From vegetarian to vegan, Clarence Tan’s journey has been an ethical one.
He became a vegetarian in 1990. Eighteen years later, he became a vegan, giving up leather and dairy products.
“I saw some videotapes by a Taiwanese production company. They were horrific videos of factory farms.
“I decided I just had to stop contributing to that. It was an overnight decision,” he said.
Today, Tan, 48, is the president of the Vegetarian Society Singapore. He is also one of the people behind the MRT poster campaign, which raised $60,000.
Yet, Tan said, the campaign that aimed to raise awareness about factory farming among Singaporeans has got 90 per cent of the respondents upset.
What are the general criticisms against the poster campaign?
Well, we got some commentators saying, “I f**king hate vegetarians” and “stupid posters”.
I think people get very upset because they feel no one should tell them what to eat. But it is strange, because the posters did not tell anyone what to eat. We just wanted people to know about the conditions of animals in factory farms. They feel guilty. They do not want to be confronted by the consequences of their actions.
This campaign does not attempt to convert you. It is a blatant truth that we are trying to show — people love dogs but eat pork chops. A lot of people will not understand because we are already socially conditioned. It is so pervasive that it is unconscious. We cannot see why dog chop is not okay, but lamb chop is.
Tan stands firm that he has given up meat purely out of ethics. He said most people he has met in Singapore gave up meat for similar reasons. But there are fewer than five per cent of Singaporeans who are vegetarians anyway.>
“Very few people give up meat for the environment. Most do it as an act against animal cruelty,” he said.
What do you say to people who are staunch meat eaters?
A lot of people treat vegetarianism as an all or nothing proposition. Their thinking is, “Since I cannot give up meat completely, I would not even bother reducing meat intake.”
That is sort of like saying, “since I cannot be an Olympic athlete, I would not even bother exercising”.
Do not get me wrong. I understand that people, in certain circumstances, like the Alaskans, would have to kill to survive. I am saying, here, we are killing animals for taste and convenience. This reason is not good enough for me.
Do we care about animal rights here in Singapore then?
People say animal rights are overrated. I like the taste of my steak, and if an animal has to die for that, so be it. That is the sentiment.
Did that contribute to the censored pictures of factory farming on the posters?
We had the posters ready for a long time before the campaign and they were approved by SMRT. But right before we launched the campaign, they were very concerned that the pictures would disturb young children. The Land Transport Authority was concerned too.
So we censored the posters.
What does that tell you?
We are telling our children, they can eat meat but we just do not want them to know how we procure meat.
But at the same time, many people went and checked the pictures and videos of factory farming on our website during the campaign. We had 500 unique visitors every day. People wanted to know about factory farming.
Those who have shown support to the campaign, you said, are mainly meat eaters?
Yes. But some said they would reduce their meat consumption. I think that is a victory.
A realistic victory.