No need to go whole hog as a vegan
On a grey, blustery Remembrance Day, a small crowd gathered around Singhampton’s cenotaph where a visibly cold but stoic Reverend Dobson remembered and honoured all our fellow citizens who have served and sacrificed to protect our way of life. It was a thoughtful and moving tribute, his words a poignant reminder of the level of commitment and sacrifice made in times of war.
“What if those who came before us had refused to make homefront efforts, and we had lost the war? What if the costs were not extreme, but total? Not a Holocaust, but an extinction? If we existed at all, we would look back at a collective unwillingness to sacrifice as an atrocity commensurate with the war itself.” (Jonathan Safran Foer, We Are the Weather, Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast).
“When the planetary crisis matters to us at all, it has the quality of a war being fought over there. We are aware of the existential stakes and the urgency, but even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel immersed in it. That distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people – people who want to act – to act.”
In 2018, despite increasingly urgent scientific warnings, more greenhouse gases were produced than ever before, at three times the rate of global population growth (“We Are the Weather… a life-changing book,” The Guardian, Oct. 6, 2019). “I don’t see the kinds of systemic legislative changes that are needed happening without being forced by the actions of individuals…” Mr. Foer, a prizewinning writer, set out to write a book about climate change and what individuals can do – “I have found myself saying over the last several years, someone’s got to do something.” (“What Would You Give Up to Save the Planet?” The Globe and Mail, Oct. 19, 2019).
“When a radical change is needed, many argue that it is impossible for individual actions to incite it, so it’s futile for anyone to try,” Foer notes. “This is exactly the opposite of the truth: the impotence of individual actions is a reason for everyone to try.”
Foer is not shy about the grim but galvanizing statistics, with a section entitled, ‘How to Prevent the Greatest Dying.’ “The basic story is that animal agriculture is either the No. 1 or the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions, depending on what’s included in the calculations…” Due to the urgent timeframe, he focuses on the need for a reduction of methane and nitrous oxide emissions (which have much higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide) associated with animal products. “There are approximately 30 farmed animals for every human on the Earth.”
Strategically, Foer is not advocating for any specific diet. Rather, “I think part of the solution is moving away from the binary that we’re used to – you’re in or you’re not, you’re vegan or you’re not – and toward moderation, eating a lot less [animal products].” What Foer is recommending instead is “no animal products before dinner.” No need to go whole hog as a vegan – just VB6 (vegan before 6). “If we could reorient ourselves away from identities and toward actions, I think more people would act.”
Refreshingly, Foer refrains from judgment. “I have a lot of sympathy for people who have a hard time trying to do something about it [climate change]. Most people have been eating animal products their whole lives. Most people find them to be tasty. Most people have a lot of really positive emotional associations with meat.” Foer reflects, “We’re so used to measuring our distance from this unattainable ethical perfection. Which is unnecessary and often precludes action more than it inspires it. We need to applaud each other for making efforts.”
However, “We cannot keep the kind of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known. We must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go.” His ultimate question, is that one small change a sacrifice we are willing and able to make for the sake of a habitable future?
Suzanne Wesetvik is a country dweller, mom and goat lover writing on climate change and action for a future where all kids are alright.