When I became aware of my own excessive plastic usage, I felt completely alone. I knew nothing about environmental issues, nor did I know any activists. Once I decided to start sharing my thoughts publicly, I fully expected to receive hate from self-entitled consumers who would fight for their right to plastic packaging. It took me by surprise though when the harshest attacks came from people who claimed to care about the environment.
Back in 2015, I naively posted a photo to Facebook, proudly showing that I successfully purchased meat in my own reusable containers. I felt like I had achieved something monumental! If I could buy food without single use plastic wrap, perhaps other people could too? I was so excited!
My euphoria was short lived. Some vegans saw my post and left the most hateful, nasty comments I’ve ever received. Those vegans also tagged their vegan friends who joined in. What I thought was a meaningful post was soon overwhelmed by angry commenters. As I read each typed insult, I felt disturbed on a deep, personal level. I was devastated. Afterwards, I felt extremely stressed and depressed.
This was not the first time I have plummeted to a low state or had my head filled with insults. You see, I’ve suffered through major depression and long-term low self-esteem, exacerbated by the loss of my entire personal identity (I’m currently writing a book about this). I was raised in a very strict, fundamentalist belief system. All my decisions and opinions were made on my behalf by a belief system I had one-hundred percent faith in. But as an adult, I started to question the rigidity of my beliefs. I could feel that my strong faith had transformed into arrogance. I’d been taught to believe that people who had different values to me, were morally compromised, and inferior to me. As an adult, this bigotry began to make me uncomfortable. Trying to loosen the shackles of my fundamentalism was against everything I thought I believed. It was against my nature to turn my back on these beliefs and I felt it would betray the people I loved. The people who had gifted these beliefs to me.
I lost and loathed myself and almost didn’t make it out the other side. After the psychological rubble stopped bouncing, I healed myself and started my journey into plastic awareness. I was absolutely shocked at what I learnt. Strangers began to approach me to support my work, a network started to develop. I was terrified of making connections and still tremble with fear at even being labelled an ‘environmentalist’. I rebel against being put into any kind of predetermined box.
This journey, as rewarding as it is, has been immensely challenging for me. Whilst I have made wonderful connections, I have also been exposed to issues I had no previous knowledge of. Fracking, greenhouse emissions, oil spills, wasting of precious resources, and the pollution caused by our disposable lifestyle. I have learnt that plastic is chopped up and put on crop fields, plus bee populations are under threat. I’ve learnt about the cruel act of shark finning, that coral is dying en masse, and our oceans are being overfished, etc. All this devastating knowledge has come crashing into my fragile, ‘post mental breakdown’ self and has been crammed into just three years. On top of this, I have been confronted by the real effects of climate change. Observing my car thermometer shoot up to fifty degrees Celsius during summer induced panic. Some days I can barely keep it together. I cannot cope with all the problems in this world, let alone feel responsible for trying to fix them. I do my best, making choices that I feel are reasonable for who I am now. My actions factor in my current level of knowledge, energy and time, while working, being a mother, and dedicating twenty unpaid hours a week to my chosen cause – plastic packaging on food.
I cannot cope with all the problems in this world, let alone feel responsible for trying to fix them.
So, I think it is awful when people send me hate messages, or tell me they are disappointed, or I’m a hypocrite for not being vegan. I have gradually allowed myself to learn about the animal industry through a slow drip feed of knowledge, as I can’t cope with any more drastic changes or distressing information in my head. I currently have about ten articles people have sent me on environmental issues, waiting to be read. Honestly, it is just too much for me to shoulder. I can’t carry everyone else’s passion for varying causes, that is an unfair demand. I can’t even get through all my reading on plastic. I think it’s close minded to say that anyone who does not have identical values to you, does not care about the environment, nor is entitled to have a voice on environmental issues. It is an act of intolerance, to categorise people as our enemy, because they have not adopted our precise world view. I am so over that attitude, because that’s who I used to be. When I talk about plastic packaging and plastic pollution, I make a point of focusing on societal and corporate behaviour, rather than attack any single person.
Interestingly, my involvement in environmental issues has opened the door to my eleven-year-old daughter becoming vegan and even wanting to be a vegan activist. I am fully supportive of her passion and beliefs. And the knowledge I have slowly allowed myself to be exposed to has motivated me to reduce my meat and dairy consumption. It has been very difficult, as I was a big meat and dairy eater. I was raised in a country, a culture, and a family, that told me it was normal and healthy to eat meat and dairy regularly, and I learned to love it. It has been hard to cut back, but I am doing very well, patting myself on the back for the progress I have made. I even celebrated my daughter’s choice to become vegan, and my openness towards veganism. I made a Facebook post about how wonderful it was to take my child to her first ever vegan café. We had a splendid time and I took lovely photos to capture the memory and shared my joy online. Yet, I took a sharp intake of breath and braced myself for that militant vegan who would attack me. And even though I was ready, it still hurt when they did criticise me. It hurt a lot. I would never go to someone’s Facebook page and leave personal insults about them, that is disgusting human behaviour. In an age when we are apparently embracing tolerance, how is there still so much hatred and bigotry? I will never, ever, ever in my life, choose beliefs because someone else calls me out publicly and pressures me to believe what they believe. I want to voluntarily make those choices myself, not be bullied into making them.
