These militant vegans picked the wrong target

PUBLISHED: 06:08 01 March 2018

Jonny Crickmore from Fen farm Dairy, Bungay has been recieving abuse via social media from vegan groups.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Jonny Crickmore from Fen farm Dairy, Bungay has been recieving abuse via social media from vegan groups. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Militant vegans who hide behind their keyboards are undermining the very cause they claim to support, says Andy Newman.

It seems that every month of the year has now been hijacked for some campaign or other, usually trumpeted with a weak and tenuous pun: Stoptober uses the tenth month of the year to encourage us to give up smoking, Movember encourages chaps to grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues, and Veganuary invited us to start the year by adopting a vegan diet for a month.

These campaigns can be useful ways to get across a message, but unfortunately, in this age of anonymous keyboard warriors, they are also being abused by extremists in a way which undermines any public sympathy which the initial campaign might engender.

While many people were finding out more about living a life without any animal products in their diet in January, one local farming family was experiencing the dark side of militant veganism. Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore, who run Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay, experienced three weeks of online hell, including death threats, fake bad reviews of their business and even abuse directed at their two young children, after they posted an innocent picture of calf triplets on their Facebook page.

To their immense credit, the Crickmores went on national television to debate the issues, and subsequently donated their appearance fee to a charity which helps people tackle online bullying.

Perhaps some of the vegan activists are delighted that their antics have thus made the national media. But before they feel too pleased with themselves, they need to realise that the overwhelming sympathy has been with the victims of the abuse.

By adopting such extreme measures the quite legitimate argument about whether and how we should be using animal products in our diet has taken second place to a wider debate about trolling. Those whom Veganuary set out to convince (ie non-vegans) will overwhelmingly be disgusted by this kind of online abuse – and the evidence appears to suggest it is turning them off the whole concept of veganism.

Unlike, I suspect, those who hid behind the anonymity of their keyboards to deliver the torrent of online abuse, I have actually visited Fen Farm Dairy. You would struggle to find a farm where animal welfare was taken more seriously. This is not some soulless, industrialised processing plant, but a traditional family farm which sells whole milk at the farm gate and makes delicious unpasteurised cheese.

If you are going to campaign against animal cruelty, there are many, many more appropriate targets for your anger – although death threats and trolling should still play no part in the debate.

We should give huge credit to the Crickmores for being willing to take part in debating the issues – they say that discussing farming practices openly is very important. When reasoned and calm debate takes place, that is when minds get changed and positive things happen. Indulging in angry abuse simply entrenches positions and alienates the very people to whom, presumably, the organisers of Veganuary want to reach out.

To be fair, the Vegan Society has condemned the abuse aimed at the Crickmores, and says, “we encourage vegan activists to share their messages peacefully and positively”. But you only need to read the online comments under this story on various media outlets to realise that such peaceful and positive debate is in short supply.

There are lots of issues which we should be talking about openly when it comes to our food supply: health, obesity, animal welfare and the environment among them. But as in so many areas of public debate, reasoned arguments are coming a poor second to the unpleasant outpourings of those anonymous keyboard warriors.

There is merit in some of the arguments put forward by those who urge us to eat less meat, eat no meat at all, or indeed remove all animal products from our diet. But if they think that threats and abuse will persuade people to change their behaviour, they have a poor understanding of human nature.

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