When I saw that the ocean was literally on fire in July 2021, besides experiencing a wave of panic because – the ocean was literally on fire – I was seeing a lot of discussions about what good are individual acts of accountability (such as recycling etc), when we have these giant corporations who cause this horrific level of destruction. That activists who care about the earth, need to focus mostly if not solely on corporate accountability. That the emphasis on individual actions places more of the responsibility and blame on the shoulders of the individual than the corporation.
[Video description: Part of the ocean is on fire and there are several people that are trying to put it out via what looks like boats with hoses on it. The footage is being captured via a helicopter which you can hear in the background. The next thing we see is from the helicopter again, this time a closer look at the fire itself. It is weird to see a body of water on fire.]
And to a certain extent, this is true. The powers that be will often promote individual acts while they approve new pipelines.
Related: Pipelines? Fracking? This is Fracking 101
Personally, I see individual acts of solidarity for the earth, as empowerment. So often we need to petition the powers that be to do the right thing, and keep protesting till they cave to public pressure and/or lack of profit (as we should). But with individual acts, we don’t need permission. We have the power to create change in that moment and that is powerful – especially when done on a collective level. That being said, are single acts like recycling enough? No. I think because we are at this level of destruction, we need as many tactics as possible.
That said, let’s discuss one tactic in particular that some people have this instant negative reaction to. It’s one of the largest contributors to climate change. Science has been saying this for years, and yet when the topic comes up? There is often these strong emotions that arise. What is it? Refraining from supporting animal agriculture aka: veganism or plant based. So, let’s break it down & unpack some of the most common reactions. No judgment. The topic of food is complicated, emotional, it’s tradition, it’s cultural and sometimes even religious, so it makes sense that it can bring up strong feelings for people. But if we can address and unpack the root of these feelings, it’ll be easier to embrace a plant based lifestyle (as much as one can) and that’s one more tactic in our tool box.
In the end, animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change and so we really can’t afford to let these feelings get in the way of saving the planet.
Feel free to skip the questions that aren’t applicable to you.
Wait a minute, so you’re vegan?
So aren’t you just imposing your beliefs on people?
While I am vegan for various reasons, what I am talking about here is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of science & facts.
Related: Chili On Wheels was started by Michelle Carerra and provides vegan meals (and more) to those in need.
Yeah, but how are burgers etc. harming the earth?
It’s not just about cow farts, though that is part of the problem, as US Methane emissions from livestock and natural gas (fracking) are nearly equal.
It’s a matter of land. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
It’s a matter of water usage. Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption. 56% of that goes towards growing crops for the livestock.
It even contributes to world hunger. 82% of starving children live in countries where the majority of crops are fed to animals, and the animal product is then sold to and eaten by western countries.
There is so much more to say on this, and I don’t want to inundate you with statistics as I know that can be overwhelming. If you like, you can read more. The point is that it’s absolutely devastating to the environment.
Yeah, but don’t humans need to consume animals for proper nutrition?
According to science, humans are not obligatory carnivores, meaning that we don’t need animals for proper nutrition. We can get enough via plant based sources.
There is often this myth that if you don’t eat meat, then you’ll become weak, but there are so many professional athletes and bodybuilders who are vegan. And if they can perform at this professional level, then us average people will do just fine.
How much protein do we need?
According to a Harvard health blog (and what seems to be the consensus), “To determine your daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36“ That said, if you go on fitness websites, they will often have protein intake calculators that you can use to get a number that is more specific to your level of activity. For an example, I once knew a vegan who ran marathons, so he consumed more protein (and calories) than I did.
Because of my health / disability, I can not go fully vegan, but when I say that, vegans call me a liar. Some of them give me unsolicited advice, saying that a vegan diet could “cure” me. As a result, the topic of veganism brings up bad feelings.
Unfortunately, I hear this far too often. I don’t know why some vegans think they’re this instant specialist that is qualified to give advice to all people. Or why some think that a healthy vegan diet is this cure all, as it’s not. I eat a fairly whole food vegan diet, my spine still requires that I get around via a motorized wheelchair. There is nothing wrong with that. I am disabled and proud. I need my rights and access, not a cure – and certainly not unsolicited health advice.
