I suspect the average farmer regards The National Trust or the RSPB as a positive body, with a few misgivings due to their lack of all-out support for certain aspects of livestock production.

Friends of The Earth, The Soil Association, or animal welfare groups are a different matter, and it would be hard to imagine them as best mates down the pub on a Saturday night. They just wouldn’t have enough common ground to form polite conversation.

Vegetarians take the ‘strained relationship’ to another level, with farmers wondering what went wrong in their lives for them to stop eating something as delicious as meat in all its glorious forms.

However, if you mention the word ‘vegan’ to any mild-mannered livestock producer, you are likely to trigger something akin to an allergic reaction. Let’s be truthful here, plenty of farming folk think vegans must have been dropped on their heads as children.

Here to stay

I have thought about this long and hard, and I firmly believe that the vegan (and vegetarian) option is not only here to stay, but will continue to expand for at least another decade. Of course, we can cling to arguments about the carbon footprint of shipping avocados halfway around the world, or the unsuitability of certain farmland for anything except grazing hill sheep.

But these opinions are swept to one side when they face the tsunami of Disneyesque emotion that accompanies the meatless lifestyle choice. And there is lots more bad news too – trying to convince ourselves that vegans are uneducated townies who don’t understand modern farming is hiding from the reality of the situation.

They are much more likely to be highly educated individuals, who have the ability to vociferously argue their point, backed up by all sorts of claims surrounding intensive agriculture.

At the same time, the ongoing urbanisation of populations means that fewer and fewer people fully grasp that their own relentless demand for cheap food was the main driver on the road to increased intensification. Surely, that ranks as yet another of life’s great ironies.


My own notion is that NI is running about ten years behind mainland Britain (specifically England) when it comes to the whole vegan debate. Some restaurants here still have few vegan options on the menu, compared with English pubs and eating houses, where the norm is for almost half the choice to come from plant-based alternatives.

For years, we (me included) deluded ourselves that you might as well eat a plate of silage, with the inference being that portions of greenery had neither flavour nor taste.

This is not true – I have eaten vegan meals (as an experiment) and found them to be absolutely delicious. The increased choice of ingredients nowadays has worked to their advantage.


My biggest issue remains the lack of a middle ground and the subsequent polarisation of the two sides. You cannot have any sort of reasoned debate with idealists who think that no animal should have to die, and that cruelty runs through the veins of every livestock producer.

Last summer, my son Sam invited two friends over from Sheffield and advised us they were vegans. I had no issue, and Susan duly stocked up on vegan options.

I thought it might be interesting to see how they approached the whole debate, but when it came to the bit, there wasn’t really a lot of discussion. While Susan asked a few questions about how and why, their responsive choice of vocabulary just left me seething in the corner.

For example, they referred to the ‘exploitation’ of animals as the main driver in their lifestyle choice. Not much moderation there, thought Derek. Then they referred to their friends as ‘other activists’, which made me realise the futility of putting forward a counterargument.

And when Susan mischievously (she likes to innocently stir a bit) asked where they stood on the production of honey, they informed us that honey was, in fact, ‘bee vomit’.

I rather naively thought that because they were being hosted by a livestock farmer, it was bound to translate into a polite moderation of their language, and we could have an open and mild exchange of opinions.

But I really got my eyes opened, and boy does that send you scurrying back to the trenches, determined to continue with the belief that there cannot be any common ground.

And perhaps I was a bit unfair in my reaction too, by sliding into the same stereotypical use of vocabulary. For the rest of their vacation, I referred to them as ‘The Vegetables’.

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