You have been voting for climate change. At least 3 times, today.
Who did you vote for, this morning?
What about yesterday?
I think you did. You may just not have been aware of it. I’m guessing you HAVE voted, even more than once today.
If you are like 95% of the population, you probably voted for serious environmental harm. You voted in favour of climate change that will threaten the lives of millions of vulnerable people, all around the world. You have voted in favour of incredibly inefficient land use, in favour of emissions and in favour of water and air pollution. Oh, and you also voted in favour of a continuation of the suffering of millions of animals.
It’s okay. We can still be friends. On Facebook.
Because you probably didn’t realise that you voted for all of these things. In fact, I believe that if you knew that you’d been involved in any of this, you would have voted differently.
And you could have done that, by eating a different breakfast.
Yes, I am talking about the social impact of your food.
Eating is an extremely powerful form of elections. It’s worldwide, and by far the most popular of all elections I know off. Turnout rates are 100 percent, simply because we all HAVE to eat. And we automatically vote, whether we want it or not, every time we eat.
With every meal, we either vote in favour of the agricultural sector, or in favour of the plant-based sector. We vote in favour of the meat and dairy industry, or of the vegetable and cereal industry. And our voting behaviour has far-ranging consequences.
I’m an anthropologist and a writer, and I have done research in many places around the world where people are much more vulnerable to climate changes, than we are, here. In my research about the underlying causes of climate changes, I was shocked to learn how big the impact of our food, really is. For some people, this sounds confusing and terrifying. I find it incredibly hopeful and empowering. Because once we become more aware of our own power, we can start using it in a way that is aligned with our wish for the future.
Scientists recently warned that we have 12 years left to limit what will otherwise become a ‘climate change catastrophe’. Think droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Also recently, the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet was released. It showed that livestock is responsible for by far the majority of the environmental problems of our planet.
The study was based on data conducted from almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covered 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of our food and it concluded that avoiding meat and dairy products is the absolute biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
Other scientists have shown that without meat and dairy consumption, we could still feed the world. That’s because cows and pigs and chickens are incredibly inefficient protein-sources. We get our proteins from their flesh or milk, and they get their proteins by eating grass and grains. But animals do not turn all the energy from what they eat, into calories in their muscles. They need part of that energy to stay alive — only the rest is turned into protein. If you first feed plant-proteins to feed an egg-laying hen, rather than just eating the plant yourself and leaving the hen and her eggs alone, you lose 40% of the proteins. For a cow, you lose 96%. Would you put up with this sort of waste in any other part of your life?”
Here are some more shocking numbers: Meat and dairy provide just 18% of our calories and 37% of the proteins we eat, while it uses 83% of all of our farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why scientists now say that avoiding animal products delivers far more environmental benefits than anything else you can do for the planet.
Much more than trying to fly less, or drive less often in your car. Much more than trying to use so-called sustainable dairy- or meat products. Because they’re really not sustainable, at all. Grass-fed beef — you know, the stuff you get in fancy, eco-conscious restaurants nowadays, is still responsible for six times more greenhouse gases than plant protein, such as pea, and uses 36 times more land.
So, who do you vote for? For more almonds and peas, or for more cows and chickens?
Each and every time you eat, with every purchase and through every bite, you support the companies of your choice to grow bigger. You’re showing investors where they should put their money. You’re directly financially supporting one sector, and not the other. You’re allowing supermarkets to say: “we keep selling these animal products and not these plantbased alternatives, because this is what our customers prefer.” Supermarkets deliver, what customers demand.
So even if politics are not on your mind when you’re hungry and about to attack your burger, you’re voting. If you’re resisting your hunger and busy posting a photo of your smoothie on Instagram, you’re voting. If you’re one of those people who believe that it’s never a good idea to talk politics at the table, you’re voting nevertheless, because the thing is: you don’t need to talk about it — the politics are lying right in front of you, on your plate.
You determine your future and the future of the guy sitting next to you and the future of your dog, by eating.
The fastest growing social movement
At this very moment, more and more people are voting against climate changes, and in favor of a radically different food system. The vegan movement is the fastest growing social movement of our times, worldwide.
