Creating and Giving > Taking and Using.
I’m a consumer. We all are. As of this very moment, we live on a planet that has undergone dramatic and powerful paradigm shifts in the last century alone, particularly in the issue of the marketplace. The very notion of consuming, ingesting, taking, and obtaining goods and services is not one that holds any concerns for most people; rather, we can hardly imagine what life would be like without this pervasive, overarching system that creates an incredible amount of convenience within our daily experience. Our natural bent, arguably, is to gain the most ease and comfort with the least amount of effort, so that we may maintain a certain equilibrium within our day to day. As vegans, we often find ourselves as cogs within this machine, even if we’re doing our best to reformat the machine itself as one that runs on plants. The now-radical thought of an economy based on barter and trade instead of exchanging currency for goods and services seems rather ludicrous, yet it wasn’t too far in the past that humanity engaged in this form of systemic exchange.
Those who live a plant-based lifestyle are often on the front lines of recognizing just how powerful the choices we make as consumers can be. The well-worn saying “vote with your wallet” certainly rings true for most of us, and with every vegan product we purchase, we cast our vote for a kinder, healthier, more compassionate world, and that is certainly something to be applauded. But the very fact that we’re still beholden to a large corporate conglomerate (not the case in every purchase, but certainly in many) somewhat subverts our overall goal as vegans. Interestingly, it is often from the mouths of lobbyists for the meat and dairy industry that we hear our agenda parroted back to us, often in their anxious tones: those animal right activists have an agenda, and that’s to create a vegan world! As if they’ve exposed some long hidden secret. And the vegans all nod their heads emphatically and concur heartily, for that is exactly what we’re after. But in order to create this world that we wish to live in, as well as leaving behind a legacy of health and sustainability for future generations, we must consider this crucial fact: if we are to create this new type of world, we must look carefully at the current paradigm, remove what might still be effective and useful, and discard the rest, permanently.
Economists have studied the consumerist mindset and behaviors at great length, and have come to some startling conclusions, as social scientists are often want to do. William Rees, who holds a position in urban planning at the university of British Columbia, estimated that in 1990, there was approximately “1.7 hectares of ecologically productive land for each person”, yet, “it requires four to six hectares of land to maintain the consumption level of the average person from a high consumption country”. This sort of calculation is eerily reminiscent of the facts and figures one comes across when studying ecological issues pertaining to industrial agriculture, such as the reality that it requires 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, a statistic that neatly encapsulates the concept of diminishing returns.
As vegans, it’s perfectly acceptable for us to speak of the many options of products that food manufacturers are creating, with many more on the horizon, in order to show others that veganism is truly a lifestyle of abundance, choice, and health, in many regards. But we must not lose sight of the understanding that we must be vigilant in working to create a new paradigm, one that is built on individual and collective giving and creating, in direct opposition to the consumption-heavy and often wasteful culture we find ourselves within.