How Do We Change the World

Two weeks ago I unwittingly devised a trifecta of ways to put myself into a depression: I read Naomi Klein’s tome on climate change, This Changes Everything, which was hands down the most depressing book I’ve ever read, if only because of the subject matter. I watched the documentary Cowspiracy, which floored me by showing how destructive animal farming is to the environment. And I watched all ten episodes of Band of Brothers, which was a great reminder that no matter how noble the cause, war really is pretty dumb.

Climate change is an issue that leaves me feeling the most hopeless. I have two children, and both have recently become parents themselves. I worry what kind of world we’re leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. Many of us do everything we can as individuals to tread lightly on the Earth, but is it enough? While I do take seriously the idea that change begins with one person, I also know that when profit is your only reason for existing, greed is usually the result. And greed keeps the corporate machine very well-oiled.

Which is why I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. I’ve made several attempts through the years to practice what I preach and stop eating animal products, but it never stuck. My main reason for not wanting to eat meat has always been the inhumane way our animals are penned and slaughtered. The wake-up moment for me, however, was when Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, says “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period.” This film really spells it out for me.

almkuh_01wiki(Photo courtesy of Johannes Kühnel, Wikimedia Commons)

(And I have to say, calling yourself an environmentalist these days is parallel with calling yourself a feminist. The labels have become so much more than the actual meanings of the words.)

I don’t know why it took me years to watch Band of Brothers. I love Damian Lewis, I love a good WWII drama, and I loved Band of Brothers. But nothing, nothing depresses me more than war. It seems these days that war is never-ending–and so little spoken of. We bomb, we use drones, we send our sons and daughters to the Middle East, and we pretend it isn’t happening. As a mother, I will never understand.

On a note of hope: I admire the nonviolent protests taking place on Standing Rock. I think this is the way we will change the world, by a group of like-minded people standing together against something they know is wrong. These brave people aren’t doing this on a whim, they’re standing up for all of us against the fossil fuel industry. I love how they call themselves protectors instead of protestors. I do realize we already have oil and natural gas pipelines snaking all across the country, but maybe it’s time to say enough is enough. We can do better.

There are so many issues these days that threaten to put me in a permanent state of depression, but that’s no way to live. And letting myself get depressed over issues that seem overwhelming and hopeless is neither effective nor helpful to anyone else. If adopting a vegan lifestyle and supporting those who stand up to the fossil fuel industry is all I have to offer at the moment, so be it.

I have no answers for anyone, only lots and lots of questions. And that’s at least a good place to start.

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29 comments

  1. fmichellemoran

    I am very emotionally impressionable, just really easily sucked in to sad/anxiety emotions particularly. So I have a tendency to avoid things I probably need to know but feel helpless against. But we’re not really helpless as single individuals – I think you’re right that we can all do our part in small ways, even just simple recycling. It doesn’t feel like much, but at least it’s one less person adding to the chaos.

    On a side note, I bought Band of Brothers almost a year ago and haven’t watched it yet. I know it will be so good, but just so heartbreaking too.

    • Mind Margins

      I watched most of Band of Brothers over one weekend. War movies are always tough to watch, but this series is so good. It’s really great. You will love it.

      Not everyone has the constitution (or means) to actively protest, but I think we all owe it to the world to do what we can, no matter how small. More than anything, we need to fight against letting our jobs or politics or the TV or our phones numb us to what’s going on around us.

  2. PedalWORKS

    It’s frustrating isn’t it. You do what you can but it never seems to be enough. Climate change is real, and yet many still question the science. And war, despite what we may have learned in the past, appears inevitable. All we can do is set an example for others and hope in the long run we change our ways. Like you, I’m vegan, ride a bike not a car, and live as “locally” as possible. Keep it up and don’t despair. One day we will make a difference.

  3. Still a Runner

    Climate change weighs on my mind as well. I heard a report recently about the changes in our coastline that are not reflected in our maps. Not a vegetarian, but keep meat products to a minimum. Giving up eggs and cheese would be the most difficult for me, but I’ve done tougher things. Thanks for speaking out so elegantly on these issues.

