Social media has been very, very good to us, as it has been for many other small businesses. We’ve used it since the start of our little venture, and our use of it has evolved quite a bit over time. That’s partly because we learned a lot, but also because my eldest daughter does social media marketing for a living and has been a wealth of knowledge. It’s not what you know after all… 🙂
To me, the biggest lesson we learned, both through our own social media use, but also by observing others, was around customer engagement. The trick here is to form ongoing rather than transactional relationships with people. You only do that by being open to, and honestly answering, their questions. I’m not saying we have it completely right yet either, but we are much closer.
When we first started at a market and our presence was advertised, there was a customer who asked a question about cleanliness. They wanted an assurance that a market stall selling meat was as clean as the butcher shop they normally frequented. I didn’t see the comment myself, because the person who ran that market said that he’d headed it off, and I wasn’t to worry because he’d deleted the comment and blocked the person who asked it. That is a terrible response. Most people ask questions because they want an answer. Not all of them have that aim of course, but I’ll get to those others in a little bit. In this case, chances are that this person was genuinely concerned.
What I’d have done is start a conversation with that person. I’d have explained the regulations we work under, and the checks/audits we are subject to. I would have invited them to check out our set up, our fridge, our accredited cool room etc., and I would have given them the assurances they were after. They may have then chosen to not buy meat, but they also might have. The way it was managed, on the other hand, ensured that the person in question would never come to us. Anybody who saw that question, and noted it was deleted, would never come to us. Why? Because they would now think that we had something to hide.
We have a HUGE number of questions asked of us, both at the markets and on social media. People are more and more becoming concerned about the provenance of the animals they eat, and it’s awesome. We encourage their questions, and we get them on every aspect of the animal’s lives. We give those people the answers, and then leave the choice to them. I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably repeat it a million times, but eating meat is a choice. If you eat meat, then you not only choose for an animal to die, you choose the quality of the life it lived prior to slaughter by choosing to support the farmer who raised it. By choosing to support that particular farmer, you are choosing to support every practice they employ in the life of that animal and, as a result, YOU choose the quality of the life that animal led. Almost every meat eater you ever meet will be squandering that choice, and it’s my aim to show them that fact. Once I tell you about our practices you may still choose not to get meat from us, but at least that choice will be informed.
The thing that I’ve noted, and the reason for this blog post, is that there are people who interact with us on social media who in no way want an answer from us. Before I get into that, I want to make it very clear that I have nothing but respect for the choices made by vegans and vegetarians, despite the title of this post. 🙂 Many of them won’t accept it, but our ethos mirrors theirs in many ways, obviously parting ways at the “meat is murder” part. At this point it becomes a moral rather than an ethical argument, but that’s a whole other discussion. And I don’t want to sound flippant here (for a change). The choice I faced years ago when learning what really happened on intensive farms was to either stop eating meat or growing it myself. That was all that would satisfy my own internal moral barometer. Before we started growing our own, my meat consumption had dropped to almost nothing. I had removed lamb entirely from my diet, mainly because my very forceful, animal activist grandmother hates sheep farmers and made me promise not to eat lamb. Either way, I completely empathise with people who choose the vegan/vegetarian route, and almost joined them on their meat-free journey.
What we’ve found on social media is people who will attack what we do under the guise of questions on, or a discussion of, ethical points. As should be obvious from the above, I’m determined to engage people in an open and frank discussion of what we do, and for the most part that’s exactly what happens. There have been times, however, where that approach was never going to work.
This is one of those points-of-difference between Linhda and me as well. As I spoke about in our post on market realities, Linhda takes a much more low-key approach. Some of the interactions can be super adversarial, and some of them are downright mean, and Linhda has quite a low tolerance for that. She’d much rather not engage anybody who is clearly trying to stir the pot, ignore them, and just move on. I’d rather give them a chance to be an adult, but it’s not a choice that many take. 🙂
There’s a range of forms these interactions can take. They can be the more passive aggressive single star review with no comments, or the frowny/angry/teary face emoji on a post or picture. I’ve actively tried to engage those people, with limited success. I’m always curious what they think that kind of thing is going to achieve. It seems awfully passive, and I genuinely want to know where they think it’s going to end.
There are other interactions that are less passive and much more aggressive though, and these are the ones that hurt Linhda. We’ve had people actively and quite vehemently attack us. I will always try and open a dialogue and explain that I care about these animals as much, and I suspect a lot more, than they do. I don’t really get upset by them, though it’s never pleasant having somebody casually dump on something you work so hard for and believe so strongly in. Still, I give them the chance to talk it over. To date, that’s not once ended positively, but I live in hope. 🙂 And by “end positively” I don’t mean that I convert them to my way of thinking. I fully understand that is an impossible outcome, and it’s not actually one that I’d want. I don’t want to convert a vegan back to being an omnivore because I actively respect the choice they’ve made. All I want is one of them to concede that we have a difference of opinion that will never be reconciled, but respect our point-of-view. Not agree with it. Just respect it.
