Robert Bridger from Kent talks to us about how he made the change to go vegan and how he aims to ‘vegucate’ the public
Standing next to a burger van is probably most vegans’ idea of hell, but for Robert Bridger from Kent, it’s the perfect place to spread his message. He spends many of his weekends travelling round towns and cities in the county, sharing vegan literature and food, and collecting money for animal charities.
He says: “A man in a slaughterhouse can spend all day killing baby animals, then go home and nurture his own child. That always shocks me, I see all creatures as sentient beings. Since I was young, I had a connection with animals. I grew up in the East End, my mum was known as the bird-lady. Any injured birds or animals would be brought back to the house and nursed back to health.
“But for a long time I overlooked the meat-eating side of things. Eating meat is not natural, but it seems it when you are brought up that way. We want meat to be phased out. It won’t happen overnight. The meat and dairy industries are businesses and businesses are always looking to grow. They want to kill more animals, but that would be moving in the wrong direction.
“It can only be done through education, getting into the consumers’ minds, and letting them know about the suffering and cruelty. You can’t say all meat-eaters are cruel if they don’t know the reality of the situation – that’s why I set up my stall, and try and engage with people.
“Doing the stall, I have met some beautiful people,” Robert says. “Other side of the coin is that I’ve met some a***holes. They will walk past, eating their burger, talking about how much they love meat, they don’t care an animal had to die. I don’t get aggressive with people, I don’t respond to violence. That would be the easiest way, but it’s not the right way.”
He will often bring meat replacement products for the stall, saying it’s because people like meat and they think they would miss it, but he only gives vegan food away. “My wife bakes a selection of cakes,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll take jelly sweets for the kids. I tell their parents not to buy the ones with beef gelatine, which is made of boiled down bone. I have brought pies before, I give away slices with brown sauce, and vegan pizza is popular too.
“I do get a bit of confrontation but I never respond. It’s generally from the local meat retailers, more than passers-by. The guy who runs the burger van will often get annoyed. I will get on my megaphone and tell people I am there. There are generally a couple of others with me, with a laptop, and videos of meat production and slaughterhouses if people want to see them. You can’t encroach on people’s space but you can stand back and say we have videos of where those burgers come from and how they are produced.
“The burger man did threaten to break my nose once. I said that’s not very friendly and offered him a hug, which he turned down, calling me a lunatic. But he’s selling the corpses of animals. It’s strange when you think about it, what we consider normal. I said if people try the meat alternatives I’m giving them, and they enjoy them, he could sell vegan burgers. Set up an extra grill, and appeal to more people.”
Despite potential altercations, he will try and talk to everyone about it. “One day I had a pensioner walk past, a woman who was 72 years old,” Robert says. “ She said as long as an animal was killed ‘humanly’ she’s happy. Describe ‘humane’ when you have an animal getting dragged into a slaughter house, not wanting to die. I call it legalised cruelty – it’s expected, it’s part of the procedure that pigs will be treated badly. Do the same thing to a dog, and you’d be in court. I call this selective compassion.”
It was seeing the live export trade first hand that prompted Robert’s vegan lifestyle. His daughter told him about the shipments of animals going from Ramsgate Port, and he hasn’t missed a shipment from the port yet. Luckily, being self-employed, he can go to protests whenever he needs to.
It’s not all been plain sailing. He says: “I’ve been arrested before at live export protests. One time I chained myself to the gates – I pleaded guilty. You kind of have to when you’ve chained yourself to a gate. I gave a speech in court, saying my mitigating circumstances were how strongly I felt about the animals. It made some people quite upset. We are so helpless in what we’re trying to do – you don’t want to go down the route of being destructive and violent, but you know where those animals are going, and they are not going to be treated well.”
Robert plans to continue promoting the benefits of veganism: “I love animals, but I love people too. I think we have to be childlike and open to being educated – I called it vegucated. We don’t need a single animal to die for us. I’m 61 this year, and my one big regret in life is not finding veganism earlier. It’s not difficult, I do it for myself as well as the animals. I feel so much better for it both mentally and physically, I don’t miss meat at all, and couldn’t face eating it again – not if you paid me.