Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An environmentalist choosing between the lesser of two evils

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
Every day consumers are given recommendations on how to minimize their carbon footprints. We're asked to recycle, eat organic, take the bus to work and reduce our meat consumption.

All of this seems like the right thing to do for our planet.

The other day I came to think about a couple of my lifestyle choices, such as becoming vegetarian and avoiding animal leather products. In theory, these are great choices for the environment. But my vegetarian lifestyle contains lots of soy.

How is this any better than cutting out the meat? And is non-leather products derived from petroleum any better than animal leather?
Opinion - an environmentalist choosing between the lesser of two evils
Opinion - an environmentalist choosing between the lesser of two evils

As an environmentalist, it's easy to get obsessed with doing the right thing to reduce my carbon footprint and get caught in the idealistic web, where the world seems more black and white.

After 5-6 years now, I've come to realize there are at least fifty shades of gray when it comes to choices regarding the environment, climate change and animal welfare. But psychologically, we need to simplify things to ourselves or else we wouldn't be able to make a choice.

At a certain point I had to put a stop to the madness in my head and told myself to choose. Because whether I chose A or B, there would always be a negative aspect, one way or another.

It's about prioritizing. The question I often ask myself when I'm in a dilemma is: "What is more important to me?"

Example 1: vegetarian diet

I'm a vegetarian and don't consume any animal flesh. But I do include tofu and meat substitutes with soy in my everyday cooking. Soy is an important ingredient among both vegetarians and vegans because it's a cheap source of protein.
Vegetarian taco with 'minced meat' containing soy
Vegetarian taco with 'minced meat' containing soy

When I visit active forums on Facebook, the main focus seems to be on the meat industry which is more than reasonable. But what about other sides of the vegetarian lifestyle, such as the destructive soy industry?

The sad thing about soy is that the production contributes to rainforest destruction, maybe wiping out important species, and with certainty threatens the homes of hundreds of thousands indigenous people. Another sad part is that most of the production doesn't go to feeding humans, but 80% of the worldwide production goes to the livestock industry.

Read: The dark side of soya: how one supercrop lost its way.

With these facts on the table, what should one do?

Let's say we stop raising livestock and we all went vegetarian eating soy, part of the issue would still remain.

Soy can be found in a tremendous amount of products, not only food, but also cosmetics and even biofuel. With a growing demand for soy due to a massive change in diet for the ever increasing population, rainforest destruction would continue. On the other hand ethical issues with animal welfare would be "solved" as there would be no more "live" stock to worry about, so to speak. The planet would also be spared for huge amounts of methane emissions.
Rainforest in Amazon. Copyright: filipefrazao / 123RF Stock Photo

Reducing the intake of soy and finding better alternatives could be a possibility. Let's take quinoa as an example - is it a better alternative in the sense that the production is less destructive? These are things I don't know, which makes it difficult.

Although quinoa has boosted the local economy in South America, the import of quinoa to developed countries has pushed up prices to an extent that locals who produce it, can't afford it anymore.1 So, it doesn't seem ethical of me to keep purchasing quinoa and contributing to the incredible demand for this high-protein product.

My way of solving this conundrum has been to diversify the ingredients in the kitchen this past year. I eat less soy and quinoa, and eat more self-grown vegetables.

But again... the global economy would probably suffer if everyone did like me ;-)

Read: The road to becoming vegetarian.

Example 2: vegan leather or animal leather?

Although vegan leather isn't derived from animals, it's far from perfect from an environmental perspective as some types of vegan leather (also called faux leather) are in fact derived from petroleum, well-known to pollute our planet to great extent.

Should I support animal welfare or boycott the petroleum industry? What's more dear to me?
Leather. Copyright: creativenature / 123RF Stock Photo

The leather industry isn't exactly on my list of favorites. Knowing that skin is an important byproduct of the meat industry makes my choice even easier. With all the gut-wrenching videos I've watched over the years with animals getting abused and killed - I know where my heart lies.

That's why I've chosen to stick to vegan leather. Even if it doesn't sit 100% right with me, animal welfare comes first.

How do you handle 'choosing between the lesser of two evils'? We would like to hear from you about this topic! Type your comment below :-)

Continue to read:

1 The Guardian: Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

Have your say about what you just read :)

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