?You Gather? Vegan and Climate Activism (for Heroines and Heroes) #11
Hello climate heroines. Vegan heroes, what’s up?
This post is directed at some, not all of my vegan activist friends…
Okay, so I have previously classed myself as vegan. At the moment I eat 95% plant-based, with a little honey and very occasional eggs and even more occasional meat, usually in the form of fish. So right now you could call me ‘flexitarian’. I have had diverse conversations about veganism and plant-based diets with 100% hardcore vegan friends, as well as flexitarians, vegetarian and meat-eating friends. I have observed, often with horror, the kind of ‘discussions’ that go on in an often uncivilised and polarised way between vegans and non-vegans online. Particularly on Facebook, which, although many of us find it useful, is not designed to be a platform suited to diplomacy, consciousness raising and conflict resolution.
I am a climate breakdown and sixth mass extinction activist. This is why I organise with Extinction Rebellion. This is the starting place for my activism. This naturally takes me to the conclusion of eating predominantly plant-based for global sustainability reasons. Naturally I also come to the conclusion of being fundamentally against the neoliberal globalised capitalist paradigm we still inhabit, and which inhibits us.
In my view we should be aiming towards relocalised decentralised economies, tied to the land and local biocultural diversity, the true source of regenerative i.e. sustainable culture. The backbone of relocalised economies should be a predominantly de-industrialised, plant-based diet. I think this does mean more people will have to involve themselves in growing or producing food, even if just for a few hours per week. (It will be fun, you’ll get used to it). It is becoming well-known that vegan diets typically have a massively smaller carbon footprint than vegetarian and especially omnivorous diets, (the exception being fruit-only diets). Vegan diets also use significantly less land and water than meat diets, on average. (Different sources give different numbers, but at least ten times less land per pound of protein). Thus to address climate breakdown, cutting out 90% or more of meat and dairy (for most of us) is a no-brainer.
Eating predominantly plant-based for global sustainability reasons does not mean that I am immune to the suffering of animals. I very much want to end industrialised animal agriculture, including for the well-being of the animals involved. I support and empathise with direct actions performed by vegan groups at farms and slaughter-houses. They are at least alerting farmers to how times are changing, and must continue to change.
However, when considering global land use patterns, it is the destruction of entire species of wildlife that pulls at my heart-strings the most, caused by the deforestation and pesticide use associated with all industrial agriculture, not just animal agriculture. The extinction of an entire species might not get you crying like a video of mis-treated farm animals can, but I can assure you that many animals go through physical torture during the process of their entire habitat being wiped out. Not to mention the air miles involved in transporting many of our current staple and favourite foods to the UK…whether they be meat or avocadoes. Aviation drives further exploration for oil and gas, which in turn causes more destruction of habitat and deaths of animals. For instance, see this report from the WWF: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/oil-and-gas-development
I know there are a lot of very sensitive people amongst vegans. I have met many of them, indeed to an extent I am one of them. Sensitivity is a good thing. I understand why this sensitivity is expressed as anger towards meat-eaters, by some vegans. And I am not someone who takes the suffering of animals lightly. When I discover a fly trapped in my home, I am anxious for its release, and I have previously risked being stung by hornets in order to carefully guide them to freedom. Choosing not to own a motor vehicle is partly motivated by my desire to minimise my impact upon the planet’s wildlife.
My business Epic Tomorrows is motivated fundamentally by compassion. For human beings and towards all life on Earth, from the bacteria which live in my gut, to the whales which swim in the ocean. My current commitment within Epic Tomorrows, as a climate and mass extinction activist, and a flexitarian (at the moment) is to commit to collating, curating and cross-referencing useful web addresses for activists. I’m listing them in a suite of spreadsheets which I’m calling the Well Gathered Workbook.
I have put countless hours into building this product already. I will put in many more ahead of the launch on 24th April. I will be selling only 30 copies at the introductory price of six squids (hopefully six squid or other life forms are not implicated i.e. killed every time a monetary transaction is made somewhere on Earth). After the first 30 copies I will take it off the shelf for a little while. I want to engage with the first 30 (could that be you?) on a deep level to get feedback and find out if there are other ways I can help you individually, (at no charge).
