The vegan and the sheep farmer - an unlikely couple hoping to bridge the food divide
It's time for a more open dialogue between vegans and farmers, according to an East Anglian couple who embody this spirit of compromise and understanding - despite their conflicting food choices. CHRIS HILL reports.
It may seem strange that a vegan should choose a livestock farmer for a life partner.
But this unlikely couple prove that people with differing diet choices can live happily side by side – and they are campaigning together to promote a better understanding between two opposing food factions.
Amanda Veal, from Holt, met her partner Michael Jobson, a sheep farmer, on Facebook while researching for her social media project FRiVE (FaRmer, Vegan, Environment.
The long-time vegetarian went “full-on vegan” this year after the Veganuary challenge but was shocked by the animosity in the arguments which surrounded the annual campaign, and disturbed by threats made by some animal rights activists.
Having previously been a farmer’s wife for 13 years she decided to visit farms herself to witness the whole process from birth to slaughter, and report back via social media and online vegan groups.
While searching for farmers willing to show her their operations, she met Michael – and the couple have more in common than many might think.
“I believe the radical idea of a vegan and farmer working together can break down communication barriers in our own like-minded communities,” she said.
“Michael and I spent a lot of time talking and, apart from the final part where he eats meat or dairy, we do agree on a lot.
“Since going ‘full-on’ vegan, I found there was a lot of similarity between me and farmers and producers – about respecting food, and not wasting it. It is the consumers who have lost touch with how their food is produced. It has become industrialised.
“If people do want to eat meat they should by locally and seasonally. You get such a better quality of meat if you buy it from a farmer. My son eats meat so I buy it from a butcher. It is about getting that message out about being local and being seasonal and getting links between farmers and the community so they know who is buying their food.
“I know I won’t wake up in a vegan utopia but if people are making an informed, educated personal choice about what they eat, then I can live with that.
“When you love someone you respect their decisions. Michael respects that I don’t want to eat meat, and I have to respect him back.
“One of my first questions to him was what makes me different to you, what makes you able to eat meat while I cannot? We have not answered that yet.”
With a foot in both vegan and farming camps, Amanda feels she can bring more balance to the discussion about food than someone with a polarised opinion on either side.
“If you are a farmer saying: This is what I do on my farm, then animal rights groups won’t believe it because you have a financial interest in your own stock,” she said.
“I expect to get attacked for this. They will say I am not truly vegan by talking like this. But if you put your voices together you can achieve so much more.
“We can get people to think about their food and support high-welfare British farming.
“We cannot have people saying we mustn’t kill animals for meat and then threaten to kill farmers. We cannot have that violence in the argument. Conflicts only ever get resolved by people getting around a table and talking about it sensibly. If you bring people together you can find the common ground.”
Michael is based in Cambridgeshire but is planning to move his 220-strong flock to Norfolk. He sells his lamb through a meat box scheme.
“I have had horrible threats on Facebook and Instagram and some of the things that are said are completely wrong,” he said. “They were talking about selling meats to supermarkets, and I said I had never done that. I have always wanted to sell locally. I am not interested in mass producing for supermarket contracts.
“My business Facebook block list is huge now. If there was more discussion between vegans and farmers it would get rid of a lot of the misinformation, absolutely.
“Amanda and I both have strong convictions over food, but we agree on quality over quantity. That is what is missing now. People don’t realise the work that goes into producing their meat.”
• Farmers interested in helping Amanda with research for her FRiVE project can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 07783 083854.