When I was seven years old I saw story on TV about dogs being caged and eaten, somewhere in Asia. Looking at those puppies’ sad, desperate eyes peering miserably through rusty metal bars I made an instant decision. How could anyone with a conscience devour the corpse of a cute, furry animal, I thought.
I’m going to become a vegetarian.
And I did. I didn’t eat meat for the next five years – special shout out to my mum who patiently made me a separate meal to the rest of my family every single night.
But of course it wasn’t enough for me to simply change the way I ate and shut up about it. With my decision came a heady rush of smug entitlement. It’s almost as though my iron deficiency (something that I acquired almost immediately, forcing me to need a series of painful injections) turned off a rationality switch in my brain.
I harangued anyone who’d listen about the perils of eating animals, with the shrill, boring righteousness of the very young and very stupid.
I would gag dramatically if someone ate meat in front of me. I demanded my parents drive me to fox hunts – we lived in the UK – so I could hurl myself heroically in front of galloping horses (note: They laughed and refused).
I even recall one excruciating time I lectured a family friend serving a meal in their own home about how they should have made it with a lump of tempeh instead of pork.
But by the time I was about 12 or 13, I had slowly come to realise what a pompous little twit I was – and just as importantly, how utterly futile my childish one-girl protest was when compared to the real, much larger issues that were plaguing the world – things like poverty, war, racial and religious division and general inequality. I began eating meat again and almost immediately became a more tolerable person.
At least I had the excuse of being a fanciful, ignorant kid. What excuse do the vegans at today’s protests – supposedly mature, fully-formed adults – who blocked people from getting to work in Melbourne’s CBD and attacked farms and abattoirs around Australia have for ramming their lifestyle choice down other people’s throats, and even more appallingly, destroying other people’s livelihoods while they do so?
Why can’t they simply eat – or not eat – whatever they choose and let other people do the same?
It’s the protests that directly target farms and farmers that are the most sickening, and the most counter-productive.
For months I’ve watched the Facebook page of The Gippy Goat cafe in Gippsland, Victoria, as its owners John and Penny Gommans saw their sunny little farm, where kids could watch happy, grass-fed goats being milked and cared for, being destroyed by angry vegan protests.
Yesterday, it closed its doors to the public completely, with the people who work there no longer able to tolerate the harassment, the phone calls, the torture from self-righteous vegans.
“Rejoice in your victory,” the couple told their vegan assailants on Facebook. “Eight good people are now without a job, families can no longer enjoy good food and open space and children can no longer interact with our animals.
“Please know that your ignorant indignation, your lust for outrage and the false reality you inhabit through your social media streams will prevent you from effecting any positive social change,” John and Penny added. “You only have yourselves to thank.”
And that’s the crux of it. Today’s vegan protests around the country simply won’t work. Terrorism never does, and what these people are doing is a form of agricultural terrorism.
Australians will respond well to truly justified protest, when that protest is aimed at governments punching down to the little people. Demonstrations against the Vietnam and Iraq wars, for example, enjoyed almost universal support because we recognised that ordinary Australians – and people from other countries – were being hurt by organisations more powerful than us.
We will even respond positively to examples of truly mindless cruelty where the injustices to animals outweigh any benefits, such as inhumane puppy and kitten farming, which is why Victoria has recently enacted world-first laws designed to stop this practice.
Regular Australians aren’t the bloodless monsters vegans need to pretend we are in order to justify their anger. We care about things very deeply.
But you won’t appeal to our caring side by trying to force other people to conform to your fringe diet or obliterating small farmers like John and Penny Gommans.
There are other ways to improve the lives of the animals you profess to care so deeply about. A company in Victoria – I won’t name them in case any vegans reading race over and start megaphoning into their premises – takes male calves from dairy farms who would otherwise be destroyed at a very young age and raises them humanely and in a happy, free-range environment for veal.
Initiatives like the Meat-Free Monday movement and World Vegan Month (November) have taken off globally, leading to a rise in vegetarianism and a slow in meat sales all over the world.
Nearly 2.25 million Australians are now vegan, according to Roy Morgan research, making us the fastest growing vegan market behind the UAE and China.
In other words, you were winning you dolts.
But not because of your efforts today. “It’s mung beans and almond ‘milk’ for me from now on,” said absolutely no one who watched today’s national disruptions.
In fact I brought a vegetarian mushroom and edamame udon salad to lunch for work because I still quite enjoy eating meat-free every now and again, just because I like how vegies taste.
But now, in honour of every vegan still mutinously chained to a bollard in the middle of Flinders Street, I’m going to nip out to the shops and buy a nice fat chicken schnitty to eat with it.
Well played, vegans. Bon appetit!
Alex Carlton is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @Alex_Carlton