I caused a small scene today with a woman in her seventies at a Christmas Craft Fair in Leamington Spa. And its all because of the new £5 note…
I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years. When I started out, there were often awkward social situations. Restaurants or pubs would have nothing on the menu for me. Friends would serve me chicken and then look bemused when I explained that vegetarianism extended beyond beef and lamb. I remember once trying to explain the concept to a group of elderly relatives and being told, to nods of approval all round, “what utter nonsense”.
But times have changed. There are now millions of vegetarians in the UK. Getting good vegetarian food is easy in restaurants, supermarkets and dinners at my friends’ houses. I can buy vegetarian wine, shoes, even belts. People (at least appear to!) listen earnestly when I explain my concerns about the way animals are treated in our industrialized agricultural system.
So it was a shock last week when I read that our new £5 notes contain beef tallow. And today, doing my Christmas shopping, was the first time since I heard the news that I was confronted with one. A lady on a craft stall gave my change. And there it was, a fleshy fiver. “I am afraid I am a vegetarian” I blurted. She just looked confused. And the more I spoke, the more confused she looked. In the end I just took it. I was beginning to feel like a mad conspiracy theorist talking about the meat in our money.
Vegetarians in the UK have complained in large numbers – a petitionagainst the new note now has more than 125,00 signatories. I read this evening that the inventor of the £5 note has called UK vegetarians ‘absolutely stupid’. The amount of tallow used in making the £5 note is apparently very small, and the new fiver may have other environmental and health benefits.* But what he doesn’t understand is that for me and others like me, the point of vegetarianism is to be able to say “not in my name”, to refuse to participate in systems of production that do not have respect for animal life. And avoiding the use of bank notes is a little tricky….
I failed to say “not in my name” today to the new £5 note. It defeated me where the pubs, restaurants and elderly relatives of two decades ago failed. But what gives me hope is the uproar it has caused. There is the petition, the vegetarian restaurant refusing to accept new fivers, the Bank of England feeling the need to say it is “looking for solutions”. There are no guarantees for what happens next (and I’ll be watching carefully to see what solutions appear). But if alternatives are found, then perhaps we can start looking at other products which perhaps don’t need to be made from animals either.
* I have read nothing that suggests the tallow is essential to the process, and that vegetarian alternatives could not be found. If anyone does have different information, I would be very interested to know.