Yesterday, I ate my last Cadbury chocolate bar. My husband had picked up a box of discount candy after Halloween (as is the tradition), and we slowly worked through those delicious fun-sized bars over the course of weeks.
Two weeks ago, I attended a panel at Parliament called “Faith for the Earth”, and I chose this panel primarily to see Vandana Shiva, since I had missed an earlier presentation of hers. This panel was disappointing, not only because five people were standing in front of me taking pictures, but because the responsibility for climate change was placed squarely on the individual, on us sitting in the audience. (Parliament attendees, I’d venture to say, are probably firmly middle-class or above. Not all, of course, but tickets ranged from $300-$600 USD, plus travel, hotel, etc. and not everyone can afford that luxury.)
We were told to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet, and this is how we can help save the Earth. “Every time I choose to eat meat, I am saying I deserve the food of 15 other people.” We were told we have “a global consciousness shortage”, and that “how we eat our daily bread is a determinant for our future.” Meat is a drug. Feeling the agony of the chicken already in the nugget. Veganism as the “next level of evolution.” Continued use of monotheistic and binary language. Add a little bit of classism, and pseudoscience about autism. This was my last day at Parliament, and I was exhausted.
The speakers said that it is our religious imperative to become vegetarian or vegan. (Three of the five speakers have vegetarianism as part of their religious tenets – the other two were a Christian and a Jew.) Not a word was mentioned about capitalism, corporate greed, industrial practices, water theft…
Climate change was being presented as an individual responsibility. Yes, we have responsibilities to our living and holy Mother Earth. Yes, we need to live lightly on the Earth, and I strive to do so. We need to make conscious choices in our purchases, in our food sources, with regards to the waste that we create.
But placing this all back on us, individually, is placing a bandaid on the problem. Our actions can help, a little bit – but some people can’t make those changes in the way that wealthier people can. The blame shouldn’t fall on them. The speakers were clearly privileged – including the woman who has lived in the ashram for 27 years. Advocating for veganism for everyone doesn’t address systemic problems of poverty or underemployment, which means that people may not be able to improve their diets. It does not address food waste, which is both a travesty and is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions itself.
Rather than being inspired, I was annoyed, tired, hungry, and feeling guilty. I felt like I should have been inspired, that I should have wanted to become vegan. But I didn’t want that. I wanted more dialogue about real change, not vague promises of future green Parliaments with organic chickpeas for all.
That’s still the last Cadbury bar I’m going to eat, because palm oil harvesting destroys rainforest and kills orangutans. Our religious traditions do need to encourage conscious living, and conscious eating. But there’s more to changing the future of our planet than simply our individual lives. It’s a place to start, though.
How do you walk lightly on the Earth?
How do you reduce waste and limit your consumption?
How should we encourage corporations to act ethically?
What are you doing to dismantle capitalism?