Reconciling A Scientific Background With Veganism

Reconciling A Scientific Background With Veganism

It’s not very often that I choose to tackle the serious stuff here on Brianneetc. For starters, there’s a hundred people who can usually articulate these things better than I can, and secondly I usually feel like there’s little point flogging a dead horse and repeating whatever’s been said.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a degree in Zoology (Uni of Liverpool Class of 2013~). For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a Zoologist. It started with re-runs of The Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet and evolved into an obsession with Sir David Attenborough. As soon as I found out that David Attenborough had a degree in Zoology, it was exactly what I wanted to do.

I went as far as ditching A Levels in favour of a BTEC in Animal Management because I was so sure it was what I wanted to do. I loved animals, I’d grown up surrounded by them, and I so very, very badly wanted to work with them.

Since going vegan though, something hasn’t sat quite right with me regarding my degree. I’ve squirmed talking about it. I’ve struggled to put my finger on it for so long – that is, until recently when I watched Earthlings.

I’ll spare the details of the whole documentary, but there’s a whole section in it about how animals are used for science and entertainment, and while all the footage of slaughter and puppy farms was bad enough, it was this that jarred me the most.

Young And Ignorant

When you study Animal Management there’s module after module about husbandry, ethics and welfare. This covers everything from looking after a pet dog, to lemurs and reptiles and farm livestock. You’re taught to think critically of animal sports like hunting, bull fighting, racing, circus performers. Even zoos to a certain extent – question whether an animal receives enough enrichment.  What is their diet like? Are they in a natural environment? Trade that off with whether that is educational enough or entertaining enough.

You know that animal testing and agriculture are both things that happen, because you learn about it. But in my college we were shown how the dairy cows were given water beds and how sheep were allowed to roam free during the summer. We rarely saw them remove the dead piglets from their pens or the cows being treated for their infections from the milking parlour. Those were rare things, they don’t happen now. There are better welfare standards now than people would have you believe. 

We were taught to criticise things like deforestation, digging for oil, refusing to recycle, because they damage the environment. Not once was agriculture talked about as a negative force toward the environment.

And you believe it because you’re being told this by lecturers who were raised on farms, who studied these courses, who wrote these welfare laws, who are being paid to teach the next generation of farmers.

I remember in my second year of college being gathered for a lecture by a man who worked for Astrazeneca (google them) who was one of the heads of animal welfare and was looking for college level interns who studied my course. The talk was all very positive and forward thinking – the animals are kept in the best conditions possible! Yes we do stick things in their eyes but look at these dogs outside! Our staff just love the animals so much.

I seriously considered applying for the role. This has to happen, right? So long as they’re being looked after, right? I was 17 and becoming immune to the negative side of my future career. I didn’t apply purely on the basis that my vegetarian, former Animal Defense League campaigning mother could well disown me.

And Then Just Plain Ignorant

During university the cognitive dissonance was real. We were trained at this point to read hundreds of papers over the next three years which almost always featured some kind of experiments on animals, some fairly brutal , all to be able to write an essay supporting whatever theory we were writing about. We learned to criticise people’s writing and methodology, not that they were working on animals that held no systematic similarity to humans. I lost count of how many I’ve read about.

It was no big deal. It had to happen. Welfare standards are improving. They have water beds.

It was only when I became vegan that I started to become so deeply uncomfortable with what I had learned. How was this okay? How were they teaching us this like it was normal? And healthy? And necessary?

Watching Earthlings was a slap in the face. It forced me to sit through the uncomfortable truth I was aware of, but never confronted. I wasn’t suddenly in a room full of people doing the same thing. There is no ethical way to force animals to live so unnaturally, to make them suffer so much but feel good about it because we gave them some extra blankets and a nurse would pet them.

It’s only now that I’m learning there are very few ways to pursue what used to be my dream career in any kind of ethical way. You don’t make it to a point of making a difference without causing harm first.