  4. Friesen Group

    How to change the world is an incredibly big question. The challenge for me is to live with and into the uncertainty. I don’t always know how to do this, but patience and kindness are two things that support my ability to try. Rilke spoke to this in his “Letters to a Young Artist” … “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years, but this does not make me holy, righteous, or right. It only one way of trying to live into the questions. And, I could be wrong … ,

    Glad to see you writing again!
    Kathleen

    P.S. One of my dearest friend’s Dad was one of the Band of Brothers. It is a powerful memory for him. The movie is worthwhile.

    • Mind Margins

      Kathleen, such a great reply. I was thinking of you just this morning, wondering how you’re doing. I hope all is well with you. I have my six month labs and exam coming up next month and, as always, I feel nervous.

      Rilke is one of my favorite poets.

      My battle with uncertainty has lessened, thanks to surviving cancer, but I do have recurring feelings of helplessness regarding the really big problems of the world. Again, no answers!

  5. Chatter Master

    I think I sometimes look at life too simply. I feel if we all put more effort into changing our little bits of the world it would hugely improve our entire world.

  6. Grace @ Cultural Life

    It’s hard to feel like we’re making a difference when there are so many things in the world to be blue about — climate change, the refugee crisis, politics (Brexit in particular has hit me hard)…

    I’m mostly a vegetarian. I occasionally eat fish, but not much dairy. After drinking milk in my coffee every day, I decided to stop and now I much prefer the taste of coffee without milk. I do enjoy cheese but I notice that my body feels more tired and lethargic when I eat it, so I don’t eat it often.

    I have lots of questions too, and sometimes despair. But I suppose we just have to keep on, doing the best we can, and ‘being the change we wish to see in the world’ (to paraphrase Gandhi).

    Welcome back to blogging. 🙂

  7. Mind Margins

    I have no issues with cheese, which makes it even harder to give up. And living in Switzerland for seven years fostered a deep love of artisan cheeses from around the world, but that’s okay. I still have my memories.

    Brexit, ISIS, our presidential candidates … It feels overwhelming some days.

  8. Hari G

    Great Blog Angela! Enjoy your new journey on veganism. You get very creative with what you cook. A good cookbook if you want to explore vegan cooking is “1000 Vegan recipes” by Robin Robertson. Only thing is watch out for the amount of oil and sugar you use in cooking. And avoid margarine (used in vegan cooking).

    Also loved Band of Brothers. You may want to want to read “Beyond the Band of Brothers” by Richard Winters.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks, Hari! I’ll check out the cookbook. I just bought several and can’t wait to try out some new recipes. I’m trying to use oil and vegan butter sparingly. Sugar is always an issue for me, but I have already seen some pretty amazing vegan dessert recipes! And thanks for the tip on the Winters book.

  9. HC

    I haven’t seen Band of Brothers yet. We watched 13 Hours over the weekend and came away with a slightly better understanding of what happened in Benghazi in 2012. It’s hard to watch these dramatizations of recent events and it’s hard to watch the news.

    I keep a quote by Fred Rogers on my desk. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

    On another note, if you enjoy baking flax eggs work way better than those starchy egg replacements. Combine 1 TBSP of ground flax seed with 3 TBSP warm water then shake and let sit for a few minutes to equal 1 egg.

    Be gentle with yourself. The process of going from vegetarian to vegan made me feel deprived and moody at first, but that went away once I started finding new foods to love. Following a plant-based diet forced me to learn and think about nutrition in a way I never did before, and motivated me to cook nourishing meals. Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run isn’t a cookbook, but it has some tasty recipes at the end of each chapter. Just make sure you’re getting your B vitamins!

    • Mind Margins

      I’m a huge fan of Scott Jurek and can’t wait to read his book again and try out some of the recipes. The first time I read the book I couldn’t believe someone could run such distances on a vegan diet. Now that I’ve been eating this way myself, I actually seem to have more energy when I run.

