It’s not easy to deliver people the bad news, especially if they know it’s there and don’t want to hear it. People do this thing called strategic ignorance, in which they deliberately ignore all information they wish didn’t exist, so they can tell themselves that all is fine. There’s no problem there, as long as I can pretend there isn’t.
This strategic ignorance is also being used by people to deny the problems that arise from using animals to get meat, dairy and eggs for human consumption. The problems range from animal welfare, to underpaid farmers who cannot support their families and to climatic changes leading to even more suffering of humans and other species. And honestly, animal products aren’t so good for your own health either.
However, many people prefer to ignore all this, because they don’t want to feel the guilt that comes with knowing. While actually the fact that they do their best to ignore the problems is a result of them already knowing what they’re doing is not right and already feeling uncomfortable. When people get angry when you tell them something about the effects of their meat consumption, it’s not because you are wrong, it’s because they know they are.
All this makes it hard to spread the word about such difficult issues. You don’t want others to feel bad, yet you find it important that people know about the damage they indirectly contribute to! So how do you get to their heads?
There is not one answer. The movement will grow slowly but steadily. People will open up once they are ready. Though, we don’t have to sit still: we sure can help to speed it up a little! 🙂
This month I am lucky to contribute to a campaign of the environmental NGO Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth NL about (un)fair milk (for Dutch people: Eerlijke Melk), about everything related to the product. So far the campaign had two major actions which were performed simultaneously in 15 cities of the Netherlands, with a third action in one city still to come. The aim was to break the strategic awareness walls of people, to bring the knowledge where it doesn’t go naturally, and to spread truthful information along with offering solutions.
The first action consisted of handing out newspapers under a different, previously existing so well-known name. The papers were handed out on train stations, so travellers could read them on the train (and leave them for others to read!). The paper was a good mix of satiric jokes and real, serious content. I really like how they made it. I hope people weren’t too pissed off when they found it wasn’t De Pers and that they could appreciate the paper for what it really is, at least a little.
The second action was one of symbolically marking trees for logging, with signs stating that the space will be used to grow soy to feed livestock. In reality in South America tropical rainforests are being cleared to be replaced by soy plantations to feed our dairy cattle. Most people don’t realize that the damage this causes in terms of climate change and the livelihoods of local inhabitants is tremendous. Here, people could go to a website to object the actually unreal logging, where they could then learn about all the real issues and things that are happening right now.
This action predominantly aimed to get the (local, regional and national) press to report about it, so that people would learn about it via media. This happened! Activists were on the TV, the radio, on news websites and in newspapers. Yeeh! In my town the beautiful signs were ripped of in no time, as ordered by the municipality, which is a shame. But okay we did our best, and the local action did get reported on some websites (because I sent them the press release), which was our goal! And at least now we didn’t have to clean up ourselves afterwards.
I am not sure of the exact results of these actions or of the whole campaign (which is still going), but for sure a lot of people have seen some of it and were encouraged to consider the issues and their own role in them.
In communicating matters like the wrongs in our food system, I think the part of offering alternatives or solutions is really important. People are afraid of giving up their lifestyle and parts of their identities. Once you show them that they can fill the newborn gap with something else, that the change is not the end of their personal world, it’s less of a problem. Good examples of showing the bright side are initiatives that show how much fun having a vegan lifestyle can be. (Like vega[n] lifestyle festival Veggie World happening in three weeks!)
In addition, what is nice about campaigns of more well-known NGOs and such is that they are usually perceived as very credible; they (are thought to) have the facts about the problem and the solutions. For individuals it is much harder to stay strong when others are sceptical about what you’re stating, because well, you didn’t do the research yourself… It’s good to have more large organisations on board in the whole environmental and veganism movement. This will surely help a lot.
I’m curious to see how all of this will develop in the near future, to see whether we can collectively choose for sustainability or not. Here I mainly liked to share the specific actions of Milieudefensie, because I think they were pretty nice. Further, I was too lazy to look up sources for all that I state, but you can do your own research on the webz or ask questions below in the comments. I am pretty convinced of the causes and effects of the consumption of animal products, as you can see. I hope you don’t mind. 😉
Thank you for reading and enjoy plants!
Milieudefensie does not state that we should completely stop producing and consuming animal products, but they are in favour of shifting towards consuming more plant-based food and way less animal products than we do now.
Pictures via (volunteers of) Milieudefensie.