Why bother going green?
I've been suspicious of vegans for years. I didn't like the moral superiority, and the lifestyle seemed to suck all the enjoyment out of life. Someone recently commented on one of my Veganuary posts that they couldn't imagine life without cheese (!). I felt similarly horrified when I read that the process of making wine uses animal products. (For the purposes of Veganuary, I'm going to pretend I didn't read that).
Over the years, I've often had people make disparaging comments about my vegetarianism. It's usually very light-hearted: if that was you, don't worry, I wasn't offended. People have sometimes found it amusing that I am happy to eat fish but not meat, which seemed inconsistent, and that's a fair point. Plus my pescatarianism was motivated by a concern for animal welfare, and many people just don't see animal rights being as important as human ones. (My response would be that animals may not be rational, but they are sentient and, as such, feel pain). But setting aside the animal rights angle and my fishy inconsistency, I think these disparaging comments can sometimes be driven by a sense of guilt. Bear with me for a moment. I was suspicious of vegans because of the moral superiority: not because I thought their ethical position was ridiculous, but because I thought it would ask too much of me. As the environmental argument for a plant-based diet has become more and more well-known, more and more people are becoming more and more aware of the ethical dimensions of their food choices. We know that our planet is burning, and we understand that our food choices have a significant impact. The website of the United Nations explains that about a third of all the greenhouse gas emissions for which humans are responsible are linked to food (you can check out the article for yourself here). We know that we have an ethical responsibility here, but changing our food choices seems like very hard work.
As a Christian, I understand these dilemmas in the context of sin. Sin is a very loaded piece of religious jargon, and in many people's minds it has very unhelpful connotations. People have been made to feel guilty about their sexual selves, for example, in ways that have ruined lives and deeply affected people's mental health and wellbeing. Sin is a word and a concept that we have to treat with care, but it is an important one nevertheless. Sin is about the brokenness of human beings and the brokenness of systems and structures that human beings create. Racism and white supremacy are examples of sin. Discrimination against the LGBT+ community is a sin. Poverty and climate change are products of sin: millions upon millions of individual choices that produce systems that keep some people poor while making others rich; nations polluting the earth in ways that disproportionately affect people living in poverty.
When we look at these issues produced by human sinfulness, we become overwhelmed. They're too big. They may have started with individual choices, but now they're so huge that individual choices don't seem to be able to have an impact. What does it matter if I stop eating cheese when we're talking about one-third of all emissions caused by human beings? It's a fair point. Overwhelm is understandable. As a Christian, I don't think we can ultimately overcome these systems without God's help. I believe that God is transforming the world, working in ways that may seem small and that are often unseen. But I believe that God chooses to use human beings and their choices in this transformation. What we do matters.
I stopped eating meat 25 years ago, and a lot has changed in 25 years. Back in 1997, there were Linda McCartney sausages and Quorn mince, and not a lot else. Just in the last five years I've seen a huge proliferation in the number, variety and quality of meat replacements. What is perhaps most interesting is the fact that big name brands have started producing vegan products, recognising the way the tide is turning and getting in on the market for plant-based food. Richmond make excellent veggie bacon (much better than the Quorn alternative) and Cathedral City vegan cheese is delicious. I'm not sure how I feel about eating food produced by companies that have made their millions through meat and dairy products. Part of me wonders if I'm simply buying into an unethical system that is engaged in greenwashing. But when the big-name brands start producing vegan food, you realise that individual consumers' demand for more planet-friendly options is making a difference. These companies wouldn't bother unless they thought there were enough people wanting these products to make it worth their while.
If you hate the thought of giving up meat and dairy, don't give them up - but why not cut back? The beauty of the environmental argument for a plant-based diet is that it doesn't require total abstinence. And by thinking we have to cut something out completely, which we don't want to do, we may end up doing nothing at all. We can't eliminate our carbon footprint: every human life has an impact on the environment. But by our choices we can make that footprint smaller. We don't have the power to do everything, but we have the power to do that.