Other Vegan Views articles
Jobs and Ethics by Katharine A. Gilchrist, Vegan Views 75 (New Year 1997)

The Department of Social Security had plans for me. Having been actively seeking employment for over a year without success, I was sentenced to a compulsory 4 day course in how to fill in job application forms, write a CV, handle interviews etc. The penalty for non-attendance was losing benefit.

The course organisers did their best. "You must sell yourselves", they said. "You're like a jar of coffee on a supermarket shelf". We did rebel a bit when told we had to adapt to any demands employers made. A man with a pony tail pointed out that male supermarket employees had been to industrial tribunals to defend the right to have ponytails, and they won! When a woman said "Actually, I don't mind if men wear skirts to work", the organisers gave up and declared it to be lunchtime.

Where does veganism fit into this tale? Well, have you encountered that computer programme that offers career advice? You answer its questions about likes and dislikes, it digests the information and suggests you become a town planner or tax inspector. This course involved this programme. Not only did the computer provide suggestions, it also allowed you to look up any of the careers covered by the programme. It gave information on the job itself and on why your preferences were a good (or bad) match with the job's stated requirements.

The careers were listed in alphabetical order - from abattoir worker to zookeeper. I suppose that was pure coincidence. In theory it could have gone from abacus-maker to zymurgist. (If the word zymurgist exists - my dictionary lists zymurgy as "the branch of chemistry concerned with fermentation processes in brewing, etc."). The good news is that the computer thought I was a good match with the career of magazine journalist, although Vegan Views wasn't mentioned by name. The bad news is that there is no ethical questioning to prevent vegans being advised to become any of the following; agricultural adviser, butcher - retail, butcher - wholesale, fisher man/woman, leathercraft worker, milk roundsperson or pest controller!

Answering "like very much" to the question about working with animals might lead to the suggestion you become an inspector with the RSPCA (or its Scottish equivalent, the SSPCA.) On the other hand you might be advised to become a zoo keeper or an animal technician in a vivisection lab!

I looked at why the computer didn't think I'd be good at the job of abattoir worker. The requirements for the job include: Using tools or instruments. Coping with distressing situations. Cleaning and clearing up. If you claim to dislike these aspects of the job, you could be ruling out totally different options. "Using tools or instruments" is not surprisingly, part of being a doctor. "Cleaning and clearing up" is an important aspect of nursing. Both nurses and doctors are involved in "coping with distressing situations". The difference, as I see it, is that medical staff have to handle distressing situations. Abattoir workers are paid to cause distress!

Whoever wrote the potted career guides had interestingly confused views about abattoirs. On the one hand, there is the jibe that abattoir workers "cannot afford to be squeamish or sentimental about animals". (Neither squeamishness nor sentimentality is in fact a requirement for not eating meat). On the other hand is the revelation that "a detachment from the nature of the work is essential". Detachment from some aspects of one's work is desirable. We don't want nurses or firefighters becoming so affected by distressing situations that they start becoming hysterical and stop dealing with the problems in front of them. We don't want ambulance workers or doctors going home and being unable to switch off their worries about what they've witnessed at work. However, is it desirable for people to remain divorced from the very nature of what they do? Surely people should be able to say, "This is what I have done at work and I am proud to have done it". If someone has a very boring cleaning job, they may spend all their time at work day-dreaming about a holiday in the Bahamas, but at least they can tell people that they have made the world a slightly cleaner place.

Surely, if it is "essential" for abattoir workers to detach themselves from the very nature of their job, there is something wrong with that job. More importantly, if there is something wrong with expecting workers to carry out the work, what about those who create the demand for abattoirs?

Someone once told me that capitalism forced people to work in what he referred to as "the poultry industry". (I assume he was thinking of hens in battery cages). Surveys had proved that most of them would rather work elsewhere, he assured me. My reply was that, if they didn't approve of battery cages it was hypocritical of them to create the demand for them. Capitalism may force people into work they don't want them to do, but it certainly doesn't force people to eat animal products!

The computer programme also revealed the address of the Meat Training Council (same place as the Livestock Commission). Maybe I'll write to them about this 'detachment' concept. To be fair, the computer did list plenty of other jobs, including acupuncturist, medical herbalist and naturopath, plus details of how to train in these fields. However, it is simply wrong for ethical issues to be ignored.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm apparently a good match with "oceanographer". I'm about to look up what that means!

P.S. I agree with the woman who said she didn't mind men in skirts. It's kilts I'm not so sure about.