After one too many beers and two hours of sleep the night before, I found myself boarding a bus in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, October 24. Ottawa was my destination, and after five hours—only 45 minutes of which were spent napping—of traveling the 401 and 416, I arrived on Parliament Hill along with hundreds of environmentalists from across the country for 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action. Motivated by the UN negotiations in Copenhagen this December and several cups of coffee, I cheered and jeered with the best of them.
Rewind to an incident about eight months ago, when I had almost abandoned environmentalism altogether. Seeking shelter from the brutal February weather, I was cozied up on one of the big red couches in UC’s JCR, enjoying a chai tea and a lively conversation with a few environmentalists on campus. Not realizing the folly I was about to make, I admitted I was not a vegan. Don’t get me wrong, I try to cut back on meat, and I enjoy a salad just as much as the next person. But sometimes, nothing beats a cheeseburger.
“You can’t be a real environmentalist if you’re not a vegan,” said one of my peers. He went on to chastise my motives, my desire, and my moral fibre. His comments took the wind right out my newly unfurled green sails.
And to be honest, I had never quite recovered. Since then, I’ve felt ostracized from the seemingly inclusive movement. After all, I’m not a “real environmentalist.” Here are all these tree-planting, MP-lobbying, direct-action-taking vegans, and all I do is bike around and write the occasional green-themed article.
But as I stood among hundreds of activists in our nation’s capital, I looked around and realized I didn’t stick out one bit. I was surrounded by a McGill student eating street meat, a family of four enjoying hot drinks out of disposable cups, and yes, people wearing brand-name clothing produced by companies that exploit the cheap labour and resources of impoverished countries. Yet they all claimed to be environmentalists, so why can’t I do the same? I no longer felt disqualified because I was sporting a leather jacket (which, for the record, is fake). It dawned on me: you don’t need to live in a hut in the middle of the woods, and eat only leaves, to call yourself an environmentalist. A few unsustainable lifestyle choices do not place you in the ranks of the oil tycoons.
By little doing of our own, my generation was born into a world where our meat is brought to our plates in horribly unethical and unsustainable ways, where sometimes the only way you can get somewhere is to drive, and where creating zero emissions is next to impossible. No one should feel guilty about being thrown into such a setting, or about having the occasional chicken breast. The point is to work towards changing this reality.
Environmentalists are united by an energy that transcends what they decide to eat—we’re united by our ardent desire to protect the future of our existence.
And if you decide that you’d like to make difference by ceasing to eat meat, then go for it. But there are so many ways to drive change leading up to Copenhagen. Whether your game is writing your MP, purchasing sustainable items, painting protest signs, or writing articles, everyone has something to contribute. But remember, it’s important to keep up your strength for what is the fight of our era. So get some rest and make sure you get lots of protein, from whatever source you choose.