Veganism's On TV …What's The Problem?
With Veganuary breaking records this year with over 250,000 sign ups, it was no surprise to see vegan topics being discussed on almost a daily basis on morning TV throughout January.
While it’s great to see veganism being discussed on mainstream television with hundreds of thousands of viewers, reviewing more than a few segments on the topic quickly shows a repeated format to the discussion, repetitive lines of questioning and attempts to frame vegans in a negative light.
Watching segments on veganism from late 2017 to early 2019, including ITV’s Good Morning Britain and This Morning, BBC’s Newsnight and The Big Questions, it seems that the hosts learn nothing from what previous guests have discussed with them, and continue to ask leading questions and put out the same cliched remarks each time.
Much of the problem with these shows falls into these categories:
A big starting problem is the intention of these segments, which often set out to debunk veganism in some way, and to create a heated debate in doing so. If the talking point of the segment is veganism, animal welfare, the environment or otherwise, they could invite a selection of vegans to have a full, in depth and informative discussion on the topic. Instead, these shows often invite one vegan to talk alongside a staunch anti-vegan, angling to create a harsher debate by polarising the guests against each other.
Julie Bindel - a feminist writer who has vocalised a range of anti-vegan sentiments including describing them as “humourless, judgemental souls,” - has twice sat on the This Morning couch debating veganism. On 4th January 2018 she sat next to Veganuary founder Matthew Glover and declared “I’m not a vegan because I’m not a masochist,” and went on to derail the conversation of animal ethics and the environment to talk, misinformedly, about avocados. (More on that later)
On 6th November 2018 she was back, and sat alongside activist Earthling Ed and talked about her distaste for sanctimonious vegans who don’t care about the working class. (More on that later too.) Yes, this created a back-and-forth between the two guests and the hosts, but did it answer the topic of the show; ‘Are militant vegans going too far?’ Not really. But more importantly, what expertise does Julie Bindel have related to veganism, environmentalism or animal ethics? The answer is none, she just has loud, negative opinions of vegans and is happy to share them on television.
Bringing in talking heads [and having them as hosts, I’m looking at you Piers Morgan] just because they have strong opposing viewpoints but no expertise is sloppy journalism, it is sensationalist entertainment promoting a biased narrative.
LISTENING TO GUESTS
In November’s This Morning segment, the topic of ‘Are militant vegans going too far?’ is introduced and briefly discussed before the hosts introduce Earthling Ed, who shares his journey to veganism and details some of what happens to animals in agriculture industries. Phillip Schofield, the show’s co-host listens before asking, “Are you militant?” and, “How far are you prepared to take that?” Ed responds by talking about educating people on animals and the environment so that everyone can have the power to make informed decisions. Again Phillip asks, “Are you militant? How far will you go?”
Rather than discussing the opinions and information given by the vegan activist that they have invited onto the show, they are moving past the facts and directing the conversation to fit the more salacious narrative they want to put out.
Later Phillip Schofield comes back into the conversation, talking about vegan protestors and activists, and utters the words:
“I’m one of those people, I’ll listen to any argument but the more militant you are, the more I’ll back away... if you make me that angry and frighten me that much, I will eat a sausage!”
Earthling Ed somehow manages to bring the topic back to the environment with a straight face.
DERAILING THE CONVERSATION
On the same This Morning segment, Julie Bindel explains that she has problems with vegans who “espouse this sanctimonious drivel that it’s no more expensive, it’s not more time consuming, it’s as easy.” Julie claims that veganism doesn’t take into account low-income mothers with three children under five, for whom it’s easier and cheaper to feed “fast food meat-based diets.” She argues that these women do not have the time or money to spend buying vegan food and preparing vegan meals. Julie Bindel changes the topic of the segment, which is about vegan activists and instead makes it about a societal class issue. She also made these exact same points on her previous appearance alongside Matthew Glover in January.
