Slow Vegetarianism: Take Your Time And Use Your Brain

Going vegetarian or vegan is not just to stop eating meat, but a progressive rejection of the globalized food industry.

"Being vegan means always learning..."

BARCELONA — The warnings have been piling up for years: researchers are encouraging the public to eat less meat, both to protect the environment and their health. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) qualified red meat as "probably" cancer-causing and processed meats as "carcinogenic to humans," prompting social alarm and a sustained reduction since in meat consumption worldwide.

Spain's Agriculture Ministry, which gathers food consumption statistics, found that meat-eating in Spain fell by 2.8% in 2018 compared to 2017, as part of a steady decline over the previous seven years. In the United Kingdom, a study carried out by Sainsbury's supermarkets found that 91% of Britons were actively reducing meat consumption, not just for health but also ethical and environmental reasons.

In Argentina too the numbers are telling: The Agriculture Ministry has found that every Argentine eats on average 51.4 kilograms of meat annually, compared to 65 kilograms 19 years ago.

Environmental groups have been urging a drastic cutback in meat and dairy consumption for some time, to help protect the planet. The IPCC panel, a United Nations body, stated in an August report on land use and climate change that high beef consumption levels were key to exacerbating the climate crisis.

Source: Statista

Still, while many people try to become vegetarian, almost as many fail half-way in their bid to swap the omnivorous for a vegetarian diet, for reasons of nutrition but also social adaptability.

Daniele Rossi is the 50-year-old co-owner of the Rasoterra restaurant in Barcelona, part of the Slow Food movement. He says "there were so few of us when I became a vegetarian, and there were barely any vegans as there was so little information and you got tired of hearing "I don't feel like I've eaten if I haven't had meat"." Now, he says, thanks to the internet and the work of animal rights activists, many find it easier to go straight into becoming vegan, "which new generations are doing very well."

The vegan artist and activist Nika López says she approached vegetarianism a decade back as a teenager, "to know about new things." She has now adopted a vegan lifestyle that "questions ethical, environmental, social, political and economic issues from a position of actively confronting the system, which would have been impossible without the amount of information I have been able to access in recent years."

For Rossi, a major error many commit when embarking on becoming vegetarian is to "still not question where their food is coming from. Not taking into account the origin of foods has a terrible impact on the planet." Many fashionable superfoods, he points out, or fruit and vegetables like avocados or quinoa "come from the other end of the planet, and that is not sustainable. In my opinion to be vegetarian or vegan, fundamentally you must focus on territory."

Rossi is aware of the complexity of the arguments he has expounded since opening his first eatery in the historic Raval district of Barcelona, in 2001. Sometimes people are uncomfortable with it, but he says there can be no alternative. There is no sense becoming vegetarian, he says, "out of an ethical concern for animals and consume foods whose production entails the destruction of ecosystems in other parts of the planet."

Quinoa is a good example he cites. "It is one of the star products right now, and many do not know that those who grow it must export it as they have no money to buy it. Is it better to eat vegetables than meat? Certainly, but without forgetting we could fall into certain contradictions on which we should at least reflect." Álvaro Sánchez, a nutritionist with Medicadiet, a Spanish nutrition and dieting firm, insists he "religiously" repeats to his patients that "fruit, vegetables and green vegetables must be, without exception, seasonal and local."

First spend a month without eating red meat, then a month without chicken, then fish...

Vegan eating, he says, is a "long path that requires a complex process of reeducation" alongside "appropriate factors." Many people, he says, become frustrated when they fail to complete the journey, or give up, and a main mistake he cites is "trying to suddenly reach veganism or vegetarianism, when the most sensible thing is to do it gradually." If one is used to food variety, becoming vegan too quickly "can be complicated emotionally and in social terms, but also physically. The body may react when so many foods are suddenly withdrawn," he says.

Nika López recommends a gradual approach: "first spend a month without eating red meat, then a month without chicken, then fish, eggs and dairies.., until you get to where you want." Another mistake the artist cites is the zeal that can prompt vegans to reproach others for their failing commitment. "Being vegan is not just not eating animals. You mustn't dress from animal skins either or have anything of animal origin in your home. And if we go further we should question the production dynamics of certain foods on a global scale even if they are vegan, which is the case with cereals for example."

Rossi and López represent two different generations that discovered vegetarian and vegan living at different moments of recent history. Omnivores accuse them at times of being excessively militant and as López says, "it is true our convictions are so strong and we are so clear on the need to act to change the planet that we can even say it in unpleasant ways."

The artist explains that when she first became vegan, certain people around her were uncomfortable. "I was in a struggle and could not abandon the fight for a moment, and the aggressive attitude was often a reaction to the lack of understanding I found around me. I remember I would arrive in the kitchen and tell my mother it was full of corpses."

López now supports an active and didactic veganism as a space where new vegans, whatever their motives for abandoning meat, will feel supported and find answers to the many doubts that may emerge in time. She says "being vegan means never stopping learning as at the end of the day, it is a way of confronting the system from a global perspective."

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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