This has been to the point where I had a lady wish cancer on me and my family, as that’s what all meat eaters deserve apparently. I was holding out until that point, after which I blocked her. In fact, that same person tried to engage us through another account, with similar results. I stay calm the entire time and try and give measured responses, but sometimes the ignorance does get frustrating.
The fact is there is a difference of opinion here that we’ll never bridge. We both claim to love and respect these animals. I put that into practice by working every day of every week to make sure our animals are treated well. Most of the people who have attacked us have never met a pig. And they should. Everybody should. Pigs are awesome!
Differences of opinion on the internet are nothing new. The second post on the internet was probably a disagreement with the first post. People suddenly have a medium through which they can exercise their voice, and they seem determined to use it. There are a few things that I find frustrating about these interactions though.
Firstly, it’s the wilful ignorance. These people clearly have no idea of our aims, nor of the work we put into doing what we do. All they see is a picture of a pig/sheep/cow, and they start typing. Take five minutes to read what we’ve written and then maybe you’ll want to point your angst elsewhere.
Secondly, it’s the fanaticism and zealotry. Personally, I think that zealots do much more harm than good to whichever cause they espouse. An absolute belief in anything to the exclusion of any other opinion contributes nothing to any discussion. It also demonstrates a complete lack of critical thinking. Absolutely, be passionate about something, and be passionate about animal welfare, just don’t be a zealot. You’re not being strong. You’re not showing how firm you are in your convictions. You look stupid.
Thirdly, sending us memes, pictures, and videos of animal abuse in intensive farms is just wasting everybody’s time. That’s not us. It in no way relates to us. It’s comparing apples and oranges. Along a similar vein, showing us a video of a pig being properly stunned and slaughtered is almost as meaningless. To us, that’s a completely proper practice. Confronting and gross, yes, but proper. And I agree with you that everybody should see those videos – they should see what happens in intensive farms and they should understand exactly how their meat is slaughtered. I’m right there with you, I just don’t understand what you think sending me those things is going to achieve.
Lastly, it’s the complete lack of logic in the argument. Unless your end game is that everybody everywhere stops eating meat, then why attack the people focussed on the wellbeing of the animals?! If you agree that people will always eat meat, even if you make the very valid choice to not partake yourself, doesn’t it make more sense to aim your ire at breeders/growers of the more intensive variety? Sure, ferret out the people who claim ethical practices but who are only doing so for marketing reasons. Hell, I’ll give you a hand. You gain nothing by blindly throwing shade at the people who have devoted themselves to doing this the right way though.
I’m a firm believer in putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, of trying to see things from their point-of-view, but I simply can’t work this out, and I’ve spent countless hours trying. Let’s take this to its logical conclusion and assume a world where everybody everywhere has stopped eating meat. What happens then? Almost all of the non-game breeds that are consumed today, be they chooks, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, whatever, would cease to exist. Take that to a vegan extreme, and that list would include egg birds and milk animals. You might get somebody keeping the odd animal as a pet, but it wouldn’t be enough to continue the breeds. That isn’t a far-fetched scenario either, because it’s happened in the past, and even happens now. Decades ago when intensive farming developed and the focus was on white pigs, farmers switched breeds and processes, and the heritage breeds were neglected. Some of those breeds have been lost to us as a result, and some of them are only now coming back into favour. I’ve jokingly heard heritage breed breeders promoting the motto “eat our bacon to save our bacon”, the reasoning being that the pigs will disappear unless there’s demand for their meat. And that makes sense – pigs as purely pets can be problematic. Not many backyards are set up for that kind of punishment. 🙂
We actually have a number of practicing and ex-vegetarians/vegans as customers. The practicing vegetarians buy for their families, and are determined to buy ethically raised meat. The ex-vegetarians are now omnivorous almost entirely for health reasons. Again, I’m sure there are vegetarians and vegans who will vehemently oppose the fact that you can’t live that lifestyle and be healthy, and that may be true for them, but all I know is that we have customers now whose doctors have told them that they need to eat meat. Feel free to take it up with that particular health professional. 🙂
For the ex-vegetarians, we are always sensitive to the fact that they may not be comfortable with what is being forced on them. We’ve managed to introduce a few of them quite gently back into the world of the flesh eater. I tend to suggest fillet, as it’s lean, and therefore mildly flavoured, and it’s soft. To date, that’s worked well.
