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Power in the Supermarket

By Maia Hall | Illustration by Nenilkime

The climate crisis – a glossy little phrase that insinuates our descent towards a fiery death. Or suffocation via cows’ farts. Both? Probably both.

So, what do we do about it? Everyone knows the answer. Recycle. Walk, bike and bus places rather than driving. Remember your reusable bags. These are all pretty easy sustainable choices. But the term is climate crisis. It’s going to take a little more effort to reverse that certain death awaiting us if we continue the way we’re going. Luckily for us, there’s a new option in the local Z petrol station cabinet, next to the mince and cheese. The Gourmet Vege Korma Pie - there to save the day.

In all seriousness, I’ve always pictured myself as someone who makes a pretty good effort to do their part for sustainability. My family religiously recycles, composts and consumes less meat (especially when I’m at home!) than the average Kiwi family. But it wasn’t until I was in the middle of Aotea Square at the climate strike, that I thought maybe there was more that I could be doing.

I passionately chanted “Planet over Profit!” and “System Change, not Climate Change,” which, of course, are important messages. Enormous companies certainly have a lot to answer for in terms of their environmental impact. But I also saw the picket sign, “Climate DIY Fix: Go Vegan!” and I wondered to myself if I should be taking some more personal responsibility? By eating a plant-based diet, I could do more than make a political statement to the meat and dairy industries. I could actually cut my personal carbon footprint in half.

Making the personal choice to boycott unsustainable animal agriculture really appeals to me, living in our little ‘clean, green’ (but SO behind the times), country. The actual statistics themselves of the climate damage caused by the average person is horrifying. Producing 1kg of beef causes the same amount of carbon emissions as a flight from Auckland to Perth – over six hours in the air! Not to mention the unsettling damage made to our once beautiful rivers, lakes and wetlands.

I think we all might experience some level of climate guilt. No one is perfectly sustainable, and we all develop ways to cope with that lingering feeling of shame. I sometimes justify my inaction by convincing myself that I’m doing lots of great things already to save the planet, but the reality is that there is always more that can be done.

Sometimes it feels easier to just point the finger at big corporations, who are very powerful contributors to environmental destruction. It’s obvious that regular individuals just don’t have the money or resources to change anything on a scale as big as the likes of McDonald’s or Cadbury. But does that mean consumers should take zero responsibility? It’s easy to proclaim that we’re all fucked anyway. Should we just sit back and enjoy our Angus beef burger while we wait for Maccas to solve the climate crisis for us?

Sure, social change must stem from corporate and industry action. But should we all be shaking our social justice-hungry fists at the climate strike, then be grabbing a pepperoni pizza on the way home?

If I drink one litre of water every day, it would take me four years to drink the same amount needed to produce just 100 grams of beef. Do we really expect those ‘evil conglomerate’ animal agriculture companies to refuse our money, to abide by ethics that would directly lose them their income?

"I sometimes justify my inaction by convincing myself that I’m doing lots of great things already to save the planet, but the reality is that there is always more that can be done."

Instead of being slaves to capitalism, let’s be active and critical-thinking consumers. We need to personalise the problem and reclaim our own power and responsibility. Individual action is where we can actually make a difference, while simultaneously forcing companies to change their policies on a larger scale.

Once we stop viewing animal agriculture as the eternal and unchangeable horror story of our time, we can reclaim it as a societal issue; a problem with a clear solution. Relegating the heroic ham and cheese toastie to the backseat at Saturday brunch won’t be the end of the world. Presenting, the new kid on the block: scrambled tofu on toast. The haters (my beloved family) were initially dubious but are now fans!

I’m all for the government making positive change, but we need to ramp up the pressure from millions of kiwis by demanding new climate policies through leading by example.

I like to think that every time I choose plant-based options, I’m exercising my power in the supermarket. Every time I ask the restaurant if the veggie burger can be made vegan, I’m showing them that plant-based options are valued. And when I make a slight adaptation to my little brother’s favourite beef taco recipe, it expands his mind to food outside his comfort zone. Yes, he still grumbles and usually ends up covering his portion of my chilli beans with cheese and sour cream but at least he’s being exposed to a new way of thinking.

My brother calls me a radical, liberal hippy. Take a look around, Harry, veganism is going mainstream.

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