Why climate disaster should make us feel positive

By Eleanor McNeill, DESIGN AND DIGITAL EXECUTIVE, SRA

As an Australian living in London, it is easy to feel like the home I thought of as safe (though others citing spider and snakes would disagree) and full of climate-change fighting trees, nature abound, is no longer the refuge it was. While it was previously hard to believe that climate action was futile, sitting on the beach, a kangaroo hopping past and the melodic sounds of black cockatoos above you, the events of the last few months have shaken this perception.

When the temperatures break national average records, soaring above 40 degrees, and then a few days later the record is broken again, and when you hear that 12.35 million acres of mostly national park and half a billion animals have been obliterated in these fires, the defeat feels very real. Fires are a normal part of Australian summer but they’ve been getting worse, we have been in drought for three years, and it’s culminated in this horrific situation. When the sky is dark at 3pm in London in January we are all allowed to complain, but when it is dark at 3pm in the height of summer in Australia, it feels apocalyptic.

An info-graphic about statistics from the Australian Bushfires

I hate to admit that 2020 brought in a newly found sense of hopelessness. I have worked for the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) for over two years and been passionate about sustainability for countless years before that, but for the first time I felt like giving up. If the government and big business are constantly negating individuals good work, what are we working so hard for?

Today, however, I am feeling positive. That’s definitely not how I thought I would feel. However, there is so much pride in how the community have rallied around the fire fighters, who have been working non-stop since September, by donating food, funds and fun things for the fire stations. I am amazed that, even before the flames have waned, there is chat of road trips and rallying around businesses that will feel the effects of property and tourism losses. “Bring your empty eskies*” has become a battle cry that gives hope to hopeless business owners surrounded by the newly charcoaled trees that encircle their once buzzing tourist-towns, as they imagine visitors coming to buy their booze and wares and support them once again. Before the flames have died out, there is already talk of the future.

News and social feeds, which were at first filled with images of orange skys, smokey hazes, death and destruction, fear and defeat, are now being topped up with thoughts for the future, hope for restoration and regeneration and, especially, awareness of climate change. The fires have been an undeniably and visually shocking incident, fuelling anger, passion and action from international communities: the Golden Globes were used to raise funds, Phoebe Waller Bridge auctioned off her suit, and Jennifer Aniston read a heartfelt letter from Russell Crowe, who remained at home to fight. Australia’s plight, and therefore climate change, are on the international agenda; at least the fires are not for naught.

So we take inspiration – why not ride on the media coverage and attention? Why not make the politicians listen and realise that the decisions they make now will impact the earth irrevocably? And feel the power of these decisions to not only be un-destructive (why are we selling off the Great Australian Bite for oil-drilling amidst this devastation?) but can be positive and restorative.

We, as a collective of people who care, can bring more people into our passionate community and create change on a large scale, using climate-related incidents as imperatives for action. We have seen the chef-ing community take up arms (and paring knives) to raise awareness and funds. A long list of London restaurants, including members Hawksmoor and My Pie (partners KERB), are among those doing their bit. Rick Stein, who owns both a restaurant in Cornwall (“Thinking about Padstow in Cornwall where I come from, it’s like losing the first couple of weeks in August in a seasonal businesss”) and one in the NSW south coast town of Mollymook, uses his position to “persuade people to come back here… Next year is going to be lovely”. Positivity reigns.

Community and action are why I am feeling a renewed optimism and am trying to turn this into action. Despite other troubles that early 2020 has also presented, we are lucky that we can put our energies into work that we know is doing good and that we have clear steps we can take to be better and do more:

  1. Using the fires as fuel

We need to think positively in situations like these – incidents caused by climate change are becoming more common internationally and we can use this to bring food sustainability to people’s attention even more, create action at a local level and get other restaurants involved. The more people we have fighting the fight with us, the more restaurants provide and customers demand change, the more impact we can create together.

Your difference can be multiplied if you share it. You can inspire others. Greta Thunberg (or ‘Sharon’), winner of the Raymond Blanc Sustainability Hero Award in 2019, was one of the many people who fought to bring climate justice to forefront of the news last year through activism. We all need to continue to spread the word and be proud of doing what we can, working together towards our shared sustainability goals.

  1. Embrace Veganuary as a time for change
One less kilogram of beef served is equal to taking a car off the road for 181 miles. So let’s swap some meat dishes for veg-led ones and use Veganuary as the most receptive month to this concept, to push more veg and less meat. Let’s make the meat we do eat fantastic quality and low impact.

From our Community Manager Cameron McDonald: “As predicted, Veganuary is having another strong year; they’ve reported that over 350,000 have signed up to take part. With too many menu and product launches to mention, Greggs have done it again with a vegan ‘steak’ bake, and Food Made Good members Wagamama’s have launched a vegan watermelon ‘tuna’. Last week the Golden Globes acknowledged the link between the food we eat and climate change through their menu choice, and the trend of ‘flexitarianism’ is really picking up momentum.”

  1. Value food and don’t waste it

Still one of the biggest sustainability issues in our industry is the fact that, of all the food we produce, we waste a third. We all understand the huge amount of energy we have to put into growing, harvesting, transporting and preparing food to provide those delicious meals – it seems mad to throw 1 in 3 plates away.

One of the biggest ways to reduce your climate impact is to reduce the amount of food you waste. We have a programme called Food Waste Bad Taste to help you do this.

The climate crisis is surrounding us and we were thinking about the new year and the new decade. So we started talking between us about what we can do to send a signal. …‘We don’t think we’ll change the world with one meal, but we decided to take small steps to bring awareness.’ – HPFA President Lorenzo Soria about the Golden Globes meal

  1. Make food good

As a small step, the Golden Globes menu this year was entirely vegan, which was surprisingly due to wanting to push a sustainability message, a progressive alternative to the usual ethical one associated with veganism. It’s time to gain wider acknowledgement of the impact the food industry can have and the power of food as a restorative force. Each meal you serve can be doing good, doing better and empowering people to make changes. As members, the Good Egg, use their One Planet Plate dish for story-telling and customer engagement while The Roebuck uses theirs to reduce the climate-impact of their meat-loving diners.

 

So let’s band together and use the scale of this disaster to press us forward. As beloved Australian actress and advocate Cate Blanchett said, “When one country faces a climate disaster, we all face a climate disaster. We are in it together”. We can be inspired by hopeful outlooks such as this documentary and the fact that incidents of this scale do make the world stop and look and, hopefully now, act. We can all make a difference, we know how, now it’s time to get started.

 


 

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*’Eskies’ are cool boxes, or chilly bins, for our New Zealand brethren.

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