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Lani Writes: What vegetarians and small Pacific nations have in common

Feb 12, 2016 etc

A huge part of my social life revolves around food, and enjoying food with others. Much of that enjoyment has involved fried chicken, bacon, seafood, hearty beef curry, some good old pisupo (corned beef) on rice. So it’s been funny to see the different reactions when I tell people I’ve stopped eating meat, that I’m a vegetarian. It feels weird even writing that.

One friend was bummed because it probably meant we couldn’t go for Chinese at Spicy House anymore. “Where can we go to hang out now?” My mum made jokes about cow farts, and then quoted a Bible verse with the general gist being, God says it’s okay to eat meat.

My mother-in-law thinks I’m on a diet and keeps wondering when I’m getting off it. To be fair, I have done a number of stupid fad diets recently.

My grandmother was pretty sweet with me not eating meat, but didn’t see why that needed to include chicken or seafood. My nephews, on learning I’m not eating meat, told me I should also not be consuming milk, butter and eggs. I couldn’t argue with that. Soon, I told them; just let me get my head around the whole life-without-meat thing first.

For the first two weeks, I mostly ate peanut butter on toast and Burger King vege burgers.

I’m less than a few months in, I’m new to this, and I’m not very good at it. For the first two weeks, I mostly ate peanut butter on toast and Burger King vege burgers.

I’ve avoided writing about it because I know nobody wants to feel bad about food they love. Mostly, when asked why I’m vegetarian, I just tell people I watched Cowspiracy. Dumb name, good film.

But I suppose that doco was just the tipping point for me. I’d always avoided thinking about the actual killing-animals part of eating meat, though I clearly remember as a child the loud squealing of pigs, and how they had to be held by about four men as they writhed around before being killed for Sunday feasts. So I was under no illusions there.

But mostly it was years of writing countless stories on how the Pacific has been living with and struggling to adapt to climate change. Writing about rising sea levels and how entire island countries may disappear under water within my lifetime. How life in the Pacific is so much tougher than it should be, with food security threatened, because of climate change.

Despite knowing this, the connection between animal agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions had never really clicked with me. According to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, 51 per cent or more of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. Perhaps I was caught up in our “clean, green” image. When it finally did click, I felt I had to make a change.

At the recent United Nations climate change summit in Paris, the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, spoke about how his country may not exist in 60 years because of rising sea levels. Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, spoke about the entire territory and all its citizens disappearing if temperatures are allowed to increase more than 1.5°C.

Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islanders became the first climate-change refugees and Fiji is also now relocating communities affected by climate change. Tong asked the summit whether we are truly ready to make the necessary sacrifice in order to ensure those on the front line will be able to stay in their homes.

I don’t know what impact one person not eating meat and dairy will have on the survival of small Pacific nations, but I hope it helps in some small way towards avoiding their extinction.


Illustration by Alice Moynihan. This article was first published in the January/February 2016 issue of Metro.


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