When the Beet drops: Why I admit I’m speciesist

Another year and another batch of budding vegans and veggies. A recent survey showed the number of UK vegans has grown to 3.5 million, and the veggie population to 7 million. It seems like everyone’s becoming one. They’re the kind of person you wouldn’t be too alarmed to find foraging for kale in the bushes at the edge of a railway track. They’re ultra-veggies. No animal products. They walk barefoot around campus, don’t use shampoo, and replace toothbrushes with asparagus stalks. (That may be a slight exaggeration.)

Last week a vegan called me speciesist. Obviously I was horrified, denied it, and Googled ‘speciesism’. It turns out I am. Speciesism is the belief your own species (humankind, hopefully) should have more rights than other species for the sole fact you’re a human. You don’t have to be anti-speciesism if you’re a vegan, I assume there could be other reasons to inflict a no-meat diet on yourself. To be fair The Tipsy Vegan on St Benedict’s Street serves some delicious food. As in really, REALLY yummy. However some people, many of them animal rights activists, are anti-speciesism. They believe they wouldn’t want to be treated the way animals are, so animals should have the same rights as humans. How this would affect the daily lives of the global population is not the concern. Their opinion is rooted in ethics, and the idea is gaining traction.

You may wonder whether speciesism’s an issue you should really consider. Imagine you’re at a cliff edge. There’s a puppy and a baby, both clinging on, but you can only save one. Which would you choose? It’s speciesist to pick the baby for the sole reason it’s a Homo sapiensand the puppy isn’t. What would you then say to a person who would discriminate people by race, gender, or sexuality? Joan Dunayer, an animal rights activist, says you should flip a coin to decide.

It’s not only an ethical debate. There are real-life consequences to this movement. Designer Stella McCartney is an instrumental figure in bringing animal rights into the world of fashion. She uses “Fur-Free-Fur” and looks for ways to make the wool and silk her company uses sustainable. Her leather, like all her products, is vegetarian, and she’s even looking into growing it in a laboratory. As the fashion industry styles itself as progressive, McCartney’s position is fuelling a drop in demand within the leather industry.

Maybe future generations will look back at us in horror. Many people wear leather, use gelatine-based glues, and eat animals. I found out last week that until this year, Percy Pigs actually contained pork gelatine. (If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face I don’t know what will.) I’m not vegan or vegetarian and I don’t intend to change – I yam what I yam. Animal rights activists believe speciesism is fundamentally wrong and immoral. In an ideal world that may be. But if I ever have to choose to save either a puppy or a baby, it’s safe to say I’ll opt with the human.

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Chris Matthews

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October 2021
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