Go vegan, save the world

2011-12-03 09:25

Change your steak for a chickpea salad or a tofu burger and you could save the world.

That was the message of a mysterious vegan movement this week to delegates at the climate change conference, COP17, in Durban this week.

Hundreds of vegans stopped delegates exiting the International Conference centre, the venue for the talks, to convince them that changing to a vegan diet would be a huge step in clamping down on greenhouse gases.

The bait for the delegates was a bonus gala dinner with the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir as entertainment.

The invitation promised a “gourmet” three-course meal along with the needed information to understand the true reason for runaway climate change.

Vegans consume no animal products – no red meat, no chicken, no fish, no eggs and no milk.

The banquet was organised by the controversial Supreme Master Ching Hai, a spiritual icon, business woman and leader of the Quan Yin Method, which is estimated to have about 20 000 followers worldwide.

The blonde, demure Ching Hai has been described as the Buddhist Martha Stewart. Her website is called Godsdirectcontact.org, while the gala was also filmed for her 24-hour television channel SupremeMasterTV.com.

It was mostly her American followers who tried to convince delegates to come to the dinner on Thursday night.

The vegan movement is right when it says that chancing to a meat-free diet will help to combat climate change. Livestock is responsible for pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than for instance the much criticised transportation sector – 18% – according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Also large tracts of farmland is used to produce food for cattle and chickens, where the same land for human food can be used. Livestock is also responsible for the much more potent gas of methane (every time a cow farts methane is emitted), that has a more severe effect on warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, produced by fossil fuels.

Several prominent climate change personalities have switched to a meat-free diet, including Nasa scientist James Hansen and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairperson Rajendra Pachauri, while every self-respecting greenie does make an effort consume less meat, especially that produced by feedlots.

While much emphasis is placed on switching to a greener car with fewer emissions, eating less meat and switching to a vegetarian diet can make a real difference to saving the earth.

But Ching Hai and her followers’ position is that if the world does nothing else to combat climate change, such as switching to renewable power and using less coal-powered electricity, we could beat climate change on the basis of everyone on earth switching to a vegan diet tomorrow. The organisers of the banquet were also in favour of a meat tax to change people’s attitudes.

“While the world bickers over how to cut their economies to combat climate change, there is an easy, immediate way,” she said. “Stop eating meat.”

Unfortunately, the food at the banquet did not exactly convince sceptical guests to abandon their steak or burger just yet. The tofu shrimp was tasteless, the mushroom soup boring and soya mince unpalatable.

The chocolate cake was extremely dry. The vegans served wine, but it tasted like something that could cure strange ailments.

Ching Hai was not there in person, but she sent a video on how livestock was the root of all evil. Her tranquil narrative was accompanied by horrible images of feedlots and abattoirs, that suddenly made one relieved that no meat would be served on this particularly evening. But there was an awkward silence in the room when the prerecorded video focused on her neckline instead of her face.

The vegans had hoped that the mayor of Durban James Nxumalo would attend and he was initially welcomed. But Nxumalo sent a representative whom clearly felt uncomfortable and did not utter a word about the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle in his speech.

But Indian politician Maneka Gandhi added some credibility to the vegans’ cause with her plea that mankind should eat less meat, and that you personally could make a difference by opting out of a meat-rich diet.

The guests were sent home with a pair of Ching Hai’s self-published works (she lists bestselling author as one of her achievements) that included poetry and photos about her relationship with animals.

A favourite among guests was a book about her relationship with dogs and how she tried to convince them to eat apples instead of meat.

It seemed, however, that the vegan idea was not that popular among delegates, especially politicians. While there were lots of vegetarians in the non-governmental organisations at COP17, the braai stand was a big hit with delegates with one of the longest queues.

Leaders were also not keen on trying to legislate their citizens to switch to a meat-free diet.

The US chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing sidestepped a question about tax on meat products by saying that the agricultural sector in America as a whole was working to reduce their carbon emissions, and not just the livestock sector.

The Europeans threw cold water on a proposed meat tax with a straightforward no.

» Follow our COP17 coverage here.


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