Veganism in Politics: Chris Williamson MP, Cathy Jamieson MP and Kerry McCarthy MP with questions from Dennis Kucinich and Maneka Gandhi

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Veganism in Politics 1: Worldwide

We profile the handful of people who combine veganism with politics at their country’s national level. I went to the UK Parliament to meet Britain’s three vegan MPs. What was their path to politics? And I took with me questions from their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Press the play button to find out. (Or, better still, subscribe via iTunes or your podcast catcher of choice.)

The British Vegan MPs

Chris Williamson (@ChriswMP on twitter) has an official site at www.chriswilliamson.org, but also find: Chris Williamson on WikipediaChris Williamson at They Work for You ; Chris Williamson on BBC Democracy Live

Kerry McCarthy (@KerryMP)’s official site is www.kerrymccarthymp.org. Also: Kerry McCarthy on Wikipedia; Kerry McCarthy at They Work for You ; Kerry McCarthy on BBC Democracy Live

Cathy Jamieson (@cathyjamieson) is officially at CathyJamieson.com, but also: Cathy Jamieson on Wikipedia ; Cathy Jamieson at They Work for You ; Cathy Jamieson on BBC Democracy Live

The American Congressman

Dennis Kucinich (@repkucinich) has two official sites: kucinich.us and, for his constituency, kucinich.house.gov. He’s also Dennis Kucinich on Wikipedia.

The Indian MP

Maneka Gandhi chairs People for Animals. She is, obviously, also Maneka Gandhi at Wikipedia.

As Diana mentioned in the show, Maneka advocates veganism and sometimes identifies as such, but admits she doesn’t always live up to it.

References for science

I referred to studies by the large long-term EPIC-Oxford study, in particular their 2009 paper on cancer incidence. The team have a particular interest in vegetarians and vegans, and I reported their results in my 2008 podcast short at Verdant Reports.

Diana talked about sex differences between men and women with respect to vegetarianism and veganism, and levels of testosterone. Her sources were:

  • (for vegetarian sex differences) Beardsworth, A., & Bryman, A. (1999). Meat consumption and vegetarianism among young adults in the UK: An empirical study. British Food Journal101(4), 289-300. doi:10.1108/00070709910272169
  • (for vegetarian sex differences) Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., Resnick, M. D., & Blum, R. W. (1997). Adolescent vegetarians: A behavioral profile of a school-based population in Minnesota. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine151(8), 833.
  • (for veganism being equally distributed between sexes) Stahler, C. (2006). How many adults are vegetarian. Vegetarian J4.
  • (for vegan men having the same testosterone levels as omnivores)  Key, T. J. A., Roe, L., Thorogood, M., Moore, J. W., Clark, G. M. G., & Wang, D. Y. (1990). Testosterone, Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin, Calculated Free Testosterone, and Oestradiol in Male Vegans and Omnivores. British Journal of Nutrition64(01), 111-119. doi:10.1079/BJN19900014

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About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

10 responses to “Veganism in Politics: Chris Williamson MP, Cathy Jamieson MP and Kerry McCarthy MP with questions from Dennis Kucinich and Maneka Gandhi”

  1. Jordan Wyatt says :

    Was a pleasure to be on the show. Should folk be interested, here’s a link to our world vegan day show about Animal Rights, Veganism and Vegan food 🙂

    http://www.coexistingwithnonhumananimals.co.nz/2011/11/episode-67-world-vegan-day-2011.html

  2. suman sutra 苏 宝 龙 says :

    good for veganism around the world. hope there will be soon a vegan world, and peace will be on earth !

  3. An unethical vegan says :

    In her parliamentary speech, Kerry McCarthy gave validity to the concept of “ethical veganism”, as a counter-point to dietary or health veganism.

    Where and when did the notion of such a vegan social caste system arise? Someone must have first thought it up and coined the term.

    Let me state my position immediately, I think the terms are unhelpful to the movement and should be dropped entirely. I reject all twinges of superiority inherent the division and think we should not give credence to the idea.

    What are they really proposing, upper caste vegans and lower caste vegans?

    Veganism is a journey, or a tendency, and not a final destination point. There is no such thing as a 100% perfect vegan against whom the rest of us are measured. There is not even a singular path to a Vegan Valhalla. Do the promoters of this idea consider themselves, in religious terms, to be the only Truth Church of Orthodox Vegans, whilst the rest of the vegan congregation are merely lay practitioners?

