In most imaginings of a 1.5/2-degree warming world, large-scale systemic change is required. Yes, everyone is responsible for their individual lifestyle choices, but we need high-level decision-makers on our side. And as social beings, our choices will also be influenced by sociocultural trends.
I reflected on Food as a problematic consumption category, and identified sociocultural and political forces as having significant enabling-constraining influence over my choice to eat meat and dairy.
It’s hard going vegan and maintaining a balanced diet on a student budget, yet there are students who manage to do so. In our current political economy, financial costs of veganism are high, which constrain individual choices. The problem here is a lack of state intervention. We have a sugar tax, so why not meat tax?
Sociologist Bob Torres poses a Marxian critique of capitalist speciesism in his book Making a Killing, suggesting that advocacy isn’t enough and a shift to an egalitarian social structure will be essential to achieving wide-spread veganism. Though Torres’ focus is on animal rights, his critique of our political economy is well-situated in an ecological footprint debate as well. We know free market policies are associated with greater ecological degradation, it’s time to question the long-term ecological viability of capitalism and its production systems (Özler and Öbach). As propagated by Schneiberg, we need reform in the social relations between producers and political institutions, a radical restructuring of society to regulate the ecological and social ‘treadmills of production’.
Here’s the catch: top-down political restructuring to a New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) requires a struggle out of a Human Exceptionalist Paradigm (HEP). The difficultly is getting consensus when some parties want social change towards the NEP and others want to maintain the anthropocentric social order.
Despite Torres’ critique of advocacy, we cannot wait passively for structural change. We must harness vegan-enabling sociocultural forces. While veganism is accepted within circles of socialisation in London, it’s deemed radical in my home country Singapore. Social factors like religion and tradition create vegan stereotypes and deter Singaporeans like me from going vegan. This in turn results in less vegan options on the market.
My social understanding of the vegan identity changed after making vegan friends and being exposed to communities like the UCL Vegan Society. Cherry (2006) writes about veganism as a cultural movement and highlights the importance of sociocultural networks of support in cultural movement participation. I took comfort in knowing these groups were supportive of me should I participate in veganism, and became pescatarian for 2 years.
In a globalized world, realities like global trade, industrial agriculture and affordable travel imply high ecological footprints. Though structural change seem out of the individual’s hands, we have to harness our collective power as consumers, pensioners, voters and agents of sociocultural change. Sustainable lifestyle choices are not enough without state intervention, but there will be no intervention without a call from consumers themselves. Sociocultural momentum will remove social barriers to sustainability and reverse the power balance, putting pressure on the system itself.
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Cherry, Elizabeth. “Veganism As A Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach”. Social Movement Studies, vol 5, no. 2, 2006, pp. 155-170. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/14742830600807543. Accessed 18 Nov 2018.
Allan Schnaiberg, , David N. Pellow, , Adam Weinberg, “The treadmill of production and the environmental state” In The Environmental State Under Pressure. Published online: 12 Mar 2015; 15-32, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0196-1152(02)80004-7
Torres, Bob. Making A Killing. AK Press, 2007.
Özler, Ş İlgü, and Brian K. Obach. “Capitalism, State Economic Policy And Ecological Footprint: An International Comparative Analysis”. Global Environmental Politics, vol 9, no. 1, 2009, pp. 79-108. MIT Press – Journals, doi:10.1162/glep.2009.9.1.79.
Image 1: https://earth.google.com/web
Image 2: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/is-meat-bad-for-you
Image 3: Hayati, Dariush & Rezaei-Moghaddam, Kurosh. (2006). Towards a paradigm shift for agricultural extension: An environmental sociology perspective. Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment. 4.
Image 4: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/fruit-vegetable-better-mental-health-raw-cooked-healthy-eating-psychology-a8316571.html