Why I’m a vegetarian

25 08 2010

Lots of people ask me why I’m a vegetarian so I’m writing this blog so that, in future, I can in the style of our politicians, refer questioners to the answer I gave a moment ago.

I’ve been a vegetarian, on and off, but mainly on, for about 25 years and while the question arises less often than it used to, probably because there are more of us about, but it still arises surprisingly frequently.

The reasons, in fact, have changed over the years and each casts a light onto the way I view the world in which we live.

I decided to become a vegetarian when I first had to commute to work. It was not a commute as is probably visualised now…three lane carriageways completely blocked by cars wedged bumper to bumper..but it was a 25 mile trip from my home to work. I was young, early 20’s, had my first company car and was always dashing from one important meeting to another. My drive to work took me through the Cheshire countryside and I became aware of the dead bodies of creatures, mainly rabbits and hedgehogs but including foxes and badgers and birds, strewn across the roads. For me their flattened bodies became a symbol of the way that we all race about with little or no concern for the world around us.

Becoming a vegetarian gave me daily thinking time – a physical reminder that my actions were not without consequence.

My job took me into factories, hospitals and, crucially in this context, food factories. Here comes the second reason.

The casual cruelty inflicted on pigs waiting for slaughter at a bacon factory was shocking – animals being tormented and teased in their pens.  Once again it was the thoughtlessness that affected me. I don’t think that the guys were being deliberately cruel..they just didn’t think at all.

The third reason came later when considering the role of industrial scale farming.

Millions of acres turned over to rearing animals for meat. Even at a hugely simplistic level this cannot be energy efficient. If we eat a vegetable the energy stored in the vegetable turns into energy that can be used by the human body. If animals eat vegetables the energy is converted into animal body. We kill the animal and eat some bits so, also taking into account the loss of energy in sustaining the animal up to the point of slaughter, the use of energy is less efficient by having the animal as a middle man.

So vast areas of the world dedicated to rearing livestock rather than growing crops … but I do eat dairy products and I expect that dairy cattle farming is a responsible for more acreage than beef cattle so I don’t totally follow my conscience here …. but I am aware of the conflict.

And where are the animals reared? Beef flown to the UK from Argentina and lamb from New Zealand.  Now I know that this is true for vegetable products, the only apples I was able to buy in a small store in the north of Shetland had been grown in Brazil, but it was the transport of meat that first made me think about the excessive air miles needed to get cheap food on our tables.

So my arguments for being a vegetarian are not really about animal welfare, I  agree with limited animal testing of pharmaceuticals in certain circumstances,  for instance. but they are about THINKING.

We don’t do enough of it.

We should think and not just rush headlong through our lives, filling our trolleys at Tescos with barely a thought for the impact of our purchasing decisions, hurtling through the countryside without any consideration for the world around us.

So rather thatn asking me “Why are you a vegetarian” as yourself why you’re not.  Or ask yourself do you really need lamb from New Zealand…or apples from Brazil.

A plea for balance

1 03 2010

I would like to make a plea for balance.

One of the cornerstones of the magazine is to promote positive work/life balance. By that I mean a balance that allows both men and women to be fulfilled at work and at home; in their work life and family life.

Towards the end of last week a report was published which showed that a huge number of workers in the UK are racking up thousands of hours of unpaid overtime. Despite advances in contracts,  terms and conditions of employment, European working time directive and the like, thousands of us feel compelled to work beyond our agreed hours for zero pay. So what about a fair days work for a fair days pay?

Radio 5live chose to interview ex-Apprentice Katie Hopkins who set out to defend this situation. She pointed out that if you walked past Canary Wharf on any evening lights would be on in most of the offices as employees worked well beyond 6 o clock as a matter of routine. She argued that this was essential in these difficult times to work as long as it took to ensure that the company you worked for made a profit; that if the company didn’t make a profit there would be no jobs.  Leaving aside companies making huge profits at the expense of their workforce and the fact that it took me all my time not to shout “Show Me The Money Katie” in  Jerry Maguire style at the radio, surely the issue is one of balance.

Her argument went on the suggest that in the private sector workers were not contracted to work for a number of hours but rather contracted to produce an agreed outcome – to meet a performance target. If that took 10 hours per day to achieve, then so be it.

A story: At 28 I was Marketing manager for a multinational medical company.  Under my management the division I headed was the most successful in the company and sales were growing year on year in what was a static market.  After about a year of working with the company my boss called me into his office and told me that it had been “noticed” that I was leaving the office at around 6 o’ clock, which was always earlier than my (male) colleagues. Resisting the temptation to lose my temper I simply asked had he got any problems with my work? Answer, no. Were there any jobs left undone that should have been completed? Answer, no? Was there anything extra that he would like me to do that could increase the effectiveness of my division? Answer, no? With that I smiled and left his office. After that I left each day on the stroke of 5! In fact my male colleagues were staying late not because they had lots of work to do but  because they were frightened to be seen to be the first to leave. They didn’t work after 5 o’clock, rather they sat in each others offices and chatted until they felt able to leave.

Thought: If I had been able to complete all of my job by 2pm every afternoon would the company have thought it OK for me to leave early? Surely if private sector workers are contracted to a performance then leaving at early should be as commonplace as working late. If it is expected that a job can, on average, be completed in 5 x 7 hour days, as is in most peoples terms of contract, then leaving early sometimes should balance out leaving late. I don’t see many workers wandering home at 4 o’clock, do you?