Enlightenment or Righteousness?

Enlightenment or Righteousness?
I hope enlightenment…

by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, October 4, 2007

The other night I went to see Jack Layton, leader of the Canadian federal New Democratic Party. Yep, me and my political inclinations. He’s doing a speaker’s tour, and one of his stops was at King’s College in London, Ontario.

He touted the NDP’s stance on the environment, but only a little. That got me thinking.

In an auditorium filled with left-leaning idealists (where you’re not going to find many Harper/Bush fans), I was probably the only person who wondered if he’d made the connection between diet and the environment. I wondered if he had heard of the UK study that advocates less meat consumption – you know, the one that says the meat industry, and the methane from cattle, are drastically contributing to climate change.

So, what did I do with that wonderment? I asked him about it.

I’m an opinionated person, but not all that assertive. I’ll talk to you about my choices as a vegan, try to inform and enlighten you, but I’m nowhere near being a raging or righteous vegan who’ll throw paint on fur coats. That’s not me at all. I prefer compromise, talk, and cooperation.

After Jack, as he likes to be called, gave his speech, the floor was open for questions. Three at a time, we approached a microphone in the middle of the room. Most of the questions were about the war in Afghanistan, raising the minimum wage, and the war in Afghanistan.

But I had something else on my mind. I was the last to ask Jack a question, and of course I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be, in front of so many people and in front of a major Canadian political figure? I tried not to look shaken. I tried to be clear. I tried to be assertive.

My words were as follows (yes, I do remember what I said – I actually memorized my little spiel before I stepped up to the mic):

“Hi, my name is Laura. I’m a 2nd year poli sci student at Huron. My question and (sort of) comment is a little off topic to what we’ve been talking about. I wanted to bring up the recent study from the UK about the meat industry and meat production – that it significantly contributes to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that. And I wanted to add that a vegan or vegetarian diet is comparable to… not driving a car. Thanks.”

To my surprise there were a couple of “whoops!” and sporadic claps from the audience. My question, I could tell, was clearly unexpected. I think the few veggies there that night, assuming they were veggies, were appreciative.

Jack stated pretty clearly that he hadn’t given the diet/environment connection much thought. Too bad. As the leader of one of the self proclaimed “greener” political parties in Canada, it would be nice if he was a vegetarian, or included vegetarian meals in his diet – that would demonstrate a true commitment to the environment.

But kudos to his honesty.

I wasn’t really disappointed with his response. Not many people understand that what they eat has significant consequences – on themselves and on the world around them. Jack’s no exception to the status quo, in that regard.

He did offer some hope though. He admitted that “what we do can have consequences,” and our diet is “something that we all need to be thinking about.” Very true.

He also brought up his party’s plans to create a system of caps on greenhouse gas emissions – with which they could assess GHGs on the meat industry and limit them, just like they would limit them on any other industry that contributes to global warming. This sort of cap would adjust the price of meat, and basically increase it. And more expensive steak means less steak eaten regularly.

So, less dead cows in the bellies of Canadians! That’s good news to me.

Maybe I enlightened Jack, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, with my question. Maybe he’ll think twice the next time he sits down to a steak dinner. Maybe the other audience members will think twice as well.

But afterwards, as I was discussing the evening with one of my roommates, I asked how I did – how I appeared in front of everyone. She said I seemed a little… righteous.

Enlightenment or righteousness? I never thought that I could seem righteous, of all things. At the mic, I had tried not to look shaken. I’d tried to be clear and assertive.

And maybe that was my problem. I was nervous and tried too hard. When I think back on it, I can imagine the tone of my voice and my body language. I have to admit, it could have appeared righteous. I was righteous out of nervousness.

But I made my point, and that’s what matters. Like I said, maybe I enlightened someone, Jack or regular Joe – even if I was a “righteous vegan.”

At least I didn’t throw paint on anyone.

Laura is a university student in London, Ontario.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joelle Mayberry May 20, 2013 at 3:13 am

Laura, I think the person who said you sounded ‘righteous’ was saying more about herself than about you. Her accusation quite possibly means ‘You made me feel somewhat ashamed of myself and i don’t like it.’ I say good on you 🙂

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