But before I continue to build this product, I just need to get the following out of my system, hopefully in a sensitive way which could trigger bridge-building debate, rather than Facebook point-scoring and Twitter slanging matches. I will admit, the title of this post is deliberately provocative, to alert more people to my post -a marketing tactic, although I did tone ‘annoying’ down to ‘irritating’. On the other hand I have been put out and frustrated by some, not all, of my vegan activist friends who have been subject to some of the attitudes listed below:
10 most irritating attitudes amongst my vegan activist friends, (okay, so I call these ‘attitides’ but some of them are beliefs, assumptions or areas of ignorance):
1) ‘Going vegan will save the planet’. This belief is complacent and wrong, and in my experience seems to come from a place of narcissism amongst some vegan activists, rather than genuine concern about, or research into, sustainable global land use and C02 emissions. See this article from New Internationalist for more details https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2018/06/06/vegan-climate-carbon
Going vegan will certainly HELP save the planet -it’s a big part of why I’m mostly plant-based myself. Yet, if we all went vegan tomorrow -which would be disastrous in terms of the multi-species deaths that are associated with too sudden a system change- C02 emissions in other industries could still easily take us beyond climate tipping points within a couple of decades. (This is related to my point above about food air miles and new fossil fuel exploration). Direct action (non-violent) against governments, and possibly corporations, is the only response to this. So, cut out meat and dairy consumption, sure, but that’s not good enough.
2) ‘Animal farmers are all evil / bad / insensitive people.’ This is a ridiculous assertion to make. For those of you who have seen Cowspiracy (despite its factual inaccuracies), do you remember the former rancher -turned activist Howard Lyman? A truly inspirational figure, to be sure, but do you think he is in isolation? What do you know about where farmers are in their personal journeys and livelihoods? Have you thought that some farmers may not be happy in their jobs, that they were born into farming families, and find it very difficult to find other suitable employment options in rural areas? As most vegans live in urban areas, this is something you may not have considered. Even the ones who are happy in their jobs are, believe it or not, capable of compassion towards their animals, even within what could be called, the culturally accepted context of genocide and betrayal that is industrialised agriculture.
There are other contexts which could qualify as culturally accepted genocide / ecocide, such as abortion and levelling land to build houses, but I certainly wouldn’t label these pregnant mothers and builders as ‘bad’. Yes, I’m being controversial -a woman’s body should not be directly equated with a farm, but do you see what I’m getting at? Black and white thinking is just not good enough when it comes to global climate justice.
3) ‘Eating plant-based works for everyone’. It doesn’t. A small minority of people have health conditions which have been cured by eating a meat-based diet. Best leave them be.
4) ‘My vegan dietary and lifestyle choices can be exported to any part of the world / my vegan dietary and lifestyle choices do not have an impact on the dietary and lifestyle choices of people in other parts of the world’. In my experience, this isn’t a consciously held belief of many vegan activists -it’s just an area of ignorance that they haven’t dealt with, because ‘they don’t know they don’t know’. This article from ‘NOW’ magazine (Toronto) does a good job explaining, although perhaps in a more spiky and confrontational way than I would choose: https://nowtoronto.com/news/vegans-climate-change/
However I would also make the additional more subtle point that modern affluent lifestyles in the global north reduce dietary and lifestyle options for the poor in the global south, and that includes specifically vegan consumption patterns in northern countries which perpetuate oppressive global infrastructures, including fossil-fuel-based, just as much as meat-based consumption patterns do. Only a ‘systems thinking’ approach to Earth and human society can save us now. We must not be isolationist in our thinking, which brings me to my next point…
5) ‘Permaculture? What’s that?’ Permaculture recognises the integrated role that sensitive animal husbandry can play in Regenerative Agriculture and rewilding (bringing back many species from the brink of extinction) -true for modern as well as pre-industrial societies. This doesn’t mean that these practices have to be used, but it is important to be aware of them (before wading into discussions wearing potentially oil-derived sized nines). The most excellent and revolutionary Maddy Harland explains things well here in this article from way back in 2014, which champions veganism in Permaculture: https://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/veganism-and-permaculture
6) ‘My nine cats are not having an impact on the planet’ (substitute with preferred pets). This doesn’t actually apply to anyone I know, but I have encountered some vegans on the dreaded (but currently necessary) Facebook who seem to take the simplistic view that it doesn’t matter how many pets are propagated on the planet, as long as they are being cuddled and cared for and posted on Insta. I have known dogs weaned onto vegetarian diets, and I understand that veganism can work for some dogs too, but that’s not true of cats.