    Personally, in 25 years or more of being vegan, I have never met a “health” or “dietary vegan”. I don’t even believe they exist or if they do, they exist in such small numbers so as not to be worth of distinction and confusing our message to non-vegans. If they exist, they are just vegans, like me, at a certain point in their own evolution or developing awareness, living under their own conditions, just as I am on mine.

    I have though met plenty of Vegan Pharisees who seem to think themselves superior to others, or who judge other vegans for not being vegan enough in their opinion. An opinion usually based on their own narrow definition of what veganism is. Is this just not another clever guise for the same? Do we really need ÜberVegans lording it over UnterVegans?

    For the lack of any evidence of their existence, I am left supposing that what self-proclaimed ethical vegans call dietary vegans really boils down to something more like vegans who have other things going on in their lives and don’t have proselytising as their raison d’etre.

    The distinction is clearly moot. One of the best challenges for vegans is to take into consideration the “Least Harm” principle proposed by Steven L Davis which, for me, made me look at more closely and question areas of my life where I had perhaps become lazy. Having managed to clamber onto the first rug of veganism I had stopped refining and developing my worldview. Many vegans do, instead turning around to use it as a pulpit to lecture others.

    To give an extreme example, if I was dress from head to toe in leather taken from an animal which died naturally, as say Brahmin leather in India is, wool taken from moulting animals, and silk from naturally discarded silk cocoons but live on locally sourced and natural foods, I would causing vastly less suffering and direct animal killing than a plastic vegan surviving entirely on supermarket bought bread and muesli and commercial fruit and vegetable flow in from all over the world.

    Which one of us would be “more vegan”?

    if the argument really just boils down to whether one wears wool and uses leather shoes instead of polyester and plastics, if I discard entirely natural but animal derived materials (which could quite easily be acquired non-exploitatively) and adopt entirely unnatural artificial, hydro-carbon fuel based alternatives requiring vast, complex and sometimes harmful chemical and industrial processed to create (which create equivalent environmental burdens upon all life), which lifestyle is more vegan or causes less harm in the whole … especially if we factor in the industrial alternative’s pre-requirement of a vastly exploitative capitalistic society in order to create it?

    Not such a clear decision, is it?

    I’d rather propose a different dichotomy; natural veganism versus plastic veganism.

    • Mijnheer says :

      “Unethical vegan”: You make some points worth considering. But regarding Steven Davis’s argument, have a look at this graphic and the text that accompanies it (“Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories in Eight Food Categories”):
      http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc/

      And, by the way, in his article, Davis misrepresents Tom Regan as being in favour of what Davis calls the “least-harm principle”.

    • Diana says :

      hi An unethical vegan,
      thanks for making some interesting points. In this blog http://veganoption.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/vegan-pledge-statistics-adversity/ I detail that there are many different reasons that people decide to go vegan and that these reasons might impact their perseverance.

      I have heard many people put forward thought experiments about someone dressed head to toe in leather from a dead cow or eating roadkill. I have, however, never someone who attempts to live by the least harm principle and is not vegan. Perhaps freegans would be a good example. In any case, I live by evidence and attempt to make choices that limit my impact on animals, especially vertebrates (for whom evidence for sentience is strongest). If you have some evidence that consuming things like plastic or polyester kill animals more than acquiring leather through “non exploitative means” that would be interesting to me however I am doubtful that these means would be available to every vegan who wanted a pair of shoes.

      • An unethical vegan says :

        I will be blunt with you to start with. “Evidence based” has become a bit of a buzz word in science and medicine of late. It is twisted and abused every bit as homeopathic hocus pocus and is used as much as a cover and excuse for arrogance and conceit as it is used accurately (e.g. look at the debate surrounding the use of St John’s Wort. There is “no evidence” in the UK because there is no high profit industry to do the science, not because there is no value to it. It cannot be patented and there is just not so much money in).

        In fact, the use of “evidence based” has almost entirely subverted from what it was first intended to do (stopping doctors and hospitals killing patients by giving them treatments which did not actual work) to protecting the cartels’ interests against viable alternatives. So too here.

        And, your Lou Reed figure, dressed head to toe in road kill leather, is a straw man.

        No one suggested that but I suspect there probably is enough leather by natural wastage (natural or necessarily manage deaths) to provide a sufficient amount of products (e.g. Brahmin leather in India), recycling processes (more clothes are wasted and not worn than supermarket food thrown away) and other natural alternative (combed animal hairs, non-kill natural silks etc) for the sake of need but not our greeds and vanities which have less impact.

