Today, we’ve got a special post from one Simon Gerlach Hansen, the campaign manager for an incredible initiative in Denmark that convinced a group of Danish politicians to go plant-based for a month to make a statement about climate-friendly eating.
Yep – like Beyonce did, but with more implications for public policy (presumably).
I'll let Simon take over to explain:
Having your faith restored in humanity is one thing, but having your faith restored in politicians is something else entirely…
Yet, this is what we got to experience when politicians from two Danish parliamentary parties signed up to try their hands at our campaign, The Vegan Challenge. Throughout the month of May, they have been living on a plant-based diet and following in the green footsteps of the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who have been inspired by initiatives such as Veganuary from the UK and Challenge 22+ from Israel.
So naturally, walking out of the Parliament building, politicians’ pledge in hand, my own outlook on the future of our food system started to look less like the dark side of a Morrissey song.
This got me thinking – what’s so special about these particular participants? We’ve had celebrities and other influencers sign up for the challenge in the past. Yet there seems to be a special kind of admiration for a politician in possession of integrity. Why? Is it simply the “scarcity principle” at work? Obviously, it’s a statement that reducing reliance on animal products plays a role in their politics, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a statement about their roles as politicians. It’s about a special kind of leadership – not just the kind of leadership where a skilled director takes his company to a new financial peak at the end of a rough fiscal year.
Politicians are in a privileged position to be shaping the landscape around our everyday choices. No doubt this is best done when their decisions are not divorced from personal experience, but when their actions align with their values, as Uffe Elbæk, party leader of The Alternative, puts it:
"No doubt that this will be a huge challenge, but I expect it to be quite a lot of fun as well, and it’ll definitely be to the benefit of the environment. Western food production has an enormous climate footprint. Political action is needed, and I find it important that we, as politicians, take the first steps and begin to ‘walk the talk.'"
Our hope is that the mix of political foresight and personal action will inspire other policymakers and politicians to follow suit and start building a political framework, made to embrace the food system of tomorrow. With the current system of food production so one-dimensionally geared towards animal products and heavily subsidized to keep prices artificially low, it’s not only a question of individual consumer responsibility.
There is much to be accomplished in the political arena.
With this said, the combined actions of regular people are part of what guides our political leaders, the way the direction of the wind lets the captain know how to best set the sail. So we should never doubt that our own actions can serve to influence and inspire. Another lesson learned from working with these political leaders is also the down-to-earth humility that guides their work. It’s not about perfection, but about improvement, as Maria Gjerding, environmental secretary of the Red-Green Alliance, states:
"We need to take action on both a personal and political level in order to address the serious issues of climate change. Going vegan for 22 days is not going the save the world in itself, but it's a great opportunity to put focus on Western consumption of animal products and the environmental and animal welfare problems it causes."
Looking back to when we were standing outside the huge, iron-bracketed door leading into the Parliament building, the whole idea did seem like a longshot.
Now it’s been accomplished.
As I’m reading their inspiring and fun-filled accounts of how they’ve gotten the government canteen services to serve delicious vegan options (they have even added gelatin-free candy to the on-site convenience store!) and how they’ve managed to turn the occasional frown into genuine curiosity, I’m happy we gave that “longshot” a try.
So the only question that remains is: Who are you gonna ask to make a change today?