We are also lucky enough to count a number of vegetarians and vegans as friends and even close family, and have been able to talk to them quite openly about what we do and our similar and yet opposing points-of-view. We’ve hosted a number at our home and introduced them to the pigs. That just highlights how much we could be working with and talking with the people who choose to attack us.
If I was able to give people advice on how this should work, I’d list the following:
- Don’t attack our operation using the argument that no animal should be farmed for human benefit/consumption, but have pictures of your dogs and cats on your profile. Dogs and cats can’t be herbivorous (cats in particular). The lady who wished cancer on me told me that her dogs and cats eating beef and chicken was okay because it’s preservative free. My free-range pigs, sheep, and cows live lives of luxury, but you think it’s okay to attack that while buying factory-farmed chicken for your dogs and cats?!
- Read what we’re about before clicking the emoji or firing up the keyboard. Our blog talks about everything we do, in enough detail to satisfy anybody.
- If you don’t like what you read, then ask a question. I answer every question posed to us. If you don’t like that answer, explain why and we’ll discuss it. It’s what grownups do.
- Don’t ask us if our stuff is Halal certified. Especially don’t then celebrate when I answer that it’s not. For one, much of our focus is pigs, so duh. For another, a person’s religion is their business, and not mine. In fact, their right to their religion is protected by law, as it should be. My focus is our animal’s wellbeing. Our customers can worship any god they choose.
Maybe this is just another example of human nature shining through and proving that some people are simply jerks. It doesn’t matter what the point-of-difference is. It doesn’t matter how open you are to a discussion with them. It doesn’t matter how friendly you are to them. It will always be their narrow view, nothing else matters, and they will always choose to be a dick.
I wrote this blog post five or six weeks ago, and shelved it for a while so I could post the less depressing story of our breeding redemption. In that time, and in fact quite recently, we’ve been attacked twice by separate groups of vegans. I engaged them both times, despite the vile abuse (seriously, I like a good swear, but OMG!) and wishing of violence upon me (eating meat is unacceptable violence, but wishing cancer and death on me in graphic detail is just fine apparently). Neither time worked out well, despite me genuinely trying to engage, but that’s okay. I actually learned the answers to some of my questions of logic above. I’ve not gone back and edited the original post though, as I wanted to keep that as-is, write about what I learned below, and collectively that’ll give the full progression in understanding and the position of the people who attacked us.
- Vegan world of the future. I said that I didn’t understand why vegans would attack us, because clearly people will always eat meat and we’re the people trying to raise the animals properly. However, as it turns out, at least according to the people who attacked us, vegans do envisage a future where nobody eats meat.
From my research, 2% to 3% of the world’s population is vegan (all vegetarians were collectively around 10%). One of the more vitriolic women who attacked us inflated that number quite a bit, but that 3% number seems consistent outside of the vegan sites I saw. Most of the western-based vegans seem to choose that lifestyle for moral reasons, while many of the eastern-based vegans choose it for religious or economic reasons. I really can’t find statistics that split the two out, but the religious/economic vegans inflate the number a bit. And it might not matter either way. I suppose a religious vegan is that way for moral reasons, right?
So the vegan plan, as explained by the people who attacked us, is that the numbers will rapidly grow from 3% to 100%, and we’ll have no meat eaters in the not-too-distant future. It seems that some of the impetus for that is because many current stock production practices aren’t sustainable (they’re really not), and so the theory is that we’ll have a change to a purely plant-based diet forced on us.
This theory/plan was news to me, and answers one of my points-of-logic above.
- Stock animals in the future. Another point I couldn’t understand is what would happen to the stock animals in the vegan utopia of no flesh consumption. In my head, vegans should be baulking at the idea of losing all of those animals, and not just the animals, but the entire breeds and maybe species.
As it turns out, I was wrong again. Again, according to the people who attacked us, they see those breeds as unnatural. Those animals have been selectively bred to cater to human needs, giving us way more eggs, milk, meat etc. than nature originally intended. As such, they’d be allowed to die out, restoring balance to nature. I assume they mean that the remaining animals would be cared for and just not allowed to reproduce, rather than actively letting them die without care. I didn’t ask that question specifically, but am confident that’s what they’d do.
I’m not sure what would happen to pest species like rabbits, foxes, and cane toads. Or how they feel about culling things like kangaroos. I’ll make sure I ask those questions during the next attack. 😊
- Animals = Humans. This wasn’t something I’d been thinking about before our recent interactions, and it was something that caught me by surprise. We had several people who kept asking us variations of “if it’s okay to kill an animal ‘humanely’, then you should kill your family members the same way”. It made no sense to me, until I had an epiphany – they see humans and animals as complete equals. Both Linhda and I came to the same realisation at the same time, and both asked the same question at about the same time. Sure enough, the people we were talking to see absolutely no difference between humans and stock as animals. Some of them even refer to animals as “non-human animals”. It was fascinating!