        No, I have no “evidence” to support my argument because I am not a multi-billion dollar industry lobbying agent, no product to sell, no profit to reap and not enough brains to sit down and do the sums right now … but I don’t think they are too hard to do.

        Has the vegan movement as a whole taken Davis’s critique serious and sat down and work out its “evidence”, I’d rather call them sums, of how much life we are taking?

        Yes, I see an argument in support of groups such as the Freegan, the Zabbaleen to the extreme poor of all nations that recycle garbage, even “non-vegan” garbage, as being more ethical than ethical vegans who are still caught up in creating consumer demands within the capitalist system.

        In terms of ethics and environmental impact, I suspect that Davis is also correct about the considerable proportion of human beings who live marginal and pastoral lives in marginal lands as being superior to “ethical vegans” living consumerist vegan lives.

        I don’t think it requires precise calculations to extrapolate that, say, vegans living on a high proportion of imported, off season foods, e.g. live food or raw vegans, have a far worse ethics and environmental impact than those living on local or close to self-suffient lifestyles, even if it includes some animal products. We have pretty good figures for environmental damage caused by hydro-carbons, and one could work out the impact of those.

        How many gallons of oil and water does it take to make plastic DMs?

        Picking up on your defence of vertebrates and value of human defined sentience, I would challenge you that they were the most valuable of lives, as many of them are ruthless predators like us, high energy consumers, and hence polluters. I am sure every being loves its own life equally.

        The most valuable of lives are not the cuddly and cute ones. They are the likes of corals (CO2 absorption), slugs and worms (soil), and pollinating insects (most food crops) which we are still annihilating rapidly and which will kill us when they go.

        The real problem is not so much the product or material. It is the greed behind the capitalist-consumer society which institutionalises cruelty, stupidity and insensitivity for the sake of profit.

        My estimate is that a high energy vegan capitalist-consumer society is not that much better than a high energy non-vegan capitalist-consumer society and, if we are humble, subsistent lifestyles are better than us. We need a more flexible, most wholistic view on life.

        We capitalist-consumer vegans … which is what we really are in the West … really do kill and kill in large numbers. We should not look down at those whose lifestyle kills less.

        A self professed “ethical vegans”, seeing themselves as superior to a mere “dietary vegan” (and I still argue there is no such division) are just a posers, pretentious zealots unless they have adopted the deepest of ecological lifestyles.

      • An unethical vegan says :

        What woke me up to the suffering caused by our hydro-carbon based lifestyle (oil) was the increasing number of cancers being found in the skins of animals living in areas where the ozone layer had been depleted.

        We know the number of death caused to human beings by noxious human-made gases. I suspect it is fair to extrapolate similar proportions to all species closes to us, perhaps even higher to insects and then birds which feed off them.

        I don’t think anyone has looked to calculate this yet.

        Add to that the deaths caused by spills and the acidification of the oceans (which we do estimates for) and your ethical consumer or plastic vegan (oil based) is likely to be tipping the ethical scales in the wrong direction.

        Given our greater awareness of our environmental impact I think we need to redefine the vegan principle slightly.

        Being vegan alone is not good enough and labelling oneself “ethical” might be presumptuous.

  4. An unethical vegan says :

    I am sure Regan does support the Least Harm Principle, which is by no means Davis’s own unique idea. I suspect he merely disagrees with Davis’s interpretation or application of it, which is predictable given where the two are coming from.

    I find it interesting to discover that eating pork is less harmful than eating eggs. Another one for Western vegetarians to mull over.

    In additional to Francione’s statements that there is more suffering in a glass of milk than an equivalent amount of steak, the Cornell study also shows that high-fat vegetarian diets ( those including dairy and eggs) require more land per capita and create more suffering than some diets including a small amount of meat.

    Personally, I am very grateful to Davis for waking me up out of my vegan complacency and making look again and think about the implications of my diet. Being vegan is not good enough alone.

    I also disagree with his prejudice and I think his paper falls very short of the best he was capable of producing. I think it was propagandist and a deliberate provocation but fair one to do.

    Where I think Davis’s paper failed, to the point I think it was intellectually dishonest, and I where I think we on the vegan side of life have not fully resolved our approach to life, is where he attempts to put an equal value onto each life.

    In short, he appeared to be arguing that the life of one field mouse equals the life of one adult bull. An arguable false statement but one which I have some vegans espouse to the point where I had them arguing that their life was worth no more than a slug’s.

