The environmental movement is rooted in guilt. The idea is to effect change by making people identify with being a Good Person who Does Not Do the Bad Thing. Good people recycle, bad people do not. Good people do not litter, bad people do. Both of these have been very effective in changing behavior.
But then we get into the realm of food. In the US, the subject of food is practically boiled in guilt. The most common guilt is weight-related – will eating this tasty thing make me a hideous obese social outcast? But environmental food guilt is on the rise, particularly in regards to fish comsumption. Mark Powell has a thought-provoking post up on the role of desire in conservation:
I’m no expert on religion, but it seems like many environmentalists, and quite a few sustainable seafood advocates, make a big mistake in using guilt and expecting it to be strong enough to get people to fight their desires. When we use this approach, I think we risk marginalizing ourselves and we might even start to resemble a sad caricature of a preacher seeking religious converts by threatening fire-and-brimstone.
Threatening problems for people who fall off the straight-and-narrow path of sustainable seafood might work if the prize we have to offer is something really big like everlasting life, but it seems futile when the only thing we can promise is the reward of a bland but sustainable dinner.
Mark suggests trying to unite people’s desire for tasty food with their desire to do environmental good. This reminded me of message of the The Omnivore’s Dilemma – the food that tastes the best is the least processed and most sustainable. But then I was reminded of Sam’s falling-out with Michael Pollan. His new book, In Defense of Food, made her feel bad about eating:
But IDOF made me feel like a gluttonous pig contributing to the wasteful, nutritionally devoid, environmentally blighting indulgence of modern American culture, in the way that overweight people are encouraged to feel by diet books. And I don’t have to take that from a book!
So, TOG readers, is that how you feel when told not to eat something for environmental reasons? Do you think Mark is on to something with trying to encourage people to desire sustainable food, rather than berating them for desiring unsustainable food? Can environmentalists educate without using guilt? And, most importantly for me, should the marine biologists of the world be banned from engaging in dinnertime