The reason I chose to talk about this is because I’ve never seen anyone come to the table with a similar background. Most vegans I know are people just like me – people who go to the gym and work in an office or in retail or PR or similar. I’ve never seen anyone struggle with a career choice vs their ethical standpoint. There have been times I’ve thought of going back to science – of putting the years of debt to good use, but I can’t find a way to go back without inherently disagreeing with it.

Earthlings really got me thinking, which I guess is the whole point. If you haven’t seen it, whether you’re vegan or not, I would really recommend giving it a watch.


Brianne xo

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6 thoughts on “Reconciling A Scientific Background With Veganism

  1. This is such an interesting read, Brianne – it’s eye-opening to hear about agriculture and animal welfare from this perspective and I can see why you’d be conflicted about it. I haven’t seen Earthlings yet so it’s going straight on my To Be Watched list xx

  2. This is such an interesting post and unlike any others I’ve read before. It must have been difficult realising that what you thought was your dream career was actually inherently against your values and beliefs. It just goes to show that veganism is so much more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle, a whole other way of thinking and something that overflows into all aspects of your life. I hope that you’ll be able to find another career you feel so passionate about that aligns more closely with who you are now 🙂 This was a great post!
    Nicole xx

    1. Thank you! I was actually super nervous to post it at first because it feels like it’s taken weeks to sort out the right words 😂 I’m glad you enjoyed!xxx

  3. I have so much I want to say on this. Firstly, I loved this insight. I have watched a few documentaries as well and a lot of organisations/government schemes seem to skim over the fact that agriculture is what is mostly contributing to the killing of our planet and not me accidently leaving the tap on as I brush my teeth (however it does help to turn off). The older I get the more angry I become with the world we live in, but I am only responsible for myself. I am obsessed with recycling, growing my own veg, reducing plastic purchases, buying cruelty free and eating a 90% vegan diet (I still eat some Quorn products containing eggs, planning to cut these out too).

    In regards to your study, I went to school with a girl who went on to study Zoology and now works in Africa in animal rehab style facilites looking after animals before releasing back into the wild, not sure if this is something you would want to look into? Her photos she posts showing the animals she is caring for looks out of this world! I also remember watching a video on Youtube of a Vet who worked in the UK for 6 months to spend the other 6 neutering stray cats in foreign countries. The DREAM!

    My own Vegan/Vegetarian story is a bit different too. I come from a farming family, my Dad also hunts so it’s a bit controversal and definetely what turned me off the meat industry and animal products in general. When I did eat eggs previously these did come from our own free range hens that roamed our garden all day but eventually I even went off that idea. I obviously disagree with both the farming/hunting aspects but I can’t change other peoples opinions, however it’s not through lack of trying. I have gotten my Dad to try Vegan products and reduce red meat consumption. Baby steps eh!? I’d love to write a post but I can picture the backlash I’d receive.

    Anyway, I could be here all day discussing this but I just wanted to say I loved reading this 🙂


    1. Thank you so much for the super thoughtful comment! I love hearing other people’s views on things like this. I thought I was going to end up with sooo much backlash from this post but all the feedback I’ve had has been super positive so far!

      I’ve actually looked in to that kind of work and want to eventually end up working for some kind of sanctuary/clinic of some kind, I think that’s the route I’ll end up going down but now I’m a few years out of uni with a house to pay for it’s taking a bit of time to figure out exactly how! Hopefully I’ll get there one day though, even if it means finding somewhere to volunteer at in the meantime. I’ve read the article about the vet who splits her year though! She’s definitely living the dream 🙂

      It’s super interesting to read your perspective too! A lot of people I went to college with came from farming families and my even being vegetarian caused some pretty heavy debates/straight up arguments at the time! I think everyone starts with baby steps too – when I went vegan my mum was already veggie but she’s stopped buying eggs etc eventually has mostly come off cheese (a vice for us both). It’s taken me almost 2 years to go fully vegan and stick with it long term!

      Thank you again for the lovely comment! 🙂 xxx

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