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Food for thought: Rethinking consumption patterns on World Vegetarian Day

By: Aditya Ahuja

World Vegetarian Day, observed on October 1st every year, is a global celebration of the merits of a vegetarian lifestyle. It is a day that transcends mere dietary preferences and serves as an occasion to contemplate the far-reaching impact our food choices have on the environment.

Today, we delve into an unsettling inconsistency observed during an environmental awareness workshop, I happened to attend last month, at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

During the lunch break at the workshop, I couldn't help but notice a variety of non-vegetarian options lined up on the buffet table. The sight left me both amused and provoked.

Environmental degradation has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges of our time, demanding urgent action from individuals, communities, and governments worldwide. As discussions on the topic gain momentum, it becomes evident that certain aspects remain particularly sensitive, including the connection between meat consumption and its environmental impact. Despite the overwhelming evidence linking animal agriculture to climate change, many environmentalists exhibit reluctance when it comes to discussing their meat-eating habits.

Although I could not speak with the organizers of the event, I took the opportunity to have a word with some of the guests.

On being asked to comment on the contradiction, a climate activist said, “Well, the reason why half of the people showed up today is good food. You can never question that. Enjoy and let enjoy.” Another green panther, while looking at his fish tikka-stuffed plate, said, “there are bigger fishes to fry, my friend. I can't be solely responsible for the melting glaciers…(chuckles).”

This is where the theory of cognitive dissonance comes into play. Cognitive dissonance refers to the psychological discomfort that arises when an individual holds conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. When I questioned the beliefs of those two individuals that day, this is exactly what happened.

The workshop served as a platform to educate and inspire individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles. It emphasized reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving resources, and promoting eco-friendly choices. Livestock farming is a major contributor to deforestation, water pollution, and greenhouse gases, emitting 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide every year. In total, livestock represents roughly 14.5% of global emissions.

When meat items were offered at such an event, a dissonance arose, as the production of meat significantly contributes to environmental degradation. It contradicted the principles of sustainable living that the workshop aimed to convey that day.

The incident serves as a reminder that the fight against ecological decline encompasses a broader reassessment of our dietary preferences and the realization that personal actions, no matter how small, can collectively contribute to a greener future.

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