting to Europe animal products from a farming system with much lower welfare and hygiene standards than our own.

If we exit the EU, then clearly, as he states, our welfare standards are likely to fall, anyway.

Whichever way you look at it, animals will suffer more. Chances are humans who eat them will, too. We cannot let this happen. There are, hooray, greater numbers of people becoming vegetarian for a range of reasons: animal welfare, personal health, budget, awareness of the environmental cost, and the enormous and inefficient demand for land and water to produce such a small amount of food for a burgeoning population. More people, too, are looking at vegan options.

But we have a VERY long way to go before we can be proud of the way we relate to animals. (As my partner said yesterday: many people unthinkingly consider them really to be automata, more or less.)

Meantime, we need to challenge, at the very least, this proposed downgrading of animal welfare and the knock-on effects on humans.

If anyone knows of a petition started up to protest this, please add it to the Comments. If it doesn’t happen, I might just have to start one myself.

And you could also write to your MP?

March 30th: here’s the petition link. It’d be great if you’d sign and share it:


* Foot-and-mouth disease: I documented this as it happened in Devon, and in fictional form but with factual accuracy it forms part of my last novel, The Burning Ground.




‘dominion over the animals’? I don’t think so

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{link url=”” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}Carsten ten Brink{/link} (Flickr, used under a {link url=”″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}CC BY-NC-SA 3.0{/link})

Like many people who are engaged in any kind of campaigning in social or eco-activism, I feel much of the time a mix of hope and utter despair.

I do believe that slowly, slowly there is a movement towards transformation taking place, an evolution of consciousness.

When I look around, though, at the terrible cruelty and suffering we inflict on others – our own species, and the other-than-human – and the way we are trashing the planet, it’s hard to feel much other than despair at the fact that it may all be too little too late. Can we really change so much desperate stuff?

I know that what is happening is rarely intended to be cruel; it’s not deliberate evil. It’s out of ignorance, and a kind of blindness because our desire-bodies, as they say in esoteric teachings, want what they want to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Then there’s our unexamined assumptions, beliefs, values – often things that are sanctioned by our family, our nation, our society as a whole.

And too the fact that we are not always taught the much wider and often invisible consequences of our actions.

Most of all, perhaps, we forget we live in a web of interconnectedness, where everything is essential and has its integral place, and where any rip anywhere in the fabric of things ripples through the whole.

A week or two ago I blew off at a kind, lovely, intelligent and talented friend. His crime? He said: ‘But what about the fact of our dominion over the animals?’

This phrase (belief) really presses all my buttons, and has done for a very long time. Because he is who he is, and because of the circles I move in, he could hardly have shocked me more if he’d turned out to be a climate change denier, or to exhibit Nazi sympathies, for instance.

I’m aware that I didn’t handle it skillfully. A better way to relate to what he said might have been to ask him why he felt what he did: ‘That’s interesting. Why do you feel that we have dominion over the animals?’

Trouble is, I know only too well why people – many people – feel that. Our Western culture espouses a hierarchical view of planetary relations, with us, humans, at the top (as I’ve no doubt said many times on this blog before). Everything else ‘below’ us is there as a – red rag to me – ‘resource’.

I don’t know how long this has operated in at least the Western psyche. (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere; I’m simply not qualified to judge that, but historically at least in the Far East the web model of Indra’s Net [a Buddhist model, also occurring in Hindu philosophy] has held more sway for longer; this is a more ‘horizontal’ view of interrelationship.)

My own hobby horse is that our sense that we ‘own’ the earth, and that its fruits and animal species are ours to use as we see fit, as ‘resources’, crept into our ideology with the Neolithic farming revolution, where we moved away from the hunter-gatherer model and started to co-opt land, annex animals for our benefit, and grow crops.

Plato has to shoulder some of the responsibility. And then the entrenched bulk of it comes from Judeo-Christian teachings based on (mis?)translations and (mis?)interpretations of the Bible.

It is THE NORM for (at least Western) humans to view everything else on the planet as being put here for us.

The worst thing is that we dissociate from other species; forget we’re all in this together. The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for, too – underlining this view, stressing the importance of reason and cultivating a suspicioun of feeling. Without feeling, how can we empathise enough as to change our ways?

What happens, in this worldview? Bit by bit everything else is co-opted for our benefit (64 billion land mammals and birds killed for us to eat every year, mostly reared and killed in conditions of terrible suffering, and a trillion aquatic animals), or is simply extinguished (like the many many species lost each week).

And we don’t even want to know, or examine our habits; if we did, we might need to change.

That’s what I’m angry about.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks of a heartbreaking poem by W S Merwin. Here’s the opening; do read the rest.

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him 
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

it ends like this:

Tell him
It is we who are important.

first do no harm


Kamalamani writes about her gradual shift from lacto-vegetarianism towards veganism.

‘I never much liked eating animals. They were my best friends growing up, so it felt wrong to eat them. Unfortunately, I was quite a compliant little girl, so I did. Seeing animals rammed into multi-level lorries, tearing along motorways, and caged mammals in busy markets reduced me to embarrassing tears. I stopped meat-eating when I was 14, the last straw being a documentary about the factory farming of animals which we watched during a Personal and Social Education lesson at school. So I just stopped.

