How the 'hangry' vegans united a nation

March of the vegans: Protests from vegan activists have unified the nation this week.
March of the vegans: Protests from vegan activists have unified the nation this week.

What is it about the images of vegans chaining themselves to processing equipment, storming across farming paddocks and lying in the middle of Flinders Street that has Australia so incensed this week?

After all, ask any Australian if they support the right of people to protest and they'll be quick to say they do.

So why do we object so much to the action taken by vegans? 

Do their protests really differ from environmentalists chaining themselves to mining equipment?

The answer is yes, they do, and the reasons why are pretty simple. 

At the heart of the issue are the family values Australians hold so dear. 

At the heart of the issue are the family values Australians hold so dear.

The majority of farms are family owned and in most cases, families live on these farms. 

As someone who lives on a farm with my own children, I can tell you the fear the activists have generated is very real.

Mostly, I have reasoned that this would never happen to us. We are a small and insignificant sheep and cattle business in a relatively remote location (the activists don't appear to be able to drive further than two hours from a capital). 

But I know they have targeted some very small family operations so, really, no farmer is truly safe. Would they step over the grid and start a conversation with my children? Would they wander past my kitchen window to the cattle yards? 

Many farmers will simply shut their gates because of this - not only to the activists but to the wider community as well.

The days when our city cousins come to visit with their friends might well be gone. School tours will be out. New staff will need to be vetted very closely. 

City 'meats' country 

While the activists' activities might lead to a physical barrier between farmers and the community, it could be argued that the bond between city and country has never felt stronger.

People from all walks of life, those who both enjoy their meat or respect the right of others to do so, have condemned the protests. They have largely backfired in a country where most people love their protein and respect the people who produce it. 

The vegans have been mocked mercilessly on social media and the airways and newspaper columns have been filled with people professing their love of meat and their disdain at the "hangry" vegans. 

Who are these people? 

You may be surprised to learn that the term vegan was first coined in 1944 by a man named Donald Watson who clearly came through the Great Depression without a lasting hunger.

Mr Watson co-founded the Vegan Society which was based on the notion that we should "exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose".

Interest in veganism really took off in the 2010s and today a vegan diet is one without any animal products, including eggs, honey, dairy and meat. 

Can we all live together? 

I suspect the vast majority of Australians, myself included, have no issue with vegans in theory. Just as there is no issue with those who choose to follow a vegetarian diet.

The issue is a difference of opinion when it comes to what constitutes animal cruelty and exploitation.

It seems farmers and the wider public generally accept that as omnivores, humans will continue to raise domestic livestock for consumption. This group also expects that livestock must be humanely treated and slaughtered. Fortunately, good animal welfare is directly linked to better financial returns for farmers and processors.

Vegans, on the other hand, believe that we should all live a lifestyle that does not cause suffering, harm or death to animals. Vegans believe animals are sentient beings like us, with their own needs, desires and interests and should be free to live as they choose. 

The question is - can we find some common ground so that we might be able to live in harmony? I know the farmers would be happy to let the vegans live in peace if they knew their rights would be respected, but can the vegans do the same? 

The answer is in your social media feed right now. 

Penelope Arthur is the national agricultural news editor for Australian Community Media. She lives with her family on a farm in western Queensland.