By Billy Dyer
My decision to become vegetarian happened on Monday April 16th 2019. It was the day I started revising for my 2nd year exams at university, and the day I discovered the Extinction Rebellion protests occurring in London over the following two weeks. I was in my university’s study space, procrastinating by reading the news, and saw the XR rebellions. I kept reading and, before I knew it, had been researching XR and their upcoming actions for two hours. I stood up and went for a break. On this break I pondered the absurdity of revising for exams that would impact a future that was becoming increasingly uncertain. The XR protests had lit something in me, and I felt a surge of passion and energy. That evening I bought some spray paint, created a sign, and early on Tuesday morning headed into London. That week I attended the XR protests each day, stayed at various friends houses in the evenings, and fitted in revision when I felt like it.
I could not ignore the surge of passion – a mix of anger and excitement – that I felt whilst reading about XR. I had been spending a lot of time in the weeks prior with a vegetarian friend, so the topic of plant-based eating was already on my mind. The experience of being so moved when reading about XR led to me becoming vegetarian, as I was aware it’s an action that has immediate and relatively profound effects on an individual’s carbon footprint.
Since that day, my journey of vegetarianism has not been straightforward. I’ve eaten meat – maybe 20 times in the past two years (plus a three week stint whilst abroad) – but I don’t feel bad about it. I’m not absolutist in this choice, and as someone who enjoys food it’s important to me to be able to have some freedom in my diet. However, when it comes to cheap meat like Big Macs, hotdogs, cheap beef and so on, I know that the enjoyment is so slim, the suffering of animals so large, and the environmental impact also great, that for me it is no longer desirable.
Anyway, veggie options are pretty astounding these days. And to be honest, now when I do eat meat (perhaps once a month) it’s a hell of an experience. I treat myself, and I view meat as a luxury. To modern society, it’s an interesting way to think about it. Now meat is readily available and can be cheap, our perspective towards it has changed significantly. But what would it take for meat to be considered a luxury in your mind? Increase in prices? Scarcity? Improvement in quality? All three of these adjustments could work to reduce the environmental impact of meat consumption. Are they on the horizon? I’m not sure. But one thing is clear: given that meat and dairy contributes almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, some changes to our diet will be certainly required to mitigate climate change.
The idea that the government may intervene in people’s diets is something many view as dystopian and authoritarian. However, such crises as climate change require a reorientation of our economies and behaviours. The question I leave you with is this: which would be easier for you to stomach – changing your diet by choice, or having it changed for you?