The next person to feature in my This Is What A Vegan Looks Like series is super exciting. Kerry McCarthy has been the MP for Bristol East since 2005 and was the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from September 2015 to June 2016.
Kerry was the first vegan MP in the House of Commons and has been a vegan for the past 20 years, having been a vegetarian for 10 years prior to that. She is a patron of the Vegan Society. She also campaigns on animal welfare issues more generally, including in her capacity as Vice-President of the League Against Cruel Sports. Additionally, Kerry is a Patron of FoodCycle and is working to ensure that the pressing issues of food poverty and food waste are on the political agenda, having introduced a Food Waste Bill in 2012.
I am so grateful to Kerry for taking part in this blog, sharing her fantastic insights and demonstrating that there are vegans in every single walk of life.
1/ What made you go vegan?
I became vegetarian at the age of 16 for ethical reasons. One of younger sisters, Emma, followed suit a few years later, and then became vegan – it was through talking to her (eg about calves and day-old chicks being killed as part of milk and egg production), that I realised the inconsistency of my position, and decided to turn vegan – as this was in December I did it as a New Year’s resolution, January 1992, at the age of 27 and stuck to it.
2/ If you could only watch 3 TV programmes for the rest of your life, what would they be?
This is a difficult one, as I don’t watch that much TV, although I do have the occasional Netflix binge – at the moment we’re on Season 2 of How to get Away with Murder. I think the output of the Bristol-based BBC Natural History Unit is brilliant, including the new season of Planet Earth – if you haven’t seen the footage of the race snakes in pursuit of a baby iguana from last week, you should. I watch music documentaries on BBC4 a fair bit, and would love there to be a decent music show, showcasing new and established bands, on TV now – I am not a fan of Jools Holland!
3/ What’s your favorite place in the entire world?
I love scuba-diving, so I’d have to say – underwater. I had an amazing time diving with sharks and rays in Belize, and night-diving in the Philippines was pretty special too.
4/ What are the vegan options like where you live?
I live in Bristol which is a really easy place to be a vegan – there are quite a few vegan cafes, and some decent health food stores/ organic supermarkets, plus many other places cater for vegans. It’s very much accepted here. There’s a Vegan Bristol site, which publicises all the new places opening up.
5/ What is your idea of happiness?
Probably diving, as before – it’s pure escapism, and a magical world.
6/ Which three other vegans would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
I’m tempted to say my sister and two of my vegan friends, so we could just chill out together – but if you mean famous vegans, I’d say Joaquin Phoenix, Al Gore and (almost vegan) Bill Clinton.
7/ Do you have a favorite motto, if so, what is it?
My motto – there are variations on this, but ‘if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem’ – as an exhortation to people to get involved if they don’t like what’s going on around them, rather than just complaining about it.
8/ What are your all-time fave vegan things to eat?
When I cook I tend to make noodle dishes, perhaps with salt, pepper, chilli and garlic tofu, or Fry’s fake chicken strips. I also make a pretty good risotto, and have kale or cavolo nero with everything. At Café Kino, Bristol’s most well-known vegan café, I always have the BLT. And I love a good curry – vegetable dansak, tarka dall and roti.
9/ What song do you most like to dance to at a party?
I come from the post-punk era of the late 70s/ early 80s, so I’m more into that sort of music and going to gigs than dancing at parties – but if I had to name a brilliant dance track it would be either the Gap Band’s ‘Burn Rubber on Me’, or Mary J Blige’s ‘Family Affair’, both of which I listen to when running.
10/ Who in the world would you most like to see go vegan?
I was told recently by an American that the Obamas for the most part follow a plant-based diet, when they’re not at official functions – it would be great if they were to go vegan and speak out about it when they leave the White House, as Bill Clinton and Al Gore have done.
Now, because Kerry is a Member of Parliament I’ve asked her a few bonus questions:
11/ You’ve been vegan for over 20 years, how have things changed for vegans in the UK in that time?
It’s much easier now to be vegan than it was back when I started. Back then you could only buy soya milk in health food shops – now there’s a range of plant-based milks in every supermarkets and a lot of corner shops too. There are way more meat and cheese-substitutes – we used to make the trip all the way from Luton to Brighton back then to buy vegan cheese as a special treat! – and generally just much more awareness. I think the other main change is that people now see it as an environmental issue as much as an ethical or health issue – and I know many people who are reducing their meat consumption for that reason.
12/ Do you think the Government is doing enough to mitigate the negative effects of animal agriculture? What would you like to see change?
I don’t think it is on the Government’s radar very much at all. We need to look at how we reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture, and Brexit – which will mean an overall of agricultural subsidies – could be an opportunity to do that, but I don’t think the political will is there. It’s notable that agriculture didn’t really feature during the Paris climate change talks. I had a debate on it the environmental impact of livestock farming in Parliament in 2009, and not much has changed since then, apart from growing public awareness and people making their own choice to eat less meat.
13/ Which animal welfare issue do you wish more people were aware of?
On the animal welfare front my priority at the moment is more on farm animals than on domestic pets or wildlife – there are many MPs involved in campaigning on puppy farming, for example, or against the ivory trade, and I’ve supported those campaigns too, but I think there’s been less focus on the poor animal welfare linked to intensive, industrialised farming, and my concern is that this could get worse, not better, when we leave the EU.
I hope you enjoyed reading that post as much as I did! As I said before, I used to work in the House of Commons and am very conscious that MPs are elected by us, the people, to scrutinise Government and to represent our interests in Parliament.
Most MPs really do want to know what we think about matters before the House, so if you have any spare time and there’s an issue (related to veganism or anything else) that you’re keen to highlight do consider writing to your MP and letting them know how you feel. If you need any tips I have previously written about how to lobby your MP, which I hope helps; but feel free to get in touch with me!