Eco-anxiety and the World as a giant rubbish bin

My brain tells me, “the world is running out of space,” because when I think about (and I do it too often) the sheer volume of waste produced around the world daily, what I can’t understand is how every inch of the world isn’t already covered with rubbish. Of course, as a family, we contribute waste to landfill because #livingzerowaste is hard work and often, very unrealistic. But when my anxious brain starts to consider not only household waste, supermarket waste (#supermarketsdirtysecrets), waste from schools, shops, restaurants, leisure facilities, flights, public bins, fast fashion items that go out of season and can no longer sell, and multiply this for every country in the world, I honestly do sit and wonder where it all goes. Landfill, yes, but what does that look like? Where are they? How many of them are there? What impact does the breakdown, or not, of all that waste do to the Earth and its natural systems? What will happen if we do run out of space? And if instead the waste is burnt, surely that must mean the air is full of toxins and plastics? (It is).

I know that the Earth is big, really big in fact, and I know that even a population of 7 billion people takes up a fraction of the actual space the Earth offers. But when we, the human species, have been generating waste for centuries and that this waste is only increasing in volume due to our consumerist habits, reliance on convenience and disconnect from Mother Nature, in my head, it feels as if the world by this point in time should be overflowing with rubbish and waste. My body feels a sense of panic, a constriction, a fear that we are fast running out of room and that pretty soon, someone will ask if it’s OK to use my back garden as a landfill site because yes, in fact, it’s the last place left to fill. It sounds crazy, right? But this is the reality of my eco-anxiety and experiencing a hypersensitivity to seeing a single piece of litter on the footpath or an overflowing dustbin at the back of a shop even though, I myself throw things in the bin every day.

So how then to combat this feeling of suffocation? How can I feel confident that the Earth is not, in fact, one giant rubbish bin (my brain is already wanting to say, “but it IS a giant rubbish bin, isn’t it?) and that there is an abundance of space left, clean air to breathe and thriving habitats all around the world? How, in the wake of the Australian bush fire crisis can I be sure that the air outside my house is safe and that all that smoke hasn’t made it’s way to the UK?

Today, the antidote to these feelings was simply to go and spend time outside, to find a place where I could see the trees and hear the birds and where I could see, even to a small degree, the expanse of space that there really is. I could breathe a sigh of relief at feeling small, seeing green grass and only encountering the odd piece of litter. (Breathe, it’s OK). Another, and this is and will be an ongoing practice for me, is to try and turn my feelings of stress and anxiety into direct action and know that once again, the systems at play are far bigger than my individual contribution to this mess. Finally, I’m choosing to focus on finding good news stories and deepening my own mindfulness and meditation practices which today included spending time visualising large, expansive areas of nature that go on and on and on with not a single piece of rubbish to be seen. Do you feel better? I certainly do.

IMG_8681


“I want to eat meat,” and other things our kids might say to us one day

It probably happens about once a month. That question that we get asked as vegan parents raising vegan children and the question that crops up in one way or another yet is so rarely asked in reverse of omnivorous parents raising meat-eating kids.

“What will you do if Jasmine (and Summer) turn around when they’re older and say they want to eat meat?”

“Will you give them a choice?”

“Do you think they’ll want to try meat one day?”

“Do you think they’ll always be vegan?”

Honestly, my first response…sigh. You see, I know that this question is asked with genuine intrigue and interest but to be on the receiving end of it, and frequently, implies that there is still a level of uncertainty and perhaps sub-conscious judgment from the questioner and therefore reflects their own stance about eating, or not eating meat. In other words, it could sound more like this:

“The way you’re raising your children to be vegan is restrictive/unfair/forced/weird/not normal/dangerous/makes me uncomfortable/not what I would choose and I think they will rebel against it one day because of this.”

Perhaps that’s a little unfair but this type of question, along with, “how does your child get enough protein?” is asked 100 times more often than, “I’d love to make more vegan food for my child. Could you share any recipes?” The difference is stark and one subtly requires us to defend our choice to raise vegan kids whilst the other would indicate understanding and respect.

Veganism as a way of life and a belief system is based upon the following facts:

  • Breeding and killing animals for food is unnecessary* in a world where we have access to plant-based foods that offer every nutrient necessary for a healthy and balanced diet
  • Animals killed for food suffer in life and death
  • Animal agriculture & fishing industries are the leading causes of climate change
  • A vegan diet is not restrictive or limited
  • If you can live a life that causes as little harm as possible to other creatures**, why wouldn’t you?
*for those of us with the privilege of choice
**in this case, I am referring to non-human creatures although veganism in itself benefits the human population but is not a perfect system in protecting humans from harm

It is because of these facts that I don’t actually worry about this question being asked by either of the girls. That’s not to say it won’t happen and in fact, they are both likely to have numerous questions about veganism which we will encourage, but I’m certainly not worried about it. We are raising the girls to choose (and enjoy) foods that align with our core belief system that we believe most other children have too…that causing unnecessary harm to animals and damaging the planet is not cool!

Our girls are thriving on their vegan diets and both have a very healthy relationship to food for which I’m very grateful. They eat a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu and grains (the list goes on) but they also enjoy crisps, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, pizza, chips and any other special treat going. A vegan diet is not in the least bit restrictive and therefore it doesn’t make children feel “forced into something,” but rather that their pure and genuine desire to foster positive relationships with animals is being respected. It’s therefore more unlikely that at age 16 they may turn around in a fit of anger and wish they’d never been raised vegan. It just makes sense. Kids love animals and don’t want to eat them.

 

IMG_5963

Jasmine with her vegan “chicken” nuggets, eating what all kids eat, but without the dead animals

 

We are equipping our children with the ability to live in alignment with their beliefs, challenge societal norms, contribute to the well-being of the planet and to enjoy the huge range of delicious and healthy plant-based foods on offer to them. 

My biggest worry is not whether they’ll turn around and ask to eat meat (of course by the way, this will be a choice they can make). No, my bigger worry is how they will cope as vegan kids living in a non-vegan world. How they will cope with difficult questions at school, how they will cope with being different, how they will cope with being misunderstood and ultimately how they will cope when they finally learn the truth too.

So if you’ve also wondered whether vegan children will grow up to get a choice or if whether raising vegan kids is fair, I kindly ask you to consider the following:

Which child is more likely to grow up and turn their back on the way they have been raised to eat? The child who loves animals and doesn’t eat them or the child who loves animals but eats them too?