Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation


Christmas ‒ eating in the spirit of the feast of love?

In a few days is Christmas and if the current COVID-19 pandemic situation allows, families come together to celebrate the festival of love. Christmas is also the feast of stuffed bellies when tables are richly set with hearty dishes and sweet Christmas cookies. As part of a survey about nutrition in the Christmas season 2019, 56 % among 1,000 German residents stated that meat dishes belong to a festive meal. Even if 15 % of the participants stated that they would forgo a meat-based meal at Christmas, the majority of the surveyed people eat violently killed animals during the festival of love. This example implies that the charity promoted during Christmasaddresses not all sentient beings living on this earth and that the fest of love is first and foremost reserved for humanity. In fact, research suggests that monotheistic religions such as Christianity ‘are deeply anthropocentric with their assumption that human beings have superior spiritual and moral value, and special earthly authority, because only humans are created in God’s image.`

This feeling of superiority, resulting in a human-nature divide, is visible in our society as speciesism. The NGO PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) defines speciesism ‘as the assumption that humans are superior to other species and therefore have the right to divide them according to their "benefit" for themselves.’ Thus, due to a dominant anthropocentric worldview found in many parts of societies, we grant the exclusive rights to the human species to dominate, manipulate and exploit nonhuman nature having the major function to serve solely the well-being of humans. In the context of food consumption, we degrade animals as livestock to provide us meat and milk. For instance, in Germany 2 million animals are slaughtered daily. On average each German ate in 2018 43 kg meat from pigs, 18 kg poultry and 15 kg beef. When reflecting these numbers in the light of speciesism, it gets obvious that we find also differences between which kinds of animals we feel charity for and which ones we discriminate and violently exploit. Thus, speciesism occurs as well when you stroke your dog or cat while eating a cattle or pig. And don´t you feel shocked and sad when you think about other cultures who actually eat cats and dogs? Why is empathy only reserved for our beloved cat or dog but does not also reach supposed farm animals who are also feeling beings?

Why do we love dogs and discriminate livestock?

In current social discussions, the demand for equality is being voiced such as between women and men, disabled and nondisabled persons or between people of different origins. In fact, such debates are crucial to combat any discrimination such as racism or sexism. However, in the context of the current ecological crisis such a debate should also include how we can include nonhuman nature into the community of justice to overcome an anthropocentric understanding of equality and relating privileges to flourish. For resonating relationships, Hartmut Rosa sees the need that both relating entities can speak with an own voice, which is constrained by making the world available. Translating this precondition into a resonating relationship between us and the food we eat, a responsive relationship assumes that we respect the unavailability of animals acknowledging them intrinsic value, sentience, dignity, and intelligence. For instance, recent research suggests that pigs share a range of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs or chimpanzees. For instance, pigs are able to comprehend a symbolic language and are socially complex animals preferring familiar individuals over strangers. In addition, research shows that the separation of the mother cow and calf to ensure the availability of milk is known to cause chronic stress to the infant. Furthermore, scientists observed social behavior in fish schools and the emergence of cultural traditions. All in all, these studies invite us to overthink our speciesism and to realize that supposed farm animals are not very different from pets and even from ourselves. Thus, when the festival of neighborly love should not end at the festive table, we should not forget that all animals have the right to flourish, not only in the Christmas season but the whole year around.

A very effective way to combat the discrimination and oppression of animals and violence against them is a vegan lifestyle, which can be understood as a human-nature partnership. The decision to follow a vegan lifestyle and with this to refrain from the consumption of any animal-based products can be a decision of the heart and the mind. By going vegan, you are able to save 5,000 l of water, almost 3 square meters of forest, 18 kg of grain and 9 kg of CO2 every day. This said, veganism is not only a choice for oneself but also for a thriving and healthy earth. In regard of the current social-ecological crisis, following a vegan diet is therefore also an act of solidarity and social justice having a positive impact to reduce the crises of hunger and addressing climate change as well as resource depletion. If everyone in the world went vegan, there would be enough food for 4 billion more people, as this would allow that resources and cultivation areas needed for meat production can be directly used for crops benefitting people's diets. But what probably strikes the most is the fact, that by choosing a vegan diet you are saving one animal life each day. Making this emotional connection and for instance giving charity at Christmas to all animals can mean to carefully choose a vegan festive table and in general a vegan lifestyle.

Self-made vegan Christmas roast

Of course, in our current food system vegan consumption is not always an easy choice. It comes with structural obstacles to overcome, for example, when joining your colleagues for lunch but the cafeteria does not serve vegan options or when you are on a business trip and you need a quick healthy meal but nothing is available. The decision to go vegan also includes emotional stress. You allow yourself to be truly affected by the horrible conditions of conventional livestock farming and you probably have to face distressing conversations with your family and friends when you decide to not eat any animal products. Being vegan on Christmas is often a difficult time where one has to endure the inner divide of feeling the love towards your own family but also the sadness for the animals who are displayed as a meal by your family. However, conjuring up delicious and festive vegan Christmas meals is not that complicated and in the internet you find a range of tasty receipts for main and side dishes and desserts, for instance:

So when we are celebrating neighborly love with other peoples at Christmas, is it not also our duty to expand our love to nonhuman nature? Whether this is motivated through Christian values or further culturalized values of decency, showing kindness and care for every fellow earthling has a notion of righteousness. In the end, Christmas is also the feast of hope. In the context of human-nature resonance, we hope with our research project to contribute to the societal debates on justice and speciesism, fostering relational qualities such as empathy and care for human-nature partnerships – getting visible also on our tables.

Authors: Martina Artmann & Mabel Killinger

If you have any comments or question on the essay, feel warmly invited to contact the authors (m.artmannioer@ioer.de, m.killingerioer@ioer.de).

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