As we marched through the Hyde Park Corner underpass, I felt a strong sense of empowerment. All of these people were here for the same reason, filled with the same hope and motivation; longing for change. Or so it seemed.
Suddenly I caught on to the conversation of the people next to me; “Are you vegan?” said one lady, holding a rather large stuffed pig, in a fairly forceful voice. “No” replied the couple in what I assumed to be a French accent. They seemed to be taken aback by the question or perhaps the tone in which it was asked. Shocked and offended the lady then asked “Well why not? You’re here aren’t you?” I began to understand where this was going. “One of the number one causes of climate change is animal agriculture!” The woman I’d presumed to be French was clearly irritated by the aggression with which this was asked and responded with “Because I enjoy eating meat!” with her partner adding, “Its not the only factor to consider when talking about climate change”.
This conversation quickly morphed into an argument I tried to dissipate, with my efforts only resulting in the strict vegan switching her target aim to me. Ostensibly marching for the same cause, it became obvious that views on how to achieve this differed greatly amongst the present company. I noticed a clear divide between vegetarians/vegans and meat eaters, created simply by the style of approach from this lady.
This fraught encounter troubled me. Although I agreed with aspects of what this lady had said, the way in which she communicated it made me feel completely isolated from her cause. It made me wonder if I had ever expressed my views in a similarly alienating manner. And as unsettling as it was to admit, the answer I had to come to was yes, I probably have made people feel unwelcome to this cause. The passion I feel towards vegetarianism/veganism and the positive effect it has on the environment has regrettably, most likely been misconstrued as judgmental to those not defined by these titles.
Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that the industry of animal agriculture does have an extremely detrimental effect on the environment. From its production of 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions, to its use of three quarters of the worlds agricultural land, the responsibility this industry holds for the destruction of this planet is unavoidable. More and more studies are being released directly connecting consumption of meat with risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and strokes. Along with the huge contribution it has to other issues such as antibiotic resistance and pollution, the option of vegetarianism/veganism becomes increasingly appealing.
However, its obvious that shaming people into adopting this change of lifestyle is far from effective. So what is the best way to approach this sensitive and controversial topic? What I’ve learnt from that altercation at the Climate March is that in order to move forward with this issue, the solution is not to pressure people into defending their views but to welcome people into learning more about it. Ask for opinions rather than forcing your own. Exchange information and facts rather than arguing. Have an open mind. Only then will this invisible divide between meat eaters and non-meat eaters be broken down, forming a more effective, united front against all the issues of climate change.
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