I think it is awful when people send me hate messages, or tell me they are disappointed, or I’m a hypocrite for not being vegan.
I deliberately expose myself to different viewpoints, and even agreed to meet with a vegan so they could explain their beliefs to me. I was kind to them and thought we had become friends, but over time they continued to harass me that veganism was more important than plastic pollution and accused me of hypocrisy. How could I talk about plastic pollution if I wasn’t a vegan, don’t they go together? I tried to explain all the other things I do to help the planet – grow some of my own food, wash my clothes by hand, etc. Veganism just wasn’t something I was ready for or had chosen to pursue. Their response was to accuse me of thinking I was Christ the Saviour and they proceeded to bombard me with countless, hateful private messages on Facebook, until I blocked them. So, no, I will not even attempt to enter discussions with any kind of fundamentalist who resorts to personal insults to promote their cause, no matter what that cause is.
It is not just militant vegans who have expressed fury at me. I have had people angry at me for eating sushi, for washing my clothes in cold water, for putting my groceries loose in my trolley, for getting a tattoo, for having a light on in the background of a video, for shopping in the major supermarkets, for the brand of eggs I once bought, for not wearing only natural fibre clothing and for buying a tin of coconut milk that was imported. I will NEVER meet everyone’s expectations and I won’t even try to not ‘disappoint’ you. To make you happy, will mean infuriating someone else. I can never win, someone will always be angry at me. I have lost almost every single person who ever loved me, when I chose to build a value system that I decided to make for myself. I’m not going to suddenly become vegan because some stranger hiding behind a social media handle, hurls insults at me.
I know what it’s like to be a fundamentalist. To be militant and think you’re right, that your chosen beliefs are correct and superior. To have endless evidence to prove it and to feel the need to pick fights with people who have a different opinion. If only everyone listened to me and adopted my beliefs, the woes of the world would be cured. Please don’t mistake arrogance for faith. I will fight with all my might not to fit into a predetermined box that someone else defines as the only valid path or choice. I will not buy into the myopic view that you don’t care about the environment nor are entitled to a voice, if you are not vegan. I object to the belief that any one individual or belief system has a monopoly on purity.
I almost died breaking free from my close-minded shackles. Seriously, it’s a hell of a story, that’s why I’m determined to finish my next book. I am happy that I am still alive, that I have a beautiful family, live on a beautiful planet, and have many supportive people visit my pages. I’ve made many new online friends. I am pleased to say that some of the people who have treated me with kindness, are vegan.
Yes, veganism is great, and I admire what vegans do. I am proud of my daughter and will support her and cook and enjoy vegan meals with her. But who knows what path anyone will take? I love to not commit to anything, to stay open to new information, to be flexible and to have a bendy mind. My postal address is Round Corner, that tells you all you need to know about me. I will not fit into a neat box with right angles. I will not force myself into someone else’s fixed worldview. And if I become aware that my mind is closing, I will find my malleable parts and reshape myself into something new.
If someone feels that what I am doing is not enough or is offended because I have adopted a different set of values, then they need to learn to sit with the discomfort of intolerance. To see it for what it is. I will not change for them nor will I want to be like them. I am me. Finally, after forty-five years of thinking that self-acceptance was not permissible, I am finally OK with myself and I won’t let anyone sabotage the self-worth that took me so long to discover. And if that’s not good enough for some people, I am sorry that they have expectations I can never meet.
I am maxed out, I can’t fight every battle. I can’t adopt everyone else’s passions and beliefs. I have chosen a cause to donate my time and energy to. I don’t need conflict every time I make a post about the positives of veganism or how great it is to take my own container to buy meat. I learnt the hard way – if I respond to people’s aggression, it just fuels their fury. So, I wrote this article for closure. Now, whenever I am confronted with this issue online, I can stop devoting time and energy to it. I will paste this article in response to any negative comments and will not engage in any further discussion. I have better things to do with my time than endlessly replay Facebook fights.
I don’t claim to be pure, but truth is, none of us are. My partner takes delight in pointing out the hypocrisy of everyone (himself included). While I wrote this, he shared an article with me that reported on the environmental catastrophe caused by the production of phones and other devices. The mining and processing of rare earth elements that allow us to use smartphones to comment on social media is causing great harm to humans, animals, and the land. More proof that none of us are perfect, even the people sending me angry messages are doing so from devices that cause environmental damage. I won’t aim for the impossible goal of perfection, that is a path to failure. My goal is to educate, motivate and activate. To create a social shift away from single use plastic and to make re-use cool again. If you are asking for something beyond this from me, please re-evaluate your expectations.
I think we should all appreciate anyone who is prepared to donate their time and energy to an environmental cause, even if it is not the cause we personally feel most passionate about.
This… is my journey. At my own pace. In my own way.