You’re probably aware of the recent news about the new five-pound notes, but in case you’ve somehow missed it let me catch you up: in recent months, here in the UK, a new note has gone into circulation. Made of a plasticky material, it is designed to be less destructible than it’s paper counterpart, which will be taken out of circulation next year. Initially, they caused great excitement, but a recent revelation has changed all that. Reports that the notes contain tallow, a type of animal fat found in pork and beef, have been confirmed, causing outrage on a national level, a petition to remove the offending ingredient, and an endless stream of discussion. Some are poking fun at the issue:
Others are being rather less tolerant, reminding vegans and veggies they won’t be eating the notes. Even the creator, Professor David Solomon, has referred to the furore as ‘Stupid, absolutely stupid’.
I don’t tend to get involved in debates like these, partly because I can’t see the point of adding my voice to the millions who already shouting about it, and partly because I can’t be bothered with the inevitable petty responses I would expect to receive in response. But quite often I refrain from comment because the issues are not particularly relevant to me. This has now changed and I find myself wading in.
You see, when I was eight, my father served my sister and I a roast dinner, complete with sausage roll (yeah, it sounds a little odd to me now, too). I was roughly halfway through this sausage roll when I decided to give up meat for good. The plate was cast aside and I declared myself unable to finish the meal because everything was on the same plate as the meat (you know, the meat I had been eating seconds earlier). My dad was furious, to say the least. Anyway, although I was initially a bit militant, trying to insist everyone should give up meat immediately, over the years I’m pleased to say I’ve mellowed. While approximately 8% of the population now consider themselves veggiesauruses, I count myself among those who are more relaxed. My husband eats meat that I have been known to cook for him on occasion. I own leather shoes because they last longer. I take a cod liver oil capsule every day because there are some nutrients you simply cannot get elsewhere. As far as I am concerned, you have to draw a line somewhere. For me, that line ends with what sits on my fork at mealtimes.
However, I am concerned about the revelation about our five-pound notes, not from a vegetarian perspective, but as someone who worries about animal rights and the rights of minority groups. As far as the animal rights side goes, I want to know whether the tallow in the notes is a by-product of the meat industry, or whether animals are slaughtered for the purpose of supplying us with waterproof currency. If cows are being killed so that I can have plastic fivers, I’d rather have the live cow, thanks.
My main concern, though, is the minority groups. Tallow has been used for many things over the years, from soaps to candles and even to grease the inside of guns. It is the latter that is relevant to my argument. In the 1800s, British presence in India was strong. Armies were built up using Indian men. We trained them, armed them and used them in battle. So far, so bad. Conditions for these guys were pretty awful, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was tallow, which was used to grease the cartridges they fired from their guns; cartridges they had to bite an end off before firing. Cows and pigs being considered sacred animals to people of Muslim and Hindu faiths, there was an immediate outcry. When this outcry was ignored, rebellion broke out in 1857. The ensuing violence, which lasted more than two years, resulted in thousands of deaths and an unprecedented level of inaccurate reporting, which contributed to ideas about foreign people that continue, on some level, to this day.
We have come a long way since then and full-scale rebellion is highly improbable, even if the notes remain. However, recent changes in political climates have already created a sense of bad feeling towards those of certain faiths and from certain countries, and this change, obviously made without due consideration of their feelings or faith, will only add to the current tension. These minorities have already been made to feel unwelcome in the country in which so many of them were born. There was a 41% rise in hate crime following the voting on Brexit, and with the addition of the new five-pound note, a message is being sent that they are not thought of as part of the citizens of this country, or at least not enough to take their interests to heart.
As far as I am concerned, the vegans and the vegetarians (myself included) could and should be willing to accept this change, given the small quantity of tallow involved, but it is a change that is incredibly insensitive to a large minority of this country’s people. If there is a single valid argument against keeping tallow in this currency, that is the one on which we should focus.