Pothole column: vegan concerns everyone

Veganism is no more difficult for people with a migration history to understand than it is for others. Why aren’t they more involved?

"We live in an arguably segregated society" Photo: dpa

A few days ago, I went to a talk about "Extinction Rebellion." This movement was founded in the UK at the end of 2018 and aims to engage in protest and civil disobedience for a radically different climate policy, preferably worldwide. The people present seemed to be simultaneously carried by horror and by courage, which was inspiring. But something else struck me: Almost without exception, people with native German backgrounds were present. I had felt similarly at so many events on climate change, veganism, and animal rights demos; I saw almost only bright faces.

This is not an accusation. Not to anyone. Neither to those who come, nor to the others who stay away. Who may never have heard about it or who may not feel addressed. We live in an extremely segregated society in which milieus and ethnic groups mostly keep to themselves; in which partnerships across class barriers almost never occur and in which on many social occasions one only encounters people with similar origins and educational biographies.

Therefore, it is not an individual failure of individual activists if most climate protection and animal rights initiatives to this day are not nearly as diverse in composition as the population at large. Rather, widely unnoticed societal patterns are taking hold here. Nevertheless, we must consciously try to break through these barriers – from both "sides", and for both "sides". Because when large parts of this globe become uninhabitable, when arable land becomes desert and many metropolises become objects of underwater archaeology, all people are affected.

And we are all responsible. The car of the migrant background uses as much fuel as that of the one born here, both families’ electricity is fed into the same grid by the same power plants, and even the garbage doesn’t care about the passports of the great-grandparents. The Greens may be more a party of the educated and proportionally more of the white, and yes, the wealthier (still) consume more resources than the poorer, but the environment is not a privileged issue.

It’s not about slaughter

Just as little as factory farming and animal rights. When I talk to people in Turkey about eating meat, I hear the same "arguments" as here in Germany. Well, with one difference perhaps. What the "organic farmer around the corner" is here, "the village" is there. Thus, everyone who has lived in Istanbul for decades has childhood memories of a village where chickens and goats supposedly lived carefree. Maybe so. But the city of Istanbul, with its 15 million inhabitants, is of course not supplied by small farmers!

In turn, the question of meat is often posed to people of Turkish origin in this country with regard to slaughter, but that is not the point. Slaughtering is cruel, and so is slaughtering in conventional slaughterhouses. The stunning prescribed by the Animal Welfare Act actually means crushing the skull, includes electric shocks or suffocation panic. All forms of slaughter are cruel because they hit animals that actually want to live! So let’s not talk about slaughtering or not slaughtering, but about killing. Because just as climate change is driven by everyone together, animals suffer from exploitation by all of us.

Therefore, events, demos and flyers must not only address everyone in principle, they must also reach more people with a migration background. Perhaps we need to take a critical look at ourselves when flyering to see if we are really addressing all people with the same emphasis; perhaps it would be worthwhile to make the info bilingual in some neighborhoods. Many of the "scene"-usual event spaces are not gladly visited by all, whereas there would be other spaces where also more migrants go in and out.

It can hardly be assumed that certain groups are too stupid to be interested in the future of their own children.

One could target intercultural initiatives or seek cooperation with certain groups. Among Muslim students in particular, I have already experienced discussions on the topic of the environment on several occasions. But so far, the various committed people rarely find each other and therefore cannot join forces.

Now I suspect that such proposals could arouse concerns in some quarters: Doesn’t that raise fears of cultural paternalism? Not at all! It simply means taking all fellow human beings seriously, regardless of any "background". After all, there is no reason to assume that the basic idea that animals want to live and that killing is cruel should be more difficult to understand for people with a migration background than for natives. Nor is it reasonable to assume that a particular group of people is too stupid, too primitive, or too selfish to care about the future of their own children or the presence of other animals.

Of course there are a lot of people who behave stupidly, primitively or egoistically, every activist knows that. You’re standing at a vigil in front of the circus, and a very worldly-looking lady comes up to you – and insults you and your poster with the most stupid slogans that have been spoken on the subject of "elephants on pedestals" since the introduction of compulsory education. You just can’t tell by looking at people. You can’t distinguish in advance those who are willing to think about room for maneuver and political responsibility from the displacement artists. But if you expand the circle of those you address politically, who knows what conversations, ideas and alliances might emerge.

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