Student - 20 januari 2016

Blog: The Scream of the Dying Pig

5

Protests against a meatless Monday highlight the feelings of certain groups of consumers toward regulating boundless meat consumption. It is interesting to see how, when environmental health, or public health provisions are taken, there are always people scared of losing their rights.

Camilla Ponte

I did not really want to dedicate my second last Resource blog to a controversial topic, but I will because I think that it is worth giving my own perspective on the matter. The matter is the protest that happened around Forum on 18 January 2016. Five students withstood the freezing temperature to express their belief that ‘meatless Monday’ is an undemocratic, childish and counter-productive initiative. They were dressed up in costumes surely inspired by the epic Good Charlotte video. Mr Vink (or Wink, as NOS misspelled him), spokesperson of Wageningen University, recommended that the debate happens in friendliness and respect. Therefore, I will keep my contribution polite.

First of all, meatless Monday is all but meatless. You may agree or disagree with eating LESS meat, but even on Monday there are alternatives at hand. Second, libertarian arguments (‘the State/University has no right to touch my individual freedom’) must be extensive and are invalid for single issues. But I’d like to stress a third point, the environmental justice issue. Meatless Monday is an initiative to incentivize the offer and consumption of nutritious alternatives to meat, at least a few times per week. This happens because of the huge environmental costs of producing and eating a lot of low cost meat. There are great environmental and life quality advantages and it is good that Wageningen University, an institute ‘for quality of life’, takes the side of those who would like to see less meat eaten. You may not mind subtracting other people’s freedom to enjoy a healthier planet and a safer life, as long as your freedoms are not touched. This is not how a welfare state and ‘democracy’ works.

The protest made it on a regional and on a national news channel, showing that this kind of themes are of interest to the Dutch audience. It consoled me that the tone of NOS was neutral and it let the ridiculous ‘pasta with pesto’ argument speak for itself. Perhaps you are all too young to remember the cries of smokers against public smoke bans. All of us are too young to remember what happened when the first black students were allowed at college in Alabama. Both were provisions that challenged the mainstream ideology, and disempowered a part of the population. But today we know smoke bans have led to health improvements in the West — and who’s going to argue against granting access to education for all ethnicities?

I’d love to hear back (politely) from whoever begs to differ. Lots of tofu-love!

Camilla is in her final year of the MSc International Development Studies

Re:acties 5

  • Jaap

    @ Sonya: Though I agree with your point on more education, isn't it the University that missed the opportunity? In the end, they are the ones that have imposed the Meatless Monday on the caterers. In my humble opinion (regardless of the argument of imposing Meatless Monday is wrong in the first place), the University cannot take a side on such controversial subject with all its consequences, without informing consumers (=students) on why you do it.

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  • Jan-Willem

    The point is that these kind of initiatives (Meatless Monday & Warm Sweater Week) works counterproductive, so therefore they are not the right tool to use. People who just start thinking how to contribute to a more sustainable world feel now forced by Green Office, because they are put In the ‘being wrong’ corner.

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  • Sonya

    Thank you for being the voice of reason!
    I think a lot of the backlash may be coming from the fact that this meatless monday feels imposed upon people. I have to admit that even though I am all for reducing meat consumption and do it myself at home, the way meatless monday was imposed came across as "your eating habits are bad for the environment and you are too stupid to change this yourself, so we will force you to eat less meat".

    I think Green Office missed an excellent educational opportunity. From reading Facebook comments today about meatless monday backlash, most people are upset because, as you say, it's perceived as being undemocratic. But what if Green Office were to hang posters every monday with some 'fun fact' about meat production/consumption and the environment? That way you teach people something, and they learn what is the impact of meat consumption on our planet. Knowledge is power, and may provide better incentive to reduce meat consumption that simply saying "no, you can't have any today".

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  • Anneloes

    This is just perfect! Thank you Camilla.

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  • Global_citizen

    Great column, eat that broer_konijn and others! Altough most likely you gave them a reason again to start commenting and blowing up this issue, you wonder whether they don't have better things to do.

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Re:acties 8

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  • Gerben

    It's funny how students are often so concerned with their own freedom of choice that they imediately deny the freedom of our catering people to serve us what they'd like to sell.

    • Reële rover

      @ Gerben

      Seems you've missed the point. The catering company is being told by radical leftists to ignore the majority of their clients through imposing vegetarian junk to its clientele. If this caterer really would be free to behave as a market player, they would serve more meat, less crap.

  • Hedonist

    Dear Camilla,
    Your main argument is health and sustainability. What you do not understand, is that being "healthy" is good is just an societal paradigm as well.
    Maybe I choose to live for only 30 years, but want to drink, snort and eat meat as much as I please? Who are you to tell me how to live my live?
    Your comparisons with the first black students are so beyond reasoning, that I will not argue them.

    • Blogger

      Hedonist, I do not see the difference between the harsh campaigns on limiting smoking and discouraging meat eating, since they both CAUSE EXTERNALITIES ON OTHERS besides yourself - not just through direct health costs. I myself smoke occasionally (so occasionally that my insurance decided to not categorize me as smoker) and do all the pleasant things you described. But I do not throw toxic garbage in the playground, I try to not dump infinite amounst of chemical agents down the drain, ad I do not turn my stereo volume up at 2am so that the neighbours will be all awake, just because 'it is my fucking business what i do with my life and I like to ENJOY IT'.
      Why are you still paying taxes, collecting your garbage and not parking in places that are reserved to people with disabilities if you believe so little in how social structures are trying to regulate the life of individuals?

