Morals or Flavour: Do We Have to Choose Between Them to Save The Planet?

This morning, Toronto Star journalist Emma Teitel wrote that “veganism’s moral high ground needs some flavour to save [the] planet.”

Ignoring the obvious pun about vegans not knowing flavour and living off grass and cardboard, Teitel may have touched upon something key. Having experienced – or for many simply seen – the devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it seems impossible that anyone can deny climate change, or deny that we need to act now. 

But, as Teitel aptly wrote“impulse comes easier than action.”

Those affected by recent natural disasters, and those of us viewing the effects via social media and the news, are waking up to the reality of climate change and the urgent need for us to save the planet. But while it is very easy to say to your friends, ‘isn’t all of this weather terrible’, ‘well this has proven Trump wrong’ and ‘we really should try to turn the lights off when we’re not in the room’ while sitting over a dinner plate of steak and eggs, many of us simply aren’t putting our intentions to practice.

It might still seem daunting and extreme to many, but switching to a plant-based diet could be the greatest thing you can do in the wake of this summer’s environmental disasters.

Because, as Teitel puts it, “veganism [is] the great green hope of planet Earth – the plant-based lifestyle that could, if everyone… adopted it, cut annual greenhouse gas emissions in half.”

Indeed, earlier this year, George C. Wang, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Centre, argued in a column for CNN that “adopting a plant-based diet is one the most powerful choices an individual can make in mitigating environmental degradation and depletion of Earth’s natural resources.”

So why isn’t everyone flocking to join this planet-saving movement?

Perhaps, it is because vegans are viewed as the among most irritating groups of people ever: if you’ve not been accused of being preachy simply for being a vegan, can you even call yourself a vegan?

In a well-received article last week, the Guardian editorial board said that “vegans are often unfairly mocked” when they “should instead be praised.”

Perhaps like any group fighting for change, the new ideas and demands for lifestyle changes can be hard to receive – it may be a controversial comparison, but female suffrage activists were not taken seriously and arrested for daring to ask for equality, something we would now consider offensive.

Celebrity plant-based chef Matthew Kenney told the Times in the UK last week that “become the new cigarette – where it’s just not cool to consume it… It may sound hard to imagine, but 20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine no smoking in restaurants. It may not become illegal to eat the way we eat now, but it was certainly passé.”

Despite this, Teitel argued that the moral high ground held by vegans is almost meaningless when it comes to asking people to give up “the greatest pleasure in their lives: the food they love.”

And people really do love food – perhaps more than survival. Research shows that if they have to choose between the two, many people choose food over sex. Another study found that 42% of respondents said that they would give up oral sex before they would give up cheese.

But, Teitel seems to have drastically underestimated plant-based foods as she comments, a vegan lifestyle asks people to “radically reduce the amount of pleasure they experience in their daily lives.”

She must not have heard of Linda McCartney, the Impossible Burger, or Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free, to name but a few.

Teitel concludes her argument by saying that the only way the vegan movement can secure a wider audience and expand, is to “shift from ‘you’re doing what’s best for the planet Earth’ platitudes to ‘you’re doing what’s best for planet Earth at no real cost to your tastebuds.'”

And absolutely, the latter is of course the point to promote. No vegan advertisement suggests lack of deliciousness, and new vegan restaurants and brands are opening up all around the world. Veganism really can offer you both: an environmental moral high ground, and flavoursome deliciousness.