Grasping at Straws

Our dining choices do have consequences

A juice smoothie in a glass mug with a red straw. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

Twenty-five years ago, a friend and I were chatting over cold drinks on a hot day. Mindful of the environment, my friend drew attention to the fact that she, unlike me, was not using a straw. Having recently gone vegetarian, I pointed out that her regular consumption of animal flesh was not environmentally friendly either. She waved this off, saying that we’d messed up the Earth so badly already that her dietary choices didn’t matter.

I’m still seeing a lot of similar, contradictory expressions today. Social justice-minded folks are pushing back against suggestions that individual choices, such as avoiding straws or eating a plant-based diet, matter, compared to the impact that corporations have on our planet and society. But many of these same folks shame non-voters and third-party voters, insisting that the correct choice for a better world is to vote for the favored Democratic candidate.

So do our individual choices matter or not?

Presumably, electing progressive candidates would improve the odds of reducing the power of corporations to oppress, pollute, and destroy the Earth. And corporations, while considered legal persons in their own right in many jurisdictions, are in fact made up of human beings, each of whom is capable of changing their mind and behavior. While I feel that we can never truly have social justice or sustainability under a capitalist economy, I resent the implication that my individual choices only matter when they conveniently align with liberal talking points.

Many in recent years have indeed changed their minds and behavior when it comes to the consumption of animal products. While people have thrived on plant-based diets since the dawn of humanity, modern concerns about health, animal welfare, and environmental destruction have brought more vegan-friendly options into mainstream circulation.

However, many progressives want to have their non-vegan cake and eat it too, professing a concern for both environmental sustainability and animal welfare. We simply cannot have both. There is not enough land on Earth to raise animals with enough room and resources to live full, happy lives and simultaneously meet the human demand for their flesh, milk, and eggs. “Humane” animal farming in a myth.

Going vegan is a logical and attainable choice for the vast majority of people. We do not have to choose between concerns for human and non-human animals, any more than we need to choose between social justice and environmental concerns. Choices made at the dinner table matter as much as, if not more than, choices made at the ballot booth.

Straw or no straw, I’ll drink to that.

Written by

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, photographer, blogger. Pronouns: they/them/their.,

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