Alice sat down with Tim Thorpe from the Vegan Society UK back in October to discuss their upcoming campaign ‘Plate Up for the Planet’, the Food Sustainability Bill and what it’ll take for us all to go plant based. In this article, the interview originally published in two parts is brought together for readers who like a longer read!
Tim is the Campaigns Officer for the Vegan Society, having joined in 2019, and he has been a vegan for five years. Tim has a background in environmental science but joined the Vegan Society to focus on their ‘Grow Green’ campaign and looking at how agriculture can transition away from herd farming.
‘Plate up for the Planet’ has saved around 330,000kg of CO2 so far from being released
When reflecting on going vegan, one of the things Tim said he wished he had more knowledge of was how to cook and to not see food as simply ‘food’ but something to be appreciated and enjoyed. One of the things Tim suggested for people thinking of going vegan was finding one or two recipes that you enjoy and could easily cook.
Another tip from Tim was to find other people to cook with. Going vegan might not always be easy but having support can make the transition easier and with 400,000 signups for Veganuary this year you are not alone. Even if its just going vegan for a week so that it is less pressure, enough people doing that can add up. ‘Plate up for the Planet’ has saved around 330,000kg of CO2 so far from being released.
Going vegan can often be the single biggest lifestyle change an individual can make to shrink their carbon output
This is hardly surprising as farming is the second biggest emitter of gases harmful to the environment in the UK after the energy industry, making up 20% of the UKs total emissions. Going vegan can often be the single biggest lifestyle change an individual can make to shrink their carbon output.
It’s getting easier and easier to take that step; as Tim highlighted in his interview the vegan society has inhouse nutritionists who publish resources on the Vegan Society website and if you get in touch can give you advice. When you sign up for the ‘Plate up for the Planet’ scheme you will be sent vegan recipes to try each day.
The Vegan Society recommend that you should supplement a vegan diet with B12
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a vegan diet is always healthy. In fact, the Vegan Society recommend that you should supplement a vegan diet with B12 either as tablets or through products such as yeast extract. However, Tim suggested that by becoming vegan, his knowledge of nutrition had massively expanded and as with all things the key was variation.
Even so, with KFC and McDonalds releasing plant-based alternatives you can still have the occasional treat. When I asked Tim if he thought it was vegans alone driving this demand, he said he believed it was a more mixed picture, with omnivores being more conscious of their carbon footprint as well as plant-based options having less fat.
Another thing we discussed in the interview was the whitewashing of veganism and it being seen as the reserve of the cities. Tim emphasized the need to highlight voices who don’t necessarily come from a white background and the fact veganism contains many traditions such as Rastafarian vegans.
Tim also accepted that there is probably a higher number of vegans in towns and cities than in rural areas, partly because a higher population means more vegans leading to a better offering of vegan options. However, Tim said that more research needed to be done into why there is this split and what issues drive it.
Cultural shifts happen over time and… a diversity of outlooks help
As discussion about cultural appropriation in food reporting has increased over the past few years I took the opportunity to ask Tim if he worried about cultural appropriation being a problem facing veganism? Tim said that simply eating diverse cuisines is not cultural appropriation but could see how chefs on TV adapting dishes from other cultures without understanding those cultures could be seen as problematic.
I also asked Tim about what he thought would happen to cultural tradition such as religious festivals that involve the slaughter of animals. Tim pointed out that cultural shifts happen over time and that a diversity of outlooks help.
Finally, on the topic of individual choices and the growing world of vegan culture I asked him about what he would say to support someone going vegan? He said to remember that “you are doing a fantastic thing”. With more people making this individual choice the society has massively grown over the last few years!
Having steadily grown since then, they have, over the last decade, seen exponential growth
The Vegan Society started in 1944 with a disagreement between vegetarians over whether consuming non-meat animal products could be considered vegetarian. Having steadily grown since then, they have, over the last decade, seen exponential growth from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 vegans in 2019.
Whilst they provide support and resources to those going vegan as discussed in my previous article, they now also conduct national campaigns. I caught up with Tim their Campaigns Officer to ask him what exactly these campaigns are about.
By taking a legislative approach you challenge the policy making sphere
With the current Prime Minister not being a vegetarian (unlike the Leader of the Opposition and his predecessor) it may seem odd for the Vegan Society to take the legislative approach. However, Tim highlighted that in the face of a growing climate emergency all approaches must be taken.
Some of these approaches are on an individual level such as ‘Plate up for the Planet’ and Veganuary. Others focus on local efforts such as campaigns for councils to make catering plant based in schools and other services. However, Tim stressed that by taking a legislative approach you challenge the policy making sphere.
In his view it cannot just be an individual effort, but all parts of the food system must adapt to a plant-based approach. This is as half of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow food for animals. Often the land conversion stage (when the land is changed perhaps from forest to farmland) is the point which causes the greatest climate impact.
I asked if products like soy that are shipped from overseas can really be seen as more environmentally friendly than say milk from the cow down the road. Tim pointed out that a lot of the soy consumed in the UK is from Europe and the soy grown in South America is used to feed animals in Europe and elsewhere. So, while a pint of soy milk only leads to one shipment of soy into the country, a pint of cow’s milk may need multiple shipments into the country.
The Food Sustainability Bill was partially written in response to Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy
I asked Tim whether this would change with Brexit, and he said it was hard to tell how the food supply chain is going to react. However, he pointed out how recent shakeups in the global markets showed a need for growing food sustainability and self-sufficiently.
In fact, the Food Sustainability Bill was partially written in response to Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy. It was also written in response to the Agricultural Act 2020’s restructuring of Environmental Land Management Schemes and the risk that it uses oversimplified economics in relation to agriculture.
Instead, the vegan society proposes a food sustainability approach that focuses on “health; economy and just work; environment and climate; social and cultural values; governance; and food quality” alongside a Well-Being of Future Generations Bill.
There is a worry that should we move away from herd-based farming many communities will be left without jobs
The Well-Being of Future Generations Bill would be like the one already in place in Wales which requires the bodies listed to “think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.”
There is a worry that should we move away from herd-based farming many communities will be left without jobs, and ultimately hollowed out like the fate of the mining communities and some dairy farmers as conglomerates take control. However, Tim said there was a need for labour regulation changes as well as alternative land management options that needed to be supported.
I asked Tim if he thought measures such as the tax we now see on sugar should be brought through in relation to animal products. Tim said it was something that had been discussed not just by the Vegan Society but also the National Food Strategy, but was rejected as not politically workable. Tim warned, however, that if action isn’t taken soon, it might be a tool that is needed.
I finally asked Tim what would happen to the animals if we stopped farming them? He answered, “If people stopped eating cabbage what would happen to the cabbage?” and with that question in mind I will leave you to ponder what a future without herds of animals might look like and how far our attachment to them perhaps ignores the realities of our food systems.
It will be interesting to see how far the Vegan Society’s legislative proposals are noticed. If they are, it could lead to the greatest transformation in British agriculture since the creation of the plough.
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