There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us*
I was going to write about the beauty of local food, but after the first two posts this week, it feels like an answer to the vegan alternative is overdue and as I quite like a good argument, here goes:
When I was first introduced to “Transition as per Rob Hopkins”, what I found the most attractive about the whole concept was it's pragmatism and it's under the radar radical edge without the rigid ideological baggage. It gave us a way to bring communities together on the road towards resilience in the broadest sense of the word. It has the power to unite factions from both ends of the political perspective, religious convictions and philosophies. It has a positive, fun approach, emphasises gratitude, practises compassion rather than judgement and above all: it merely extends an invitation to join others on the journey to a low carbon lifestyle. After Rob's talk at the Big Green Gathering, I felt so inspired and energised, I couldn't wait to get involved.
A few marquees further along in the campaigns field was another venue. “Meat is Murder!”, a banner screamed in blood red writing the full length of the structure. The canvas walls were festooned with collages depicting animals in various states of suffering and death. In it's dark interior I could just about make out a couple of anaemic looking youths glaring at me through their dreadlocks from behind a table strewn with leaflets from a variety of assorted animal right campaign groups, vegan societies and anti-hunt groups. It didn't altogether feel inviting and rather scary. I felt judged before I even entered the tent, seen as I'm not even a vegetarian. As I wandered by, the question arose: who was it these people were actually trying to reach?
And this is the problem with negative campaigning. If you try to scare or horrify people into changing their long-standing habits, you will not be successful. Making people feel bad, guilty, ugly or just plain wrong is not going to gain you a large following. Big advertising has known this for donkey's years; you do not associate your “product” with anything negative, because that's what sticks. And until vegans and animal rights campaigners realise this and change their tack, they will never be more than a small fringe group grumbling away in a corner.
The main message I take away from Jasmijn de Boo's exhaustively referenced article is that by using animal products, I'm a climate criminal, that if I cared about my carbon footprint, the first thing I'd do would be to become a vegan, because as long as I eat/use animal products, whatever else I do would be irrelevant. How totally simplistic and totally wrong!
As a vegan I could be enjoying all sorts of foods that come with a large carbon footprint. This is because a lot of wholefood staples are grown halfway across the world. The vast majority of pulses and nuts consumed by vegans and vegetarians alike comes from abroad. Then there's tropical fruits, dried or fresh, the out of season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers grow in vast heated greenhouses, rice and millet from Southern Europe, sunflower and sesame seeds and all soya products. And if you insist on eating only organic fruit and vegetables all year round, you are likely, at certain times of the year, to be eating potatoes from Egypt, tomatoes from the Canary Islands and avocado's from Israel, all water hungry crops grown in water scarce countries. And how “green” are the ever more popular salad packs which need constant refrigeration? Moreover when your food is grown on the other side of the world, you have no idea or control whether forests are cleared to produce it, poisons are used, local labourers exploited or any other harm is done, as certification schemes are often not worth the paper they are printed on.
Reducing your personal carbon footprint is by no means just down to what you eat, it's about whether you travel a great deal, buy a lot of stuff brand new, how many kids you choose to have, what kind of hobbies you indulge in and how high you crank up the central heating thermostat and much, much more. It is not a little bit disingenuous to suggest that veganism is the sole answer to climate change.
Though I eat meat and use other animal products, I do share many of the concerns of my vegan and vegetarian friends. I agree that, as a society, we consume far too much meat and dairy. Not only is it bad for human health, it has also given rise to horrors such as factory farming. Animal husbandry need not be cruel and destructive of the environment, but it is the drive for profit that makes it so. (I'm with Simon Fairlie here!) And it isn't good for people employed in agriculture either. Farmers are driven from the land by the market's downwards pressure of production costs and their children are not following in their footsteps. With the average age of British farmers now being nearly 60, we are sleepwalking into a shortage situation that should send shivers up spines of vegans and carnivores alike. When about 2 years ago, an organic veg wholesaler tried to find farmers in our area willing to grow large quantities of organic vegetables, certification not required, they didn't get any takers. It appeared that the very skill of growing vegetables on a field scale was not longer there. That's scary.
We all need to take a greater interest in where our food comes from, how and by whom it is produced, what methods are used and put that against our personal values and ethics and see if it all stacks up. Ignorance is not only no excuse, it is becoming dangerous. Transition emphasises the need for a revival of local food production and the first steps many new initiatives take involve local food. I'm going to put forward the argument that the best thing anybody can do for the planet and that which lives upon it is to stick to a 20 mile diet and consider anything that is sourced from further away a luxury to be treated as such. Demand that your food is grown in a way that is beneficial to the natural world, free from poisons and with a minimal input of fossil fuels. Do not accept the exploitation of farmers or farm labourers and be prepared to put a greater share of your income towards your food. Support your local farm, CSA or market garden and if you can, grow your own. Here's a couple of questions for my vegan friends to ponder: How long would you and your kids remain happy and healthy if you had to source all your food from within a 20 mile radius? And in an uncertain future, do you feel your diet is a resilient one?
As stated in the introduction of this weeks topic: our (chosen) diets are an emotive subject, tied in with our cultural stories and history, our very identity. There are many reasons why, as a society, we urgently need to make changes to the food we eat and how we produce it, ultimately even to ensure our survival as a species. As transition activists we are ideally placed to help communities move towards a fresher, tastier and more sustainable way of feeding ourselves with the promise of a much needed thriving local economy for rural areas. But let it remain an irresistible invitation, not a guilt trip.
*Quote from Starhawks book: “The fifth sacred thing”, a great positive novel about a low carbon future, tolerance and non violence.
Photo's: Welsh mountain lambs on the hill behind our home, "high carbon" fruit, Is our future one of empty plates?, the Fresh and Local stall on Machynlleth market: a co-operative venture of small, local producers.
Below follows a compassionate take on the issues around airtravel, powerful enough to convince me to stop flying even though half my family is in another country... No amount of guilt tripping could have achieved that.