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For vegans in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's not always easy being green

Protesters with Anonymous for the Voiceless set up a blockade against trucks heading into the Country Ribbon processing plant in Pleasantville, St. Johns, in this April 2018 file photo.
Protesters with Anonymous for the Voiceless set up a blockade against trucks heading into the Country Ribbon processing plant in Pleasantville, St. Johns, in this April 2018 file photo. - SaltWire Network File Photo

Young vegans say research led them to believe animals should not become food, even if they get mocked for their convictions

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

There’s a joke that goes, “How can you tell someone is a vegan?” Answer: “You don’t need to, they’ll tell you themselves.”

It’s a joke vegans will tell you themselves. And it’s true. Poke your nose into the 2,500 NL Vegans Facebook page and you’ll see robust conversations about the best recipes and the hottest new restaurants. You’ll also encounter a lot of passionate discussion of animal cruelty and the evils of meat.

Studies show that about one per cent of Canadians follow a strict vegan diet, which means they won’t eat animals of any kind, or anything derived from them such as eggs and dairy products.

Still, that’s more than 350,000 people, and a 2018 Dalhousie University study found that two-thirds of them are under the age of 38. Veganism is trending upwards, and it’s mostly driven by Millennials and the Generation Y population.



Veganism is a philosophy. It’s based on the conviction that animals are not to be harmed or exploited for human consumption — even for clothes, in some circles.

It can be militant. While all vegans are adherents of the animal rights movement to some extent, some are more vocal about it than others. They’ll take undercover footage inside slaughterhouses or block trucks from entering processing plants.

Personal health and the environment also play a major role in the motivation for veganism. You can find many claims about both. While the numbers may be sketchy at times, the bottom line is that a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet can be one of the healthiest lifestyles choices you make and that meat production, especially beef, is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and a contributor to deforestation in some countries.

In a limited series starting today, we’ll look at some of the people who make up the local vegan community. They’ll talk about their own reasons for embracing the diet, and how it has changed their lives. We’ll talk about health benefits and caveats, and even check out a recipe or two.

Time to chow down.


Chris Flynn’s voice cracks a little as he talks about the times he’s joined other animal rights activists to briefly blockade trucks from the Country Ribbon chicken farm as they entered the processing plant in Pleasantville, St. John's.

While the trucks were stopped, it was a chance to poke their heads inside and snap a shot or two of all the chickens in cages.

“It’s pretty horrific,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Sometimes they can’t even stand up because they’re so big and sometimes they still have yellow feathers because they’re only four weeks old when they’re killed. And sometimes their legs got ripped off because they got stuck in the cage.”

Chris Flynn. - Contributed
Chris Flynn. - Contributed

He has to take a second to control his emotions.

Flynn, who works in IT, lives in Conception Bay South.

He and his fellow protesters are allied with an international lobby group called Anonymous for the Voiceless.

Not only are they vegans, but they want to convince everyone else to be vegans, too.

Vegans refuse to eat animal flesh or any byproduct of animals such as eggs or dairy. While health plays a part, the motivation is primarily ethical.

“I respect the right for any conscious, sentient being to live their life free of intentional suffering,” Flynn said. “They certainly have a right not to be locked in a cage all their life and tortured.”

Like many vegans these days, Flynn is a recent convert.

He became a vegan four years ago at the age of 24. His girlfriend was already a vegan at the time, but he didn’t think much about it until he saw documentary called “Food Choices.”

“I started to realize that meat is not required, that animal products are not required for anyone to be healthy,” he said.

Flynn has thought long and hard about it ever since, and it’s hard to trip him up with the usual counterarguments.

Why is it not just a personal choice?

“I can’t say that it’s my personal choice to punch someone in the face, because that other person is affected by that choice, so it’s not a personal choice to eat an animal when that animal loses their life for it.”

But don’t animals eat each other?


“I can’t say that it’s my personal choice to punch someone in the face, because that other person is affected by that choice, so it’s not a personal choice to eat an animal when that animal loses their life for it.” — Chris Flynn


“Certain wild animals like lions and tigers … a lot of times they’ll eat their own children. I don’t think humans should do that. A lot of animals will just rape each other when they’re ready to mate, but I don’t think we should do that either.”

What about dairy, where the animal isn’t harmed?

Cows will loudly pine when their calves are taken away from them, often to make veal, Flynn says. Then they have to give milk until they’re eventually slaughtered anyway.

Eggs?

Free-range chicken is just a “marketing buzzword,” he says. Even laying chickens, which are bred to lay eggs at an exhausting rate, are kept in cruel conditions, he says.

Growing trend

Elizabeth Johnson. - Contributed
Elizabeth Johnson. - Contributed

A 2018 Dalhousie study found that approximately one million Canadians consider themselves vegans, and that two-thirds of them are under the age of 38. The trend seems to be growing.

Chris Flynn falls well within that category, but Elizabeth Johnson is even younger.

An 18-year-old student at Memorial University who lives in Goulds, Johnson says she decided last year to research everything she could about the environment, climate change and politics.

“I quickly started changing my habits — started walking more, reusing and up-cycling old things from around my house, started sharing my viewpoints with my family and friends, and just overall my entire life changed,” she wrote in an email.

“With more research I realized just how damaging the agriculture industry is to the environment, and how becoming vegan is the single smallest thing you can do with the greatest impact on the environment,” she said.

“In Newfoundland, being a vegan is tough,” Johnson continues. “Not money-wise or finding vegan alternatives, but mainly because of the culture.”

Even if you’re not out protesting in the streets, some people get very defensive about the fact they eat meat.

“Every time somebody would ask me why I was vegan, they would feel so defensive of their actions,” she says. “I have had people tell me to ‘eat a steak and get over it.’”

But Johnson makes no apologies.

“I did my research and understood the horrible effects that the meat, egg and dairy industry had on the animals, humans and the Earth, I knew what I was doing was wrong and I stopped valuing my tastebuds over the world. I may not be perfect, but it’s better for thousands of people to be vegan imperfectly than a handful of people doing it perfectly.”

Watch for Part 2: What is the impact of meat production?

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram. Find him on Twitter @pjackson_nl.


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