Life and Times – Lifestyle choices: does it make a difference?

We’re often told that we can help to change things or at least move in the right direction by each of us making changes in our personal lifestyle. We’re encouraged for example to make sure we know where our food is grown, how ‘sustainable’ its production and distribution methods are, and, if possible, to ‘buy local’. The idea is that our food buying choices will help to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the battle against ecological deterioration and global warming. It’s also suggested that more radical lifestyle choices like vegetarianism or veganism can play a part in this by freeing up for direct food production land currently used for crops to feed the vast number of animals raised and slaughtered everywhere in the world.

This was the theme of a recent ‘opinion’ piece in one of the website bulletins from the Scientific American magazine which regularly arrive in my email inbox and usually contain items which are both interesting and thought-provoking. This particular piece, written by Sarah C. Hull, assistant professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine, was entitled ‘A Meatless Diet is Better for You – and the Planet’ . Its summary states that ‘vegetarian and especially vegan diets can promote better health, help mitigate climate change and reduce inhumane factory farming’ and it puts forward various, seemingly plausible arguments against certain commonly held beliefs about diet, for example that plant-based food does not contain enough protein and iron for adequate nourishment and that dairy products are necessary to obtain enough dietary calcium. It then goes on to talk about health benefits of a non-meat or low-meat diet referring to scientific evidence that points to a significantly lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Further arguments are then presented regarding the inevitable cruelty to animals involved in factory farming, the risk of epidemics or pandemics associated with the overcrowding of livestock, and the often poor conditions of work for the human beings themselves involved in this activity. Finally the point is made that meat consumption contributes significantly to climate change through deforestation and methane emissions, with food systems making up a third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity (, and animal-based foods contributing twice the emissions of plant-based foods ( Personal dietary carbon emissions, it concludes, can be reduced by 30 percent with a vegetarian diet and by up to 85 per cent with a vegan one.

So do we all go vegetarian or vegan? It sounds a good idea to me personally, but thinking about it carefully, I can’t avoid the question of how much difference it would really make within the confines of the buying and selling system we all live in. Professor Hull clearly thinks it would make a difference. She talks about the need for people to adopt at least a ‘flexitarian approach to meal planning that de-centers meat as the focal point of meals’ and to consider that ‘even modest reductions in meat consumption and progress toward a more plant-forward diet can yield significant health and environmental benefits.’ She also quotes from the 2019 EAT-Lancet Commission report on ‘globally sustainable diets’ which states: ‘Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth’.

Yet while such choices might indeed lead to different methods and types of food production, reduce the mass slaughter of living creatures and also have some impact on climate change, how much difference would they actually make to the day-to-day problems faced by many millions of people throughout the world? I’m thinking here about such problems as poverty, homelessness or precarious housing, and, above all, the need for the vast majority of us to sell our energies to an employer for a wage day in day out or find ourselves without the means to live decently. What I’m saying is whatever the method of production or the goods produced, so long as production takes place with a view to goods being sold on the market and maximising profit and people needing money to buy those things, we will still have the system we call capitalism and all the problems and contradictions it throws up. The major contradiction is that the means do actually exist to sustain all the world’s people at a decent level several times over in food and other essentials and this without polluting the environment or changing the climate. And this is the case whether we are meat eaters or go vegan. Yet, under the capitalist system of production for profit and buying and selling, those who do not have money to buy will go hungry, many more will lead insecure and highly stressed existences, human health will not be safeguarded, and the ecosystem will continue to be in imminent danger of collapse.

To be fair, Professor Hull’s apparent solution to this is not just lifestyle changes by individuals but also – and more importantly in her view – what she calls ‘large-scale, well-coordinated national and international action’ and ‘pressure on governments and organisations to enact meaningful change in this direction’. Nevertheless, however much change we are able to implement either in our personal lives or by forms of collective pressure, it stands to reason that, as long as we continue to do this within the constraints of the profit system that is capitalism, any progress will be necessarily limited. It’s a little like clamouring for freedom on the basis of slavery. So while we can’t deny that, as she says, ‘societies change when enough individuals within them alter their behaviour’, it’s not the kind of behavioural change she is referring to that’s needed, but rather change in political behaviour, or put a different way, in consciousness.

So while there’s no doubt that magazines like Scientific American can teach us a lot about how things work in the world, they are sadly no more advanced than most of those who read them when it comes to seeing beyond the social and political system in which we exist. Isn’t it time therefore for workers throughout the world to switch on to the consciousness needed to do that and to vote collectively to change that system and move to a moneyless, marketless society of free access and voluntary cooperation – which we call socialism? In that society people will put their natural human capacity for cooperation and collaboration to work and use the resources of the earth to make sure that everyone – whether they choose to be vegan, vegetarian or otherwise – has enough healthy food to eat and to secure a decent life for all.


3 Replies to “Life and Times – Lifestyle choices: does it make a difference?”

  1. Never liked the look of the Standard since the format was changed in ’78? ’79? Too Islington coffee table. Now the ICC paper World Revolution looked the part . Subversive. Dangerous. A menace to the capitalist mode of production. Any revolutionary would be comfortable to be seen reading it. And after I had read it – many-a bluebottle rued the day…!

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