Now, very briefly — I know this word ‘vegan’ puts people off. And I get that. Because many people associate it with a diet. But veganism is not a diet, and it’s not some over-sentimental attitude towards animals. It’s a highly rational decision in times where the world population has grown to 7 billion people — a predicted 9 billion in 2050 — and where, if we want to feed all these people with animal-based protein, we will face devastating consequences for our environment.
I have lived amongst Inuit in Greenland, where the Ice cap is melting which again causes rising sea levels, and I have lived amongst slumdwellers in Indonesia, where rains are increasing and river-settlements are flooded.
No longer buying and eating animal products is a way to vote against a further development of this future scenario. It’s a boycott of a sector that is inefficient and polluting, and it’s a direct investment into sectors that are more efficient and less polluting.
You and I, we live in exciting times. We are part of the generation that may stop climate changes, just in time.
We have 12 years to go, and radical change is needed. Luckily, radical change is occurring. In the nineties there were only a few million people worldwide who did not consume meat or dairy; in 2015 that number had grown to an estimated 750 million. Many members of this social movement decided to stop consuming animal products, because they no longer wanted to contribute to climate changes. Others decided to stop eating animal products, because of the ways in which the far majority of farm animals is treated.
Experts already predict that eating meat may be banned within this generation.
And if I say ‘experts’, I’m not just talking about the climate-change scientists, but also about people who you might least expect to support this movement.
In the US, one of the countries where most meat is eaten, sales of “plant-based” foods rose 20% in the first half of this year as compared to the full year before. We see similar numbers in other parts of the Western world.
The worlds’ biggest meat producers are now investing their money in companies that produce plant-based meat alternatives. Bill Gates and the founders of Twitter did the same: they believe this represents the future of our food. Becel — a margarine brand — announced in their new commercial that ‘plants are the new cows’. McDonalds anticipates that in 15 years from now, all their snacks might be vegan. Supermarkets predict that soon, a large part of their meat-section will consist of plantbased “meat”.
Obviously, these predictions are not only made because of political activism, but also because companies see the lucrative trends all around them, and want to make sure they are part of them.
Likewise, your decision what to eat this morning, probably wasn’t based on your political views, but on what you felt like eating or what was available. But the effects were the same.
Food is power. Food is politics.
We are entering an era in which that word: “veganism”, will no longer be needed to express what has become the norm. Veganism will soon be a label that is redundant, just like nowadays, we don’t constantly label ourselves as carnivores. We don’t ask in restaurants whether they also have some animal-based dishes on their menu, and we don’t order a special ‘animal’ menu on a long flight. Eating animals is still the norm, now.
But soon enough, this might change. Eating animals will have become taboo and out-dated, a bit like smoking is now very quickly losing the ‘cool’ imago.
In ten, twenty or thirty years from now, your children or nephews or the kids that you teach in class, will ask you what you decided to do when you learned how bad the environment was doing, and when you knew what you could do to stop it?
For who did you vote? Because you did. Three times a day, at the least.
“But not everybody is going to give up their burgers”, you might say to justify your environmental-or animal unfriendly voting behaviour, “and then we’re going to be too late anyhow, even if I have done the right thing”.
You’re partly right: within the next 12 years, by far not everybody in the world will stop consuming animal products. The Inuit in Greenland will not, and the Indonesian slum dwellers will not either; because they don’t have plantbased alternatives available, yet. We could also say that they live in a 1-party food-system, while we have many more voting options.
That’s one reason why you should vote and eat consciously: you have the power to do so while others don’t, and by voting, you get to determine not just your own, but also their future. That’s a huge responsibility that comes with living in a rich, resourceful part of the world.
And here is another reason why you should align your eating behaviour, with your wish for the future. We don’t need everybody to start radical change. History is always determined by few people.
Social movements aren’t led by everybody, but by a few influential pioneers.
Studies have shown that for an idea to become popular, you only need about 10 percent of a population that believes wholeheartedly in that idea; the rest will gradually follow, simply because they don’t want to miss the trend. They don’t want to be wrong. They don’t want to be old-fashioned. They don’t want to answer: “well, I really wanted to save the planet, but I simply liked yoghurt too much” to their future children.
Do you want to be a pioneer, or a follower?
You vote where investors put their money. You vote which sectors will develop, and which not. You vote whether sea levels will rise, temperatures will increase, land is polluted, water is used, and animals are mistreated.
I hope this article has made you hungry. Because there’s elections coming up.