      Thanks for the tip on substituting flax for eggs. I had seen that in some cookbooks. I am very much looking forward to baking!

      So far I haven’t felt too deprived. I’ve always loved vegetables and didn’t eat excessive amounts of meat, so for me the hardest is giving up cheese. I did crave a cheeseburger the other day, but it passed. We are traveling for the next two weeks, and I know fast food on the road will be tough to deal with, but I plan to bring lots of my own food in the cooler. Honestly, so far, it’s been a much easier transition than I thought it would be.

      • HC

        I’m so glad the transition is going well for you! The energy increase is like a gift you keep giving yourself. We tried a few of Jurek’s recipes and loved them – the Incan quinoa porridge is now a staple. Cheese cravings are tough as the vegan versions only made me miss the real thing more at first, but you’re right. Cravings come on strong and then they pass. I wouldn’t survive road trips without our cooler packed with cold crisp grapes, popchips and hummus. Happy trails!

  10. melissabluefineart

    Welcome back! I’m so pleased to see you writing again. You are right about all the problems, but I am worried about your decision to go meat-free. There is strong evidence that we need meat for a strong mind and body. There is a cattle ranch in California I know of that uses their cattle as a tool for ecological management. They are so successful in this that a rare salamander thrives on their ranch.(So do their cattle) Imagine that~a salamander on a cattle ranch! There are many other people who raise animals in humane and sustainable ways. Let’s take good care of ourselves first, then we’ll have the health and energy to tackle other things. Also, grain farming is ENORMOUSLY hard on the environment and climate. I am looking into permaculture, because a great deal of food can evidently be grown even on a tenth of an acre, even in the desert. Amazing!

    • Mind Margins

      No need to worry. There are many other good choices for protein. And it’s exactly because of the huge impact of growing corn for cattle on the environment, not to mention the massive amount of water that’s needed, that I’ve made this choice. I would much rather see all the land that’s being used to feed cattle being used to grow crops for humans. I feel great, but it’s sweet of you to worry about me!

      I am very heartened that there are more and more small, family-owned farms that are choosing to raise grass-fed cattle, but the majority of the cows are, in the end, still sent off to the feed lots to be fattened up and inhumanely killed. So for me it’s also an ethical issue that I’ve struggled with since I was a kid.

  11. JoAnne Simson

    Thank you so much for this post! A week or so ago, I was feeling a lot of the same reactions bordering on depression. I’m not really over it yet. And I have traced mine to a lot of the same triggers. I saw the movie “Racing Extinction” about a week and a half ago. And then about a week ago, I think I had an anniversary reaction to the big Hurricane Hugo we had in Charleston seventeen years ago. But I have really become sad, exasperated and angry at the constant war we have created in this world, and most of it is because we have male “leaders” who resort to bullying if they’re challenged. Assad has killed or driven out almost half of that country’s population.
    We really need more women leaders to help heal this truly wounded Earth. Women leaders are imperfect, too, but I don’t think they’re as likely to resort to destruction as a first response to challenge of their leadership. I think that part of my anxiety is also because of the political situation in this country. I fear for our future if Trump is elected. I feel a bit better after last night’s debate. But then, it’s not over until it’s over.
    I’ve also have had a history of pretty serious depressions in the past – every five years or so – until I went through menopause. And they always started in the fall, as the days became shorter. I don’t want to go there again. They say that pessimists tend to be more in touch with reality than optimists. Maybe it’s best to be a hopeful pessimist who tries to change the world – and their own behavior – so that their fears may not come true. You are doing that, and I hope your example is an inspiration to all your readers.

    • Mind Margins

      I am generally an optimistic person, but I always plan for the worst! Just in case. I agree that we need more female leaders in the world. Not that we can’t have gentler male leaders, but I think for most women war is not usually the first impulse. I hope you are doing well going into the winter season.

  12. aFrankAngle

    Meaningful learning starts with questions, so keep asking yourself … of course then seek some answers. Meanwhile, you posted this while I was vacationing, so I’m glad I caught it.

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