Eating Ethically and Meaning Making

After posting Eating Ethically, some questions began to rumble around inside of me. Reading an opinion article on climate change by Emma Marris, helped to clarified them:

  • How do we encourage one another to take moral action without triggering shame or guilt?
  • How do we lift up the work that we are able to do, as examples for what is possible, without patting ourselves on the back?

Marris says that the first step for fighting climate change is to “ditch the shame.” The second step is to “focus on systems, not yourself.” Her point is that the biggest actors in addressing climate change are politicians and corporations. If we get stuck looking only at what we eat, wear and how much we drive, then we lose sight of the importance of collective action targeted at those with the most economic and political power. For example, if we want to make a major impact on improving the health of the Indiana environment, we all ought to be fighting with gusto against the coal-to-diesel refinery that is being planned in Dale, Indiana. Stopping this refinery, and the projected 2.2 million tons of CO2 it would release, does more for the environment than any accumulated benefit of our individual consumptive habits.

It is, of course, a both-and situation. What we consume matters AND collective action matters. We can simultaneously change our own harmful consumptive habits AND join with others to pressure politicians to reduce emissions.

For me it is also about making meaning. My moral compass gets mixed up if I am breezing through the McDonald’s drive through on my way to the climate change rally. Moral action may be difficult but it generally feels good, in the way that manual labor feels good when you get to do it voluntarily. It’s satisfying and purposeful. Eating food from the dumpster feels better than buying food from the store, and not only because it’s free. Also because we can recycle the packaging. We can share it with friends. We can save it from a purposeless existence.

So don’t engage in moral action with shame, because it’s what you should do or what your neighbor is doing. Experiment with it. Try out some new habits and see what brings you joy.

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