SAM WALDRON | Part 1: Why did I become an eco-warrior?

Sam Waldron, a research ethics officer, writes about becoming an eco warrior.

When I was asked “was becoming an ethical-vegan-eco warrior easy?” My first thought was “is change ever easy?” No, change only works if it is something you are prepared to work at. You really have to want to change otherwise it won’t stick, just like a fad diet (you really want that chocolate bar so you eventually snap and eat it). So, I guess the real question is:

Why did I want to change and why did it stick? (A.K.A., why being an eco-warrior isn’t a fad diet)

For me it was a slow build based on a few key moments, people and personal soul searching; each of these moments had a profound impact on how I viewed the world and on my personal moral development. If my moral view of the world had not changed, I do not think I would have either. Looking back over the past few years, the key turning ‘ah ha’ moments for me were:

 

1. A toothbrush (yes really)

I love a good infographic; it gives you the key facts in an easily digestible manner (as an ex-academic I just urge everyone to check the sources of all information- just because something is pretty does not mean it is right!) One infographic in particular started my war on plastic. While this is not that same infographic, the information is roughly similar.

 

Source: https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/the-lifecycle-of-plastics#gs.qlgvrg

 

Thinking about the first toothbrush I ever used as a baby; that single brush will outlive me, my children, and any great great great (etc.) grandchildren that I may one day have! Terrifying! With a growing population, just think of the increasing number of toothbrushes made and thrown away every year! Where on Earth (literally) are we putting all these toothbrushes? If this is just toothbrushes, what about all the other plastic waste? Are we just hoping that future generations won’t mind wading through forests of toothbrushes and seas of dirty nappies?

One infographic made me start questioning where all my plastic waste went; the answer was not pretty. The knowledge was quite terrifying and overwhelming, once I finished crying under my bed I realised I had to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I started researching what personal changes I could make to alleviate my ‘eco-guilt’.  This led to me discovering (and backing on Kickstarter) zero waste supermarkets and discovering just how many products can be made without plastic. If you are interested in reducing plastic, I recommend joining local zero waste groups on Facebook, Reddit etc. as they are infinitely helpful for practical help on change; at least they were for me .

 

2. An incredible friendship (and some good thoughtful discussions)

My best friend was vegan for several years whilst I was still happily guzzling away on buffets of all you can eat meat (I often interpreted ‘all you can’ as a direct challenge). During this time veganism wasn’t really mainstream and whenever we hung out it took a lot of research to work out where we could eat out together or, what I could cook for her if she came to mine. She never once verbally judged me for continuing to eat meat in her presence (but her eyes did do a lot of judgmental squinting). She would sometimes quote me statistics on cow methane, deforestation and chicken periods (eggs) but, these were never presented as attacks only as facts and discussion points.

During these years I must have asked her hundreds of questions and she always answered as openly and honestly as possible, without judgement (except with her eyes of course). I look back at this time and wince because so many of these questions were stupid (is swallowing sperm vegan?) how on Earth did she put up with me? Her consistent positive influence is one of the main drivers in why I started to reduce my meat consumption. Originally, I thought I was supporting her by eating less meat in her presence but, in retrospect it is clear that she is actually the one who supported me to make healthier and more informed choices. If I hadn’t gone vegan, we would definitely still be friends but we wouldn’t be as close. What makes us close is that we share the same values and outlook on life, and while we still don’t always agree on everything, we do always try to see the others point of view and find a compromise.

Now with campaigns like Veganuary, there is a whole host of support and friends to be made online even if you don’t know anyone in real life. Never be afraid to ask questions and always keep an open mind to other people’s viewpoints (as I did); the only stupid question is the one you regret not asking (BTW swallowing sperm is vegan but it is not my main source of protein!).

 

3. My own rebellious body

Just a little over 2 years ago my gut started to hurt. The sort of hurt where the gas inside me felt like it wanted to tear its way out of me in a similar way to Alien. I was afraid to go anywhere unless I knew where the nearest toilet was and I’ll say no more on that one (phew you’re thinking). The doctor suggested cutting out various things from my diet one at a time and sent me on my way. Soon after, I cooked a quiche for the first time; this was an eye-opener. I made two huge quiches with lots of cream as a key ingredient. The first time I ate it opened more than just my eye… And thus began my war on dairy, lactose and whey powder (oh why must they be in everything!) I wish giving up dairy had been for noble causes but it wasn’t, it was pure selfish digestion. Two years later and I’ve been able to throw away a lot of out of date digestions medication- hurrah.

I am proof you can survive without dairy and it is concerning that I am not the only person who seems to have gone through the above, it does make me question what is being put into milk that is so bad for us. A very interesting 5 min video on why dairy is scary, is available from Erin Janus which I think everyone should watch.

 

4. Concerns for the future or humanity/society

Being an atheist I am always wondering what is the point in all of ‘this’? I believe the only world we will ever get is the one we have right now and I don’t think the purpose of humanity is purely survival or monetary. I think we are here to evolve and improve not only ourselves but also to pave the way for future generations to be better than we are. If we aren’t improving, then there is no point in existence (to me). Humans are inherently social and we should be working towards a world that is good for all living creatures on it. How can humanity continue to evolve and grow if we destroy the planet we all need to survive on? Oh, I know I need to lighten up, that’s why I am ending on point 5…

 

5. Okja (2017 film by Bong Joon-ho)

This is my favourite film of all time and everyone should go watch it (available on Netflix) and despite being one of those ‘weird’ foreign directors, it has a whole host of famous actors (Tilda Swinton & Jake Gyllenhaal) so don’t let that put you off. Why did this film get to me? Because I saw so much of my own hypocrisy in it; on one hand there are these big cute animals people want to befriend and on the other hand, there are the factory farms they must be sent to if the world wants to continue to eat meat. This film changed the way I look at the whole industry of food production and it did so in a darkly comical fashion. I don’t want to say more, just go watch it!

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