I think part of the reason some vegans don’t believe people, is that sometimes people say things like “I could never live without dairy cheese” (as an example) but they could. They just don’t want to, which is different from someone who legitimately can’t for medical reasons. So it leads to some vegan activists to be skeptical, but they are forgetting that not everyone is able bodied and needs do vary. In the end, if someone says I can’t do this thing for medical reasons, I believe them because I’m not a doctor and it sucks to not be believed.
My advice is to do what you can. Not everyone can contribute at the same level of intensity, but everyone has something to contribute.
This is also true for people who live in food deserts and don’t have the same access to some vegan foods that others do. Or those who live in areas where dairy/meat is cheaper than the plant based alternative and you’re on a tight budget etc.
Related: Why Banning Straws Hurts Some People (Video)
Related: Is Veganism Ableist?
Related: We Need Power To Live: One Way Climate Change Impacts The Disability Community
So you’re saying because I eat meat (etc.), I’m a bad person?!
No. Unless you were born into a vegan family, you grew up eating meat and/or dairy. My family is Jewish so it was considered a treat to go to the local deli and get a sandwich that literally had a pound of meat in it, that was given to me as a child. I was told as a kid that cows need humans to milk them or they will explode (which I kind of laugh at now, because that’s just now how it works. They’re mammals. They only produce milk when they have a baby to feed.) The point is, it’s all very normalized so, I get it. There’s a lot of misinformation that we are told as kids about animal agriculture, but like a lot of things we were taught as kids, that just weren’t right, as we get older and hopefully wiser, we can choose to level up. This is part of our responsibility, especially since this isn’t just about us and a sandwich, this is about the planet and thus about us all.
Related: Why Is Climate Change a Racial Justice Issue?
I once met a vegan who made derogatory comments (towards myself and/or people I care about / have solidarity with) and now I associate a plant based lifestyle with that behavior.
I hear you. I’ve certainly met my share of vegans who were blatantly and un-apologetically ignorant. I’ve also met people in the anti-war movement and people in the environmental activist movement etc. who were also like that. In any case, it’s not okay.
I think it’s extra complicated though with veganism because it is such an emotional topic to begin with. But in the end, I think it’s important to separate the person(s) from the cause, meaning that just because I meet someone who is a prick and/or ignorant etc. it doesn’t make fighting climate change or war a bad idea. It doesn’t make veganism a bad idea either.
Also keep in mind that while some vegans (or vegan-ish people) get into Animal Rights and take it to the streets, this is not a requirement. You can just go about your life and be as plant based as you can and that’s fine.
Related: The Sistah Vegan Project is a great resource.
Related: UK based Fat Gay Vegan has a great blog and podcast
Related: Vegan Bodega Cat is a NYC based vegan youtuber with Arab roots.
Related: Jenné Claiborne from Sweet Potato Soul wrote “Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul : a Cookbook“
But food is part of my culture, it’s tradition and/or in some cases, part of sacred rituals in my religion
As far as tradition and culture goes, there are a lot of people like Sweet Potato Soul who are taking traditional meals and making them vegan, so that might be one route.
There are also some people who are religious and are taking traditional recipes and making them vegan.
But at the end of the day, that’s something that you need to figure out how you want to navigate. And if there are some things that are sacred and can’t be made vegan, then try to be vegan in other ways
Where do I even begin?
Vegan Kit is a free resource. Keep it mind that it was put together before all these realistic vegan meats alternatives came out. Now you can go to Burger King and get a vegan burger. You can get vegan fried chicken at KFC. It’s actually become quite common to see vegan options at fast food restaurants (depending on where you live).
There are also a slew of accidentally vegan junkfood that you can get in stores.
A lot of people find Meatless Monday to be a great way to dip their toe in the water. It’s also a great resource for recipes.
Speaking of recipes, there is also an abundance of vegan meal and snack ideas online that are available for free. In addition to Sweet Potato Soul, and Vegan Bodega Cat, I also enjoy: The Unhealthy Vegan (who makes decadent but easy vegan food), Candice from The Edgy Veg , No Egg Craig , Tabitha Brown and Lisa from The Viet Vegan.
So, that’s it. I know there is a lot going on right now in the world, but I do hope that when you can, you will really think about this and add this tactic to what you are already doing. It doesn’t have to be this huge instant change. Start by eating one plant based meal and go from there. Thank you for your time and I shall “see you” in the fight.
This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox in 2021.
Michele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.