Surely by this point in history it is a no-brainer that if we want to preserve the planet’s ability to support life, we in the rich countries must cut back our consumption. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to reduce, or ideally completely eliminate, animal products from our diet. Yet vegans, who “get it” about the latter, often seem unaware of the former. In vegetarian magazines I see numerous ads for overseas travel and other luxury “vegan vacations”, for countless gourmet food items and high-fashion clothing and shoes. Every one of these has a carbon footprint to consider, especially flying around the globe for a brief getaway. The food and clothing items have a resource impact in their production, plus the packaging and energy it takes to ship them to our door.
Instead of proving to mainstream society that vegans can live just as decadently as everyone else, we need to question the long-term sustainability of the mainstream American lifestyle. The planet is in serious, perhaps irreversible trouble; millions are already unemployed and elsewhere around the world, starving. The media tells us to spend, spend, spend, but that only speeds up–for short term gain–the depletion of resources on which we all depend. Serious cutbacks are called for, and I’m not sure vegans are paying attention. Perhaps for a special holiday we might have a dessert shipped in–although better would be to learn to make something perhaps less fancy, but equally delicious, ourselves. No matter how much money we have, maybe once in ten years we might consider an overseas vacation. Once in awhile we can justify a luxury item, and I’m not suggesting we never have a little splurge. But the operative word here is “little.”
The new 21st century compassion that vegans and everyone else needs to understand is not only about animals, but about the planet and its poorest inhabitants. It is called simple living, and is not deprivation (unless not having stiletto-heeled fake suede boots shipped in from New York is considered deprivation). It is rich in getting to know your local history and nearby natural beauty on vacations, trying new combinations of food in your own kitchen, getting a few fun clothes at a thrift shop. It is creative in building new skills, finding out what you can make and grow yourself, and how you can repurpose unwanted items for new uses. It is turning off the television, radio, smartphone or laptop and spending time with actual people instead of tweeting and texting. It is the enjoyment of riding a bike for transportation, at least once in awhile. It is finding out that it is more fun to gather with friends and play social games that require no electricity, than to spend time alone with video games that do.
Whether vegans or not, we need to resist the advertising-driven call to consume more, or soon there will be nothing left to consume.