‘I have tasted meat a few times since. Sometimes accidentally in France, biting into a quiche having done my best to ascertain it was vegetarian, and very occasionally eating a slice of ham, perversely, proving to myself that I don’t want to eat animals – I don’t. Once, having travelled for hours across the Kenyan Highlands at work, I was presented with a slab of roast goat for lunch, under the heat of the blazing equatorial sun. I didn’t have the heart to say I was vegetarian, so happy was my host to tell me that he had roasted one of his scarce family goats. I prayed to the goat as I reluctantly gnawed and chewed its meat – it had lived a long life, it seemed.

‘A couple of years ago I had glandular fever and had a yearning for fish during the long, slow recovery. I ate some fishes, to my surprise, for I had barely eaten fish when I was young. My body loved it, whilst my mind wasn’t at all sure. I found myself praying to the fish, too. Honesty around eating, particularly around the eating of previously breathing beings, is important to me. Maybe I’d feel happier if I could say that I stopped eating meat when I was 14 and a morsel never passed my lips again, but it wouldn’t be true. Eating and consumption in broader terms are a complex thing, particularly, it seems, for those of us in the current zeitgeist.

‘In the same phase that I was eating the occasional fish, I was, paradoxically, becoming increasingly vegan in the ethics of my cooking and eating habits. The silver lining of glandular fever was that my body told me, quite unequivocally, what it did and what it didn’t want to eat. No more caffeinated tea, not too much dairy, very little sugar, and being much fussier about where my food came from.

‘For many years I’ve had an ‘ought’ about being vegan, too. I have had phases of being more or less vegan, knowing about the suffering of the diary industry. That ought has changed this new year. More than ever I have been drawn to cooking and eating seasonally – my partner and I are keen allotmenteers, so that’s not too taxing for much of the year. I’ve also been cooking to match the season and the mood, which has meant lots of mid-winter slow cooking. In this mood, eating dairy makes far less sense, logically and intuitively, for my body or the planet.

‘I haven’t, yet, found myself becoming vegan in the same way as my immediate decision to become vegetarian all those years ago. It could happen one day. I wouldn’t be surprised, but not for now, although I have decided this year that the main meals I cook at home will be vegan, which is proving fairly effortless. I have a broader awareness of how we humans cause harm now, compared to when I was 14. I stopped flying 12 years ago, another overnight decision. It just made no sense to me anymore – not that I was flying loads – to pollute the air, our breath and biosphere, with flying being one of the most pleasurable and harmful of our carbon addictions. I wanted to take action in changing an aspect of my life which I knew would have an impact upon me, really, I suppose, in preparation for the lifestyle changes we are all going to have to make in the decades ahead. Why not get started?

‘Limiting the harm I cause has become an even more important practice in the past 21 years, since starting to practise the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Inviting acting from the loving-kindness within me, over and over again, rather than from the more ‘autopilot’ greed, hatred, and ignorance has been transformative – not that I’ve completely sussed it! Yet, we can’t live without causing some harm in what we eat, how we eat, how we travel around, our work, even how we dig and plant potatoes at the allotment.

‘I can feel a bit fatigued about being the odd one out. When I became a veggie back in 1985 I got a lot of stick from some of the other kids, even though I kept quite quiet about it. I’m also a Buddhist, not married, no kids – weirder still, I’ve written ‘Other than mother’, a book about not having kids, in part, for ecological and environmental reasons. I’ve had many awkward conversations over the years about being veggie, and been ridiculed for being vegetarian in different cultures.

‘And in writing that, I hear the immense privilege of my human status. I don’t want to inconvenience myself by being completely vegan, whilst knowing that this ‘inconvenience’ would be so minor compared to the abject suffering caused to animals by the diary industry. How relatively easy it would be for me to be vegan. That wrestling with internal voices ‘well I don’t fly and I’m veggie, therefore I’ve done my bit’ sort of attitude. In parallel, I think of the animals I haven’t eaten in the past 31 years. The online ‘animal calculator’* estimates that that is around 6,228 animals; 6, 013lbs of meat and 49,603lbs of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere.

‘The final words of the Buddha come to mind: “all conditioned things are impermanent, with mindfulness, strive on.”‘

Kamalamani is a Bristol-based Body psychotherapist, facilitator, supervisor, and author.


Chestnut millet & tarka dhal

Andie Lewenstein gave me this recipe:

The grains & cabbage
Andie's millet etc recipeI’m always keen to find tasty combos for the ‘anti-inflammatory’ grains: quinoa, buckwheat and millet.

I cooked this batch of millet by ‘toasting’ a cupful first in the pan in sesame oil, then adding more than twice the volume (cups) of water with Marigold bouillon powder.

I steamed sweetheart cabbage with pre-cooked chestnuts (vacuum packed or in tins, excellent though pricey store cupboard items) which I dressed with rosemary and garlic infused olive oil and black pepper.
andie's tarka dhal

The dhal
I like dhal so much I could eat it every other day. For this one, I cooked 8 oz washed red lentils in a pint of water with a teaspoon each of coriander powder and turmeric. When soft, I used a stick blender because I like it smooth. Then I added some clumps of frozen leaf spinach. Add some salt at this point.

The tarka I made with sliced onion and garlic in coconut oil, and when they are soft add fennel seeds, mustard seeds, dried crushed chilli and cumin (either ground or seeds). When ready, add to the dhal.