World Vegan Day 2011 – a belated blog

So, back in November I had an adjournment debate in the main Commons Chamber on World Vegan Day, ie November 1st. I was prepared for a not especially positive reception, especially given that it fell to Jim Paice, the Farming Minister, to reply, but what I wasn’t prepared for was a concerted effort to heckle, jeer and ridicule from the Government benches. It’s usually the case that for the end of day adjournment debates the Chamber is deserted, except for the MP whose debate it is, and the Minister responding. On this occasion I was faced with two Government whips joining the Minister on the frontbench, one of whom, Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael, was particularly obnoxious, and about half a dozen or so other MPs there, mostly with farming interests, and the likes of Simon Hart, the ex-Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance. I was also joined by my two fellow vegan MPs, Chris Williamson and Cathy Jamieson, which at least provided a bit of back-up. And the next day many MPs came up to me who’d been watching the debate on TV or had read Hansard and were appalled at the Government response.

What I don’t understand is why people get so hostile at the idea of veganism/ vegetarianism. It’s not as if holding a half hour debate on the topic is suddenly going to put all the farmers out of business, and I steered clear, deliberately, of going overboard on criticising those who do eat meat. I tried to be factual, reasonable and moderate. (Admittedly Paice did pull me up on one point about Nocton dairy farm, on which it now looks like I was wrongly-informed; it’s not multi-storey, although many such farms are. That was a bit annoying, as it detracted from the other, very well-evidence points I was making.) Some of his answers were ridiculous however, for example, saying that most soya consumption is by vegetarians eating fake-meat products rather than by livestock! I’ve tabled some parliamentary questions to try to get his sources for that.

I thought it was particularly unpleasant of the MPs on the Opposition benches to jeer and heckle when I was outlining the health arguments for reducing meat consumption. The evidence linking diet and such diseases is fairly conclusive, and I thought was widely accepted. One could argue for moderation rather than eliminating processed meats or red meat entirely, as one of the Unionist MPs did, but to dismiss the argument entirely and not with a counter-argument but with sneers and boos is childish and ill-mannered. My father died of bowel cancer 11 days after this debate, which they weren’t to know, but I don’t think they should have needed to be told that to at least listen to what I had to say with a little respect. They perhaps weren’t aware either that one of their senior colleagues, I’m told, drinks soya milk because his wife is suffering from breast cancer – instead they jeered when I mentioned surveys showing that breast cancer rates have risen in Japan as women there have adopted a more Western diet.

Why is it seen as OK to ridicule beliefs held on ethical grounds, but not, say, beliefs held on religious grounds? If I’d been standing there outlining why as a Muslim I didn’t drink alcohol or eat pork, or as a Jew I adhered to Kosher practices, wouldn’t they have listened in silence and respected my right to believe that? (Perhaps a debate on halal slaughter would have been received with more criticism, but I don’t think a Muslim MP would have been ridiculed…) But that leads me on to a separate issue I’m going to blog about soon, on free votes on issues of conscience, and why it’s only religion that counts there. Watch this space for that one…

Anyway, here’s the link to the debate. We also had a lunchtime event, with the award-winning Ms Cupcake giving away free vegan cupcakes, which was swamped by MPs and researchers. And the House of Commons catering staff made a sterling effort to put vegan dishes on the menus. I’m not sure what we’ll for World Vegan Day 2012, but I think the cakes may make a comeback – and we’ll make sure we get twice as many in this time!

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  • Quietzaple  On January 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Disgusting, Kerry.

    It was very much the same in the early Thatcher years when Michael Foot was Labour Leader.

    The roaring boys were boorish and determinedly ignorant on anything which cut against their prejudices.

    I recall Patrick Nicholls MP, who was voted Runner-up in the Guardian’s “Creep of tge Year” competition being referred to by Foot as “one of our parliamentary popinjays.”

    His self assessment was that his friends regarded his contributions as style and no

    He became a Deputy or Vice Chair of tge Tory

    • Quietzaple  On January 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Party and then lost that position owing to driving under the influence during their Party Conference.

      Summarises the worst of them. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

      When you consider that over ten percent of their candidates in 2010 were bankers it is easy to see how out of touch they are.

      The more publicity is given to your experience the better Kerry. Lots of vegans and vegetarians who don’t like bullies who want to hunt foxes and kil badgers, or bully you.

  • Anna  On January 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    If they’re bothering to turn up and give that kind of response, you must be doing something right! Keep up the good work – we need more like you.

  • Bridget Rose Gilbert (@Bridge1Rose)  On January 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    We live in a world that doesn’t seem to care about cruelty and suffering, where those who could make a difference, choose only to think of their own needs….and in heckling, define themselves as ignorant and unworthy of any piece of a tortured and killed animal that ever passes their lips!!!!

  • Paul Bemmy Down  On January 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I’v not heard the debate but nothing in your blog says anything about animal welfare. Eating meat does not mean you have no regard for this issue. You do make a very good point about ethical and religious grounds, but surely thats just another example of what comes under the banner of Political Correctness.

  • kerrymccarthy  On January 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Isn’t the phrase ‘political correctness’ just a right-wing construct used to ridicule those who believe in tackling inequality and discrimination? Usually on the basis of fabricated stories about what is and isnt deemed ‘politically correct’ these days? I don’t think it’s relevant to the vegan debate – in fact many people still think it’s fine to mock vegetarians, as my blogpost shows. I covered animal welfare issues in my speech, as far as I could in the time allowed – I coukd have said a lot more. I dont think you have to be vegan to care about animal welfare, but I don’t have much time for the ‘happy meat’ marketing thing. Free range/ organic is better than battery/ factory-farmed but being vegan is better than both.

  • Paul Bemmy Down  On January 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I respect you for being a vegan, but you do need more commitment than I could muster. I also agree about the “happy meat” marketing. Far too much misleading packaging. Allthough I eat little meat, I work on the theory of a decent life and a decent death, but it’s a theory that I must depend on others to put into practice and others to make sure it’s put into practice. Why anyone from any party would want to heckle you on this subject is beyond me, but I remember BSE and the lies told to protect the Farming interests then, so my guess is the same reasons are behind this.

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