It could be argued that, as compassionate people, most vegans would be horrified at the picture Julie Bindel paints. It is certainly not healthy for any children to be brought up on a diet of cheap, highly processed fast food - meat or otherwise. But this is a huge societal problem. Vegan or non-vegan, all humans should eat a variety of whole foods in their diet, and what Julie is missing here is that this is not the fault nor the responsibility of vegans. Economic disparities in our society are not down to vegans, and if there were campaigns for cheaper whole foods, as Julie Bindel suggests, they would certainly be in the interest of and have the backing of vegans. As we discuss on page 14, the government itself needs to do more to promote a plant-based diet.
This argument panders to the same stereotype that veganism is exclusively for people in positions of privilege, which completely disregards all the people outside of that category who are eating vegan, living healthy lives and doing important work in the community.
On Good Morning Britain on 19th December 2018, guest Kayode Damali tries to respond to host Piers Morgan’s repeated remarks about mice being killed in the production of bread. Piers cuts him short repeatedly, asking instead if he is wearing leather shoes, a leather belt, or if he wears leather at all. When Kayode tells him no, Piers quickly changes the subject, his attempt to derail not working out.
MISINFORMATION & REDIRECTING
In her January 2018 This Morning appearance, Julie Bindel redirected the conversation to the rainforest being completely destroyed to cultivate avocados due to the increase in demand. Despite her red herring redirection, she was informed by Matthew Glover, that actually 90% of rainforest deforestation is caused by livestock for animal agriculture (Margulis, 2003, World Bank Working Paper). Yet in November 2018 she puts out the same ill-informed redirection about avocados destroying. The show hosts don’t correct her or follow up with any facts on rainforest destruction, they just let her fake news go out on air unchallenged, before Ed explains that going vegan is the single best thing you can do to help the environment.
This, like other extremities, is a common go-to point for TV discussions on these topics. Hosts usually ask the farmer or anti-vegan about death threats they have received from vegan activists, but don’t ask the vegan activists about threats they receive from the other side. On This Morning, Earthilng Ed - like most activists that appear on these segments - states that he does not condone violence or threats in any form. When Julie Bindel talks about death threats she has received, he tells her that he too has received death threats from farmers and non-vegans, and continues to do so on a daily basis, as have most vocal vegan activists.
BUT WHAT ABOUT FARMERS?
One of the most common questions posed to vegans is along the lines of, “what about farming communities?” Hosts like to bring the point back to the effect of veganism on humans and farming industries, which was the main focus of This Morning’s 6th February 2018 segment on ‘Are Militant Vegans Making Farmers’ Lives Hell?’ Sat alongside two dairy farmers and making the argument that modern humans do not need to eat animals to survive, activist Joey Carbstrong made a clear point that received no argument when he said: “When we’re looking at issues of injustice, we always look at it through the eyes of the victim, not the oppressor.”
FINAL WORD GOES TO THE ANTI-VEGAN
When Lucy Watson appeared on a This Morning segment in November 2018 she asked a farmer questions about his “humane” treatment of turkeys, the farmer struggling to describe how he ‘humanely’ slaughtered the animals. Throughout the debate Lucy made clear, concise arguments on animal ethics, and the turkey farmer stumbled, but when it came to the end of the segment it was the turkey farmer who was given the last word.
Again, when the November 2018 This Morning segment ends, Phillip Schofield gives the “final couple of seconds” to Julie Bindel, who reiterates, “I would like the vegan movement to campaign to make the diet more accessible for people with lower incomes and take away the elitist slant.” Earthling Ed goes to reply, but isn’t allowed to as they close the segment. This segment is about veganism, and they let the anti-vegan have the final say with vegan-shaming rhetoric. Rhetoric that isn’t even about the topic. Now for all the people watching, the final sentiment of the segment is that veganism is expensive, vegans are elitist and should care more about people on low incomes, that is what is in their heads as the conversation closes.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds this formulaic approach to discussing veganism on TV to be a tired, lazy attempt to create a biased narrative toward vegans and vegan activists. Vegan activists invited on air do their best to remain collected and explain themselves clearly, informing the audience with clear facts and compassion for animals, but ultimately it is up to the hosts and TV producers to control the narrative and direct the conversation to fit their intentions.
What we need to see is veganism being discussed without an extreme angle or topic that will divide and energise audiences. Veganism doesn’t need to be debunked. You can talk about veganism without an anti-vegan antagonist. Veganism is a valuable movement and can stand up by itself.