    What I think we vegans need to do is create, or rather make concrete what we already do at a sub-conscious level, is a system which can assign different values to the lives of different species according to the values, both positive and negative, to the environment. Note, I wrote to the environment (a biocentric point of view) not to humanity (an anthropocentric or capitalist point of view).

    What I mean by this is a scale by which we can measure, say, a malaria carrying mosquito at a low or negative level (given that it does very little good to the environment but causes an extremely high amount of damage) in comparison to, say, a guide dog for the blind (which causes a relatively low amount of damage or suffering but provides a high value or return to its disabled human companion).

    It would not be simple equation, and I am being a little ridiculous in this example, but one could then calculate how many mosquitos one quide dog was worth … or how many field mice being killed were equivalent to one dairy cow being killed etc.

    The same system could quite easily apply to human beings (and I think human beings as a whole would score fairly lowly by it due to our destructiveness. Many factors would have to be figure in).

    This may sound ridiculous but we do it already regularly and unconsciously. I might squash a mosquito because it is irritating me in bed at night but I would not do the same to an even more irritating child. One might forgive a valuable family member for a serious error where I would not tolerate a tiny misdemeanour from obstructive foreigner.

    I also strikes me that we Eurasian vegans (Europeans and Indians) have traditionally considered that vegetarianism is one step up from meat eating and one step on the way to veganism. However, considering these studies, I think it is very likely that in some environments, a predominately vegan diet with a very small amount of local game (mountain existence) or small and shell fish (shoreline existence), is a better and more ethical diet causing less suffering.

  5. An unethical vegan says :

    I was thinking of another weakness of Davis’s equation which has not been picked up, whereas I am sure he is right about the number of primarily rodents killing in the harvesting of grains etc something which I, as a vegan, had never really considered, one has to consider that those populations of rodent were artificially high and opportunistic of homo sapiens efforts. They would not be have existed if it were not for homo sapiens’ labor. In a way they were ‘in debt’ to homo sapiens and, hence, they were of a different order to natural, native, wild populations.

    Going back to the idea of an equation to put differentiated values on all of life, by such a model, for example, the value and therefore ‘rights’ of field mice taking a free ride on homo sapien labor would be different and lower than, say, species of wild rodents in the natural balance of touched environments that had not made and sustained by human beings.

    I feel in veganism there is a simplistic tendency of “all life is good, all killing is bad” which just in not true in real life.

    Again, we already operate to such a scale unconsciously. For example, we are rightly far less disturbed by the culling of rabbits in Australia, an entirely human made eco-disaster, than the killing of Orangutans in virgin forests of Borneo, or the killing of domestic animals than, say, wild dolphins, and rightly so.

    Going back to the concept of interspecies ‘debt’, this also opens a door to something else that has not been widely considered and resolve within the vegan movement and that is the ‘trade’ between human beings and other species. We do not only take, we also give.

    Nature exists on the basis of symbiotic give and takes. For examples, humanity is hugely in debt to pollinating insects (increasing their value exponentially) and does little to nothing to repay that. On the other hand, by giving shelter to domestic cats, we extend their life and comfort from 4 or 5 years to 15 or more years. Does the cat not ‘owe’ us something and do we not re-take pleasure back from it for doing so?

    Thereby again we differentiate values unconsciously, e.g. the death of a pig versus the death of a dolphin. I am sure pigs are almost entirely as sensitive, intelligent, sentient and enjoying of life as a dolphin. However, they are unnaturally breed, entirely owned by the human on land bought and tended, fed and cared for, protected from other predators by humans and so on. Do they not ‘owe’ the farmer something and how do they pay that back?

    I am not condoning meat product, and certainly not abusive industrial practises but I am saying that interspecies relationships or symbioses are not all bad. Some are, and all should be, mutually beneficial, e.g. I care for and protect the horse or ox and it works for me. I am not condoning animal slaughter but some is beneficial, e.g. one instance of killing a feral cat colony, a man made eco-disaster, is of great perpetual benefit to native, wild bird and rodent populations. Which is of higher value?

    And lastly, going back to the programme once again, can I just repeat, the vegan society should reject any immature attempts to divide the vegan community into lower class (dietary) and upper class (ethical) vegans. Vegan is a journey, not a destination. The only perfect vegan is a dead vegan as it is only when we die that we finally being responsible for killing and suffering. The equation of how much killing and suffering we cause is far from clear as yet.

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