Much media reporting of food and health is fatuous and lazy, but coverage of the proposed ‘meat tax’ hit a new low of ignorance, or if you’re less charitable, intellectual dishonesty.
Was it too much to ask that journalists who reported as unimpeachable scientific ‘fact’ the recommendations from the University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School – which describes itself as ‘a world-leading centre of pioneering research that addresses global challenges’ – tempered their headlines with the fact that the lead researcher, Dr Marco Springmann, is a loud-and-proud vegan?
It’s naive to think that his beliefs didn’t influence the design of this number-crunching research. Mathematical modelling (the type used here) is about as weak and unreliable as research gets. It is based on highly debatable assumptions and doesn’t take full account of ‘confounding factors’, such as smoking, exercise, alcohol and class.
Had the meat industry commissioned a similarly flimsy study from carnivorous academics, I expect that journalists would have ignored it, or on a slow news day, given it the dismissive ‘maverick scientists say…’ treatment. It’s as if key media voices with ‘health’ and ‘environment’ in their job descriptions are being breast-fed the “only veganism can save the planet” mantra. Rapid weaning is required.
Like many food lovers, producers, experts, chefs and cooks, I am infuriated that vegan voices persistently refuse to differentiate between the most miserable factory farmed livestock and those in pasture systems. I resent their obstinate failure (deliberate?) to distinguish between grass-fed organic steak and the cheapest, nastiest factory banger. The confusion they help generate is jaw-dropping. Some headlines even referred to ‘processed and red meat’, as if the latter stops being red once processed. Opportunistic academics and careerist commentators who lack any practical experience of food production now jump on the vegan bandwagon and feel entitled to lecture those that do not on the basis of this nonsense.
Thankfully, sections of the media that aren’t in the vegan bubble retain the capacity for critical thought. When The Times gave over its famous ‘Thunderer’ column to the distinguished chef Richard Corrigan, wherein he argued “vegans do not have the right to preach about meat-eating”, you wonder if we’re approaching Peak Vegan.
I hope so; that joyous hour can’t come soon enough.
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of Swallow This