- Chooks. This isn’t entirely relevant to this discussion, but I found it fascinating. I’ve always wondered why vegans won’t eat eggs from chickens they themselves keep. I understand why they won’t eat them from commercial set ups, even free-range set ups (e.g. birds are still culled after a couple of years, roosters are culled at hatching etc.), but keeping some birds yourself, letting them live out their lives in luxury, should mean you can eat their eggs, right? Apparently not.
As it turns out, it’s morally wrong (to them) for a couple of reasons. For one, chickens are supposed to only lay about a dozen eggs a year, and it’s selective breeding that has them laying so many now. I’m not sure if that’s true and didn’t check, but it may be factual. Secondly, the egg doesn’t belong to you, so you have no right to take it without permission, a permission a bird is obviously never going to be able to give.
It was obvious that some of these people owned egg birds, which as it turns out were rescues, so I asked what they do with the eggs. One has her birds surgically implanted so they don’t lay anymore. I didn’t even know that was a thing, and didn’t do any further research, but she seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject. Another boils the eggs and feeds them back to the birds.
To me, the relationship we have with our birds is symbiotic. We give them a life of luxury, and they live out their lives in full even after they stop laying. In the course of that life they have a biological imperative to lay eggs. When they do that, I eat that egg. No harm comes to anyone, and the birds are happy. I explained that point of view and was called names, after which I was compared to Nazis and child rapists. I’m not even joking.
So as horrible as those attacks were, and they were truly vicious, I did learn a couple of things. Now that I understand those things, does that help me put myself in the shoes of the people attacking us? No, not really. Here’s why:
- Vegan world of the future. It’s never going to happen. People have eaten meat for almost all of human existence. That isn’t going to change any time soon.
Now, that doesn’t mean that our practices don’t need to change or that we shouldn’t rationalise the amount of meat we eat and almost certainly eat less. I can’t see that vegan 3% grow to 100% as a result though.
I think a big part of that is also due to vegan in-fighting. I did a heap of research outside of those attacks against us, and found that vegans fight with vegans almost as much as everybody else. We had one “vegan activist” (her title, not mine) who seemed to hate other vegans as much as she hated us because the other vegans didn’t actively go out and disrupt restaurants who sold meat. There’s apparently a lot of fighting around exactly what is vegan enough, and if you’re less vegan than another vegan then you’re just as likely to get abused as I am.
- Stock animals in the future. This is actually the one that came closest to upsetting me. I understand that the stock animals we have today, be they for meat, eggs, milk, or fleece, are a long way from their ancestors. We’ve inherited them, they’re now ours to look after, and I don’t want to aim for a world where we just let them die out!
- Animals=Humans. I disagree with this on every level. I love every one of my animals, and to be quite frank, I prefer their company to most people I know. Give me a choice between going to work and having to be a grown up surrounded by people or spending the day with my pigs, and the pigs will win every single time. I in no way see them as the equal of a human being though. Yes, they’re sentient and their lives are important, but they aren’t people.
This is fundamental, and may actually be the root cause of the disagreements between vegans and omnivores.
- Chooks. This makes no sense to me at all. To me, our chooks are the epitome of a symbiotic relationship. They face no harm in any way, and we eat the eggs they lay. If they don’t lay eggs, they still live lives of luxury. I just cannot see the problem in there.
One thing that bothered me about these interactions was the absolute black and white view of the world, with their white being the only white and all else black. It was a binary choice, with no room for compromise or even discussion.
Yes, a lot of current stock practices aren’t sustainable.
Yes, intensively farmed animals are treated horribly.
Yes, eating meat at our current rates of consumption isn’t good for our health.
The vegan solution we had screamed at us? Stop raising stock entirely. But what if there’s a third option (spoiler alert: there is, and we practice it every day)?
Another thing was the absolute refusal to listen. The logic there was “I don’t have to learn about slavery/child rape/Nazis to know that they’re bad, therefore, I don’t need to listen to you”. Seriously, the nazi and rape things came up a lot. I understand that we will never get past the slaughter of the animal. That is a moral barrier to us ever seeing eye-to-eye, and that’s fine. But the animals lives an entire life before that final 10 seconds. Is that not worth a conversation?
