So the new fivers contain tallow. How very emblematic of the grand deception the meat and dairy industry relies on for its continued existence
To anyone who has taken an unflinching look at the slaughterhouse industry, the Bank of England’s belated admission that the new £5 notes contain beef tallow will seem strangely symbolic. Few industries are as secretive as the one that murders 22m animals each day in the UK alone, and the driving force for that shiftiness is a lust for profit. So the way the Bank of England tried to sneak out money containing animal products seems a fitting metaphor for the entire filthy racket.
The unnecessary presence of tallow in banknotes is problematic for many vegetarians and members of several faith groups, including Hindus, for whom the cow is a sacred mother. But for vegans it is a further slap in the face.
Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, is a bid “to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. It is about more than what we put on our plates: it is a meticulous, daily endeavour for compassion towards animals in all aspects of our lives. That’s why it is crushing to know that the Bank of England has misled us into carrying around animal fat in our (leather-free) wallets and purses.
As I’ve trodden the path from vegetarianism towards veganism, I’ve often felt overwhelmed. Knocking halloumi on the head was hard enough, but then I realised that my foot cream includes lamb product, my vitamin capsules are made of gelatine, and even some cleaning products are un-vegan. It seems obscene, then, that after making thoughtful choices in shops and restaurants, the very cash I pay with will nullify the whole project.
And for a growing number of people, this issue is problematic. Veganism is soaring. According to a survey earlier this year, 542,000 Brits – almost 1% of the population – are vegans, up from 150,000 in 2006. The health benefits of a plant-based diet are increasingly recognised, and so are the environmental and welfare costs of consuming animal products.
Some still see us as extremists, but a growing number recognise there is nothing more extreme than what animal agriculture is doing to the planet and its non-human residents.
Supermarkets stock own-brand vegan products, and restaurants increasingly offer meat-product-free dining options. Over the summer Pret a Manger trialled a temporary pop-up in central London selling only vegan and vegetarian food, and it’s been such a hit it has stayed open. We are weeks away from Veganuary, when a UK-based charity encourages people to try veganism for the first month of the year.
The question is whether as a society we grasp the tallow controversy as an opportunity to keep this momentum going, or whether we let it encourage the misconception that vegans are a bit weird and self-righteous.
In response to news about the fiver, Twitter has been doing a great trade in baffled tweets, with vegans dismissed as “morons”, “whiners’ and “fannies”. Some have, hilariously, pointed out that one is not actually supposed to eat bank notes, while other jokers have offered to take the notes off the hands of anyone upset by this bombshell.
We should welcome the humour and the attention it brings to this issue as an opportunity to educate people about veganism. Because, just as we didn’t know we were handling banknotes containing cow products, most meat-eaters know little of the horrors of the industry they are funding: the chicken slaughterhouses where workers rip the heads off live birds; the abattoirs where cows are alive as their heads are skinned and their legs sawn off; the factory-farm workers who systematically attack crate-bound pigs with lead pipes. It is from this world that tallow emerges.
When people find out the facts, it can change everything. A recent study found that 88% of Britons didn’t realise that most pigs are killed at just six months of age, even though their natural lifespan is 15 years. Two-thirds were unaware that on egg farms killing all male chicks at a day or two old is standard practice. Many were unaware that little piglets routinely have their tails amputated and teeth removed without anaesthesia. After becoming aware of this reality, one in six said that they would give up meat and dairy entirely.
Our best reaction to the five-pound tallow revelation will be to see it as a springboard for discussion on the grand deception that the meat industry pulls on us all.