Will goats (and other vegans) inherit the Earth?

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The herd of Kashmiri mountain goats, which normally spend their time up the Great Orme, photographed wandering around Llandudno town centre during lockdown | Credit: Andrew Stuart

Land in lockdown taken over by Billy and Buck

Springtime in North Wales and the streets of the nation’s largest seaside resort are strangely silent, but for the sound of cloven hooves on concrete. With residents in lockdown due to Covid-19, a local goat herd had spotted their chance to stage a takeover. They descended from the towering limestone headland of the Great Orme into the centre of Llandudno, a charismatic town of Victorian buildings fronted by an attractive pier.

Lockdown meant that tourists and town’s folk mingling amidst chip shops and bars, restaurants and retail stores, were replaced by the blond locks and sweeping horns of Kashmiri goats. The renegade ungulates were eager to taste otherwise forbidden delights of local hedges, lawns and flowers. They were originally a gift from Queen Victoria to the local landowner, Lord Mostyn, who owned the Great Orme. Now considered wild, the local council reportedly declared itself powerless to stop the goats wandering the streets.

During a most difficult time for so many people during the disease pandemic lockdown, the goats had provided a change of scenery and a good news story to lift flagging spirits.

Yet, goats taking over the town wasn’t the only change evident in this ‘Queen’ of Welsh seaside resorts.

Just a couple of months before, I’d walked those same streets – as I’ve done for the best part of 25 years – and couldn’t help noticing a dramatic change, one that can be summed up in a single word: vegan.

As Llandudno is testament, walk down pretty much any high street and companies are now falling over themselves to show they’re up with the new vegan food sensation. When it comes to vegan, Llandudno is far from the ‘hipster’ epicentres of London or Brighton, New York or Berlin. This is a town of modest population (20,000), swollen by tourists where guides list one of the things to do here as ‘eat fish and chips’.

A handwritten note in the local chippy window advertises ‘vegan Magnums’ | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

Fish and Chips

For nearly all the last quarter of a century I’ve been coming here, a vegan meal has consisted as fish and chips, but without the fish.

Now the local chippy I still frequent has a bespoke vegan menu with not one, but a dozen entirely plant-based meal options. And, in a sign of the times, a handwritten note on the window advertises ‘vegan Magnums’. Just along the road, takeaway chain, Greggs, has a window devoted to advertising its new vegan ‘steak bakes’ whilst in-store promotions talk of their vegan sausage roll as being “the nation’s favourite”. A far cry from the ridicule and obscurity previously heaped on anything ‘vegan’. Perhaps even helped by it. After all, that vegan sausage roll came to define Greggs’ fortunes for the year when boorish TV host, Piers Morgan, spat one into a bucket, sending sales and the company’s share price soaring. Greggs really couldn’t have paid for a better publicity stunt! Supermarkets like M&S with its ‘Plant Kitchen’ range are broadening their offering, bringing new plant-based inventions at amazing rapidity. In the same store, racks of lifestyle magazines have a selection of vegan monthlies prominently displayed. Turn on my hotel TV and there’s an advert from Birdseye for meatier than meat plant-based burgers.

KFC – globally dominant for its fried factory farmed chicken – now devoting an entire window to a giant poster proclaiming “11 herbs and spices, zero chicken” | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

The Eagle has landed

But perhaps the major coup is KFC – globally dominant for its fried factory farmed chicken – now devoting an entire window to a giant poster proclaiming “11 herbs and spices, zero chicken”. Below a beaming Colonel Sanders are the words “Vegan done good”, along with the double-take reassurance that “Yeah, you read that right. From the home of the chicken comes a burger that isn’t”.

Never mind the eagle, the vegan has landed.

Food culture and the place of meat within it is changing. The dominance of dairy too is being challenged by plant-based competitors with ‘milks’ made from oat, almond, soya or coconut. Whatever dairy could do, plant-milks now do too and seem to be elbowing their way to ever more shelf space.

Not so long ago, talk of vegans would have prompted quizzical looks and confusion with ‘Vulcans’ from Star Trek. Scroll back thirty years and some in the national media saw The Vegan Society as the flat earth society of food. Not anymore.

Time running out

Things are changing fast. And just in the nick of time.

Ending factory farming is one of the biggest things we can do as a legacy for our children | Credit: Richard Dunwoody / Compassion in World Farming

There is a growing awareness of the environmental impact of meat and dairy, particularly from factory farms. That factory farmed meat and dairy is responsible for devouring nearly half the world’s grain harvest and nearly all its soya. It comes with a huge cost. Deforestation, pollution, climate change and destruction of wildlife. And all of that grain, which gives back a fraction of the calories and protein in meat, milk and eggs, well, that could have fed more than four billion people.

Like the goats taking over those streets in Llandudno, what used to be a wacky fringe notion – eating vegan – has burst into the mainstream.

Whilst come the summer, the goats may be off the streets and back on the mountain-top, eating vegan looks set to stay.

Together with ending factory farming, eating more plant-based meals is one of the biggest things we can do to ensure we leave a planet worth having as a legacy for our children.

Our food habits then could have a big bearing on who gets to inherit the Earth.

Please use this link to learn about the ways in which you can help.

Thank you.

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