Cam Fenton
Dec 2, 2015 · 4 min read

Ok vegans, we need to have to talk.

Before we get into it, I need to say that I’m a vegan and have been for a long time. I’ve been a model in a vegan fashion show (yep), competed in a Vegan Iron Chef cook-off and have cooked my way from the front to back covers of Veganomicon.

I roll deep with seitan, tofu, nutritional yeast and non-dairy milks.

I’m also a climate organizer, and I, unequivocally, do not believe that my vegan diet is doing much when it comes to stopping climate change. Not only this, I’m really getting tired of reading emails and Facebook comment threads about veganism being the key to cooling down this world.

I understand that you’re passionate. I love it, I respect it and I tip my hat to your convictions. The problem is that a lot of them are based on some flawed assumptions, and some of the things you’re saying are really, really starting to become a problem.

Consider this an intervention — done with love.

Let’s start by debunking one big myth often repeated by the “being vegan is the best way to save the planet” crowd — that “animal agriculture and eating meat are the biggest causes of global warming”.

This is wrong in two ways.

  1. First, it’s actually just wrong. Fossil fuel energy is responsible for around 60% of global emissions. Animal agriculture doesn’t even break 20%. Yes, some of that fossil fuel is used in producing, packaging and transporting that meat, but it’s also missing a bigger point.
  2. The biggest cause of climate change isn’t any single point source of emissions. The biggest cause of climate change is the continuation of a dig, burn and dump economy that treats our planet like an open sewer and puts the interest of big polluters, including agribusiness, ahead of people.

Next, let’s circle back to that other big thing that my fellow vegans get wrong — the idea that not eating meat is the best thing anyone can do to help solve climate change.

Look, eating less meat is great. But, we need system change to stop climate change, and our personal dietary choices are not system change. Changing lightbulbs and taking shorter showers wasn’t a really effective strategy for the climate and that’s what switching out steak for tofu seems to be to me. Not only wont it do a whole lot to solve the climate crisis, it actually doesn’t even get at the heart of what you’re purporting to be pushing — reducing emissions from agriculture.

If the goal is really to deal with the emissions from agriculture, and these emissions are a big problem, it’s time to stop telling people not to eat meat and start figuring out how you’re going to stand with peasant farmers who are being forced by the Monsantos of the world to abandon their traditional methods of agriculture for massive mono-crop operations. It’s time to support communities that are standing up to stop cattle barons who want to clear massive tracts of land — like the rainforest in South America– to expand their operations. These things, might help to tip the scales and bring down emissions from agriculture in a way that more vegans just wont, and they might win you some allies along the way.

There’s another thing we need to talk about, the elephant in the room that you’re ignoring — the power of the fossil fuel industry. While Big Meat (sorry) is all kinds of evil, they’re not Big Oil evil when it comes to climate change.

Just this year we learned that Exxon Mobil knew about climate change 30 years ago and the not only lied about it, but spend millions of dollars convincing millions of people that it wasn’t real. That’s just the worst example we know about an industry who’s entire business model is built on a promise to cook the planet. That’s why for me, a vegan climate organizer, job one in fighting climate change is taking on the fossil fuel industry — it’s not a “cowspiracy” it’s a strategic choice to fight the biggest and most powerful opponent to real climate action on the planet.

One more thing, and I’m sorry but I can really only say it one way — the “go vegan to save the planet” mantra is kinda racist. It ignores that for a lot of the world – especially in the poorest regions and those most impacted by climate change – diet isn’t a choice. Peoples’ food is a fundamental part of their culture, and it is almost always of the place that people are from. What we eat is part of who we are, and frankly the call for a global vegan revolution ignores the simple truth that one of the main reasons we’re in this mess is that we’ve disconnected from the land we live on. Remember too that the people who are least able to go vegan, are probably also the ones already most impacted by climate change.

Like I said, I’m a vegan and it’s great. If you’re a vegan, that’s great too. I think having an uncommon compassion for non-human animals is an amazing thing. If you’re organizing documentary screenings, potlucks, protests against ridiculous fur farms and cool other events to get people to go vegan, I’ll probably attend them and might buy things at your bake sales. If you’re doing direct action to stop animal testing, that’s also awesome. If you want to talk about strategies to take on the climate impacts of big agribusiness at a systemic level, that’s even better (and you should find one of the amazing groups working on food justice that aims to build resilient, low carbon local food systems that work for people to connect with).

But, if you’re a vegan who is showing up at climate justice actions in a cow suit and putting your “go vegan to save the planet” sign in front of a frontline community leader, you’re being an asshole and you’re making us all look bad, so please stop it.

    Cam Fenton

    Written by

    Canadian Tar Sands Organizer at 350.org and Climate Justice enthusiast. Opinions here within are my own and don’t reflect those of the place I work.