Additionally, whatever the pet, please consider that there is already an unsustainable number of humans on the planet, without any of those humans having pets too, with all the land use implicated in keeping those pets, even on vegan and vegetarian diets. It all adds up. Could we just stick to rescue pets, otherwise an absolute maximum of two large pets per household (cats, dogs, giraffes etc)? That would really help improve the greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Below is some information on the C02 impact of keeping pets in America from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The study is two years old but I doubt things have changed much in Trump’s America. Most of these pet owners won’t be vegan but they will nevertheless be contributing to a culture of excessive pet-keeping which vegans are not immune to: https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/the-truth-about-cats-and-dogs-environmental-impact
7) ‘Some lives are more important than others’. Again, this doesn’t seem to be a conscious attitude amongst any vegan activists that I know of, but an unconscious one, or a type of ignorance. It’s not helped by the media and marketing industries which have tended to use pictures of cuddly animals to signal content about veganism and / or attract people to the vegan cause. It’s the same easy option that conservation organisations use to encourage protection of (some) endangered species. I am not wholesale against ALL such marketing techniques, but when they contribute to a culture of ignorance about the importance of biodiversity and ALL life-forms in maintaining the complex inter-connected web of life which supports us and makes for the Earth’s rich tapestry, then, well…
Ironically some vegans may have fallen prey here to the farming industry’s portrayal of cartoon and cuddly farm animals over the years, at the expense of native British wildlife. This is not to ignore the great efforts of my vegan activist friends on badger culling sabs and hunt sabs, which I fully support.
‘Cuddly speciesism’ can compound and be compounded by attitudes 6) above and 8) below in particular. Have you ever found buzzards poisoned and dumped by the side of the road? I have. It makes me cry.
8) ‘If my food and clothes and other products I use are plant-based, I’m having a benign effect on the planet’. It is complacent and dangerous to think like this. This is an extension of points I have already made above, especially 1) but let me summarise it like this: If we drive motor vehicles, we are implicit in ecocide. As long as our food is flown to us, we are implicit in ecocide. As long as we propagate the neoliberal capitalist ‘paradigm’, ‘Business As Usual’, (or as I call it ‘Same Old Story’ in The Evidence), we are implicit in ecocide. Make ecocide law.
9) ‘I shouldn’t / won’t be friends with meat eaters, at least not on Facebook’. It’s up to you, but this attitude frustrates me because it is clearly unstrategic. If you want to convert the world to veganism, surely you can’t take an isolationist stance? If you want a compassionate world, should you not demonstrate compassion, even to those who don’t, even to your ‘enemies’? If you are genuinely so sensitive that talking to meat-eaters upsets you, then cool, but if you are coming from a place of hatred -not so cool.
10) ‘Vegans are the best’. You’re alright, okay? And so am I, when I’m vegan and when I’m not.
Now, after all that, I hope you will all come and give me a plant-based hug. I mean it, no hard feelings. I’m trying to build a stronger movement here, against climate breakdown and the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth.
Also see this excellent post by my friend L. J. Stirling, The Moral Limitations of Being Vegan.
Here is my Rebel listening track for this week (a bit different from last time’s Bach). This is the kind of music I use to wake me up in the morning, before I get to work. When I listen to the lyrics, ‘I follow you, deep sea baby’ it conjures an image of a blue whale.
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