      Or do you think there is a better way to do everything, that I am overlooking?

    • Blogger_2

      *I do all the things you mention - including traveling by plane sometimes, and eating meat sometimes, but as I said I am trying to reduce and diversify my footprint, and be coherent in my choices -
      and ''who cares 'bout footprint'' is not a valid answer. I make it a matter of social justice, you make it a matter of personal entitlement to pleasure. Go ahead live your life then. Alone on an island there is a lot of freedom.

  • Lisa

    Thank you for your article, Camilla!

    I hope that you allow me to react, although I do not differ.

    When I walk around in the forum cantine I always feel flabbergasted: a canteen of a university that 'stands for sustainability' (http://www.wageningenur.nl/.../About.../Sustainability.htm) that does not seem to review the GHG-emissions it serves to it's students critically.

    Two weeks ago I was on a quest to find something in the forum canteen that was not that environmentally harmful. You know: no meat (I hope I do not have to repeat endless arguments why meat consumption is 'a bit' polluting) no fish (funnily there is always salmon and tuna served, not the most sustainable fish in the sea), and if possible: no cheese (all those cow farts...). Well, there is not so much choice.

    In Lebo I do have choices, and I am extremely grateful for that.

    But interestingly, when I recently was in the Impulse building, on both occasions with professionals (or at least with people that were paid by the university), there were humus meals, beatroot salads and organic beers: I mean, this basically was hipster's paradise. And I wondered about this difference in status: students versus professionals. Maybe it is because students do not seem to complain?

    So I think I am a bit inspired by the student protesters, although I do not agree with their arguments. Let us have a discussion on the food we eat in the canteen, especially because food and the environment are the topics of our studies.

    To be honest, I am especially inspired by their outfits. Maybe we can have a vegetable protest in response? In beetroot and humus outfits (we will look rediculous) we plea for less GHG-emitting products in the forum canteen?

  • polite responder

    I beg to differ, Camilla. I will not discuss your comparison with smoking, or black students in education - with due respect, I find such examples well outside the scope of the current topic, and not to be used by final year MSc student.

    At Wageningen University, students (hopefully) will develop a critical, independent attitude towards a variety of issues. Students should be able to evaluate pro's and con's. You argue meat production goes at huge environmental costs and reduced health. On both issues, the picture is not as one-sided as you write. There is lots of contrasting scientific evidence as to its environmental impact, for example. The conversion of human-inedible feed into human edible animal products is an element to take into the debate. Another example: reducing meat intake and increasing fruits, vegetables and dairy consumptio in USA situation may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions and blue water footprint (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-015-9577-y). There is much more to the topic than you indicate.

    I fully understand certain concerns on high meat consumption. I equally understand concerns on, say, high sugar consumption, or high salt consumption - but Wageningen does not have a sugar-free day, for example. The choice of meatless Monday appears rather arbitrary to me.

    In all politeness and respect, I hope that in controversial issues students and staff will be able to evaluate different evidence, to investigate alternative interpretations and viewpoints, to tolerate ambiguity, and to recognize bias in debate and avoid oversimplification and emotional reasoning.

  • polite responder

    I beg to differ, Camilla. I will not discuss your comparison with smoking, or black students in education - with due respect, I find such examples well outside the scope of the current topic, and not to be used by final year MSc student.

    At Wageningen University, students (hopefully) will develop a critical, independent attitude towards a variety of issues. Students should be able to evaluate pro's and con's. You argue meat production goes at huge environmental costs and reduced health. On both issues, the picture is not as one-sided as you write. There is lots of contrasting scientific evidence as to its environmental impact, for example. The conversion of human-inedible feed into human edible animal products is an element to take into the debate. Another example: reducing meat intake and increasing fruits, vegetables and dairy consumptio in USA situation may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions and blue water footprint (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-015-9577-y). There is much more to the topic than you indicate.

    I fully understand certain concerns on high meat consumption. I equally understand concerns on, say, high sugar consumption, or high salt consumption - but Wageningen does not have a sugar-free day, for example. The choice of meatless Monday appears rather arbitrary to me.

    In all politeness and respect, I hope that in controversial issues students and staff will be able to evaluate different evidence, to investigate alternative interpretations and viewpoints, to tolerate ambiguity, and to recognize bias in debate and avoid oversimplification and emotional reasoning.

  • Sei pazza?

    Comparing prohibiting others to eat what they like with the smoke ban and allowing black students into university... you have totally lost your mind.

    • Blo

      ad you have lost an opportunity to confront yourself by using your real name. Bravo, ci vuole coraggio.

  • Roscio

    I agree with your third point, even if there are some people who deny scientific evidence. Their argument about the "free choice" is simply useless: meatless monday is an action that university take to reduce its carbon footprint. It's not about giving students the tool to think about the question nor a demonstrative action: it's a concrete action that has (not so small!) effect on the meat supply chain. So, it's not about student taking "own educated decisions" but about understanding a concrete action that WUR decided to adopt.


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