Every one of those people, with the exception of the vegan activist who likes to go into restaurants and cause a fuss, was a keyboard warrior. Not one of those I spoke to had ever met a pig. Their care was entirely academic. Now, academic care is still valid I guess, but it can only be sympathetic, and never truly empathetic. Us, on the other hand, work with these animals every day and we freaking adore them. Yes, that adoration leads to their death, and yes, that’s a perspective that some people will never be able to understand. That sounds a lot like their problem though and not mine.
The final thing that bothered me was the absolute fruitlessness of it all. What gain do they possibly get by attacking us? How do they progress their cause in any way, shape, or form by calling us names or wishing ill against us? What happened was a lot of our supporters saw the interaction in their news feeds and they piled on. It ended up with a lot of angry vegans convincing a lot of angry omnivores to never consider a vegan lifestyle. All they did was generate sympathy for us and make themselves look awful. I can guarantee with absolute conviction that we’ve done infinitely more for animal welfare in our approach than any of those people ever has.
All of those videos/pictures they want people to see, I want that too. The story of how animals are slaughtered, I want every meat eater to know that too. The plight of intensively farmed animals is something I want spread far and freaking wide. I want people to be fully informed before they choose to eat meat. If that information then means they choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, then that’s awesome, and I’ll celebrate that as a win right next to the rabid lady wishing cancer on me. I have ZERO agenda here, and in no way want to convince people of anything one way or another. I’m not going to call them names. I’m not going to start a fight. I’ll certainly not seek them out on social media and attack them.
So I got called every swear word you can think of, and I mean every one. We had people wish death and cancer on us. We had a lot of memes and pictures and videos of fairly horrific things thrown at us. We even had one lady draw a little cartoon of somebody slaughtering a pig to make some weird point. All of it for absolutely no gain whatsoever, though the cartoon did make me laugh.
You want to know the irony here though? I wanted them to be right. Linhda wanted them to be right. We wanted them to be armed with the knowledge of a better way, an actual, sensible, achievable plan for a more sustainable world. A world where we get to hang out with our pigs, everybody is healthier, the environment heals, and we all live in peace. I’d actively work towards that world. They couldn’t offer that though. They offered abuse and vitriol. It was sad.
Where does that leave us? It takes us about 5 seconds to block somebody, so the admin burden is really no problem. Apart from that, they really can’t hurt us in any way at all. And let’s face it, I’m much more likely to tell a potential customer something that makes them uncomfortable than any angry vegan. 😊 Linhda has actually continued her research, and watched a couple of vegan documentaries last night. I watched some of them with her. They didn’t show us anything new though, and I think this is what the vegans who attacked us don’t understand. They think they need to educate us, after which we’ll make the “right” choice. They don’t understand that we know all of the things they’re trying to tell us, but we’re still choosing to be omnivores. And the thing that is clear to us is that vegans just fundamentally can’t understand that choice. They think that people eating meat means one of two things, either:
- The person doesn’t understand that an animal is dying (or how it’s dying); or
- The person does understand it and is therefore a monster (nazi, child rapist, slave owner equivalent), and they are therefore justified in being pretty freaking mean to that person.
A third option, a thinking and caring person who understands exactly what happens to that animal when it is slaughtered, but still chooses to eat meat, just isn’t within their ability to understand. And it’s that kind of third option person that we’re looking to help. We want to arm people with the full and unadulterated truth, and then let them make the choice, minus the agenda and propaganda.
Basically, whereas before I was lamenting the fact that these people didn’t see the sense in working with us, I now actively want to never deal with them again in any way. We have absolutely opposing viewpoints at the most fundamental of levels, and that goes well beyond the “meat is murder” point, despite both striving for some similar goals on the surface. I still respect their choice, but I understand that our base perceptions are different, and we will never be friends.
DISCLAIMER: The above came from a couple of fairly angry groups of vegans, and may not be representative of all vegans. In fact, from the in-fighting I saw during my research, I imagine there will be vegans who would be horrified to read that other vegans said those things, but probably just as many who will think that it didn’t go far enough. 😊
Another thing we found out is that some minority groups, particularly people of colour and Jewish people, feel quite marginalized by the rhetoric around slave owners and Nazis. There are vegans within those minority groups who feel that they can never really be part of the larger vegan family because of the Nazi/slave metaphors that fly around. Again, there may be more inclusive vegan groups out there, but not the couple who attacked us. We actually asked them about those metaphors specifically, but they doubled-down and just told us how justified they were.
Also, for the record, I in no way baited or tried to debate veganism with these people. I didn’t attack their choices at all. I don’t need to justify what I choose by dumping on what they choose. I did ask questions, but they were entirely to satisfy my curiosity and to gain some education. Nothing was asked in a way that cast dispersions on vegans or their choices.