Last week, I went to one of my favourite Italian restaurants on the Strand. My choice of Milanese Veal was met with disapproval from one of my co-diners. ‘Why, is veal bad?’, I asked. Received wisdom says so. Veal accounts for just 0.1% of meat sales in Britain. Why so?
Veal is meat from young calves, slaughtered at the age of around six months. Traditionally, veal calves were kept in crates of limited dimensions and fed a diet lacking in iron and other minerals to keep the animals anaemic. During their brief lives, most never saw the sun or touched grass. Baby cows are also very cute, and this adds to public distaste for eating veal.
Veal or no veal, if you drink cow’s milk, you can be certain the provider of your milk has slaughtered many, many baby cows to keep their operation cost-efficient. Milking cows are separated from their calves after giving birth, and made to continue lactating. This is how we get our milk and cheese.
The female calves are nurtured and brought up to provide dairy produce. Male calves are obviously no use to a dairy farmer, and in the absence of a demand for veal, are slaughtered at birth and disposed of. The separation of mother and calf is distressing for any mammal, and the animals call out to each other.
Ironically for a country with such low consumption of veal, the UK has very high standards of veal farming in comparison to our veal-loving continental neighbours such as Italy, France and the Netherlands. Keeping male dairy calves in crates has been illegal since 1990, so is it not equally unethical to farm male calves for meat than to simply kill them at birth?
A veal-free culture does not equal frolicking baby cows. The ultimate corpse-count is the same. If keeping veal calves in crates is no longer legal in the UK, what differentiates veal farming from any other meat production?
Linda McCartney, perhaps the most famous vegetarian to ever exist, commented that if abattoirs ‘had glass walls the whole world would be vegetarian’. This is probably true. Meat production is not pleasant. If you’re a staunch carnivore but have a fondness for pets, it’s better not to think about it, as the arguments for a vegetarian diet are compelling.
There is the economic argument – an acre of land farmed for livestock could feed ten times as many people if cultivated for grain. There is the health argument, which points out that meat is full of bacteria, fat, hormones, antibiotics and vaccines. We might have evolved pointy teeth, but humans do not need to eat meat. This leads us to the moral argument that it is unforgivable to kill a sentient creature with the capacity for pleasure and pain for your own benefit if you do not need to do so.
I can’t find fault with any of those arguments. I certainly couldn’t slaughter an animal for meat personally. I should be a vegetarian. But of course, I’m not. In this sense, I’m irrational and immoral. It’s the separation from production and consumption that allows this, just as many of the people who were outraged by the invasion of Iraq are similarly affronted by the ever-rising price of petrol. No connection is made between a pint of semi-skimmed and dead baby cows.
Until I’m able to stop myself salivating at the smell of roast beef, fried bacon and grilled lamb, I will accept the karmic consequences and continue to eat meat, thankful that by accident of a human birth I’m at the top of the food chain. Unless, of course, I’m ever posthumously featured on a channel 5 show called ‘WHEN SAFARIS GO BAD!’