The campaign that lit a fire under Denmark

Op-Ed in Politiken Newspaper - September 29, 2018

On Monday, we at Simple Feast launched a humorous advertising campaign with a serious point, aiming to start a discussion about the climate-related consequences of meat-eating habits. We certainly succeeded in doing that! It was amazing to see how angry some Danes were at the launch of our campaign that replaced cigarettes with sausages in vintage video clips from the time when smoking was normal.

After all, if you want to change existing dogmas, you have to speak to people’s emotions. If you do that, then you have the opportunity to take the discussion to the dinner table of Danish households. And that’s where the battle for the climate must be fought.

The debate began in the Politiken newspaper, but it spread like wildfire to most of the Danish media, and later to the Norwegian and German media as well. A wide range of figures entered the fray of the debate, including the head of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, Karen Hækkerup, a theologian, and even Danish Parliament Chairman Pia Kjærsgaard of the Danish People’s Party.

The debate also spread to social media, where it truly took off, with comments ranging from “righteously fantastic” to “fantastically fascist.” It’s interesting to take a closer look at why the debate about meat can so intensely incite the Danes and trigger what seems to be knee-jerk reaction after knee-jerk reaction. I think it’s a matter of ingrained habits and a stubborn delusion about it being natural to eat endless amounts of meat. At the same time, Danish manliness itself is at stake. But, for every angry man who has cursed us out, 10 women have defended us, and that gives me hope.

Personally, I do not consider myself a vegan, vegetarian, holy, fanatical, or less of a man because I don’t eat meat. I have a general dislike for our society’s need to categorize people, but when it comes to my manhood, I’ve never felt more like a man than now that I am trying to take responsibility for my children’s future. Who knows if I will succeed? Who knows if I can make a difference? But I know with all my being that I have to try. I also think that we humans are easily provoked because it is uncomfortable to be reminded of something we actually know but don’t want to change. We know that the enormous amounts of meat we consume in the Western world are deeply harmful to our planet.

When confronted with the simple facts and figures about global problems, most people expect that our politicians will lead the way. They must do something, right?! They should sign global climate agreements and take responsibility on behalf of us all! But, with the example of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has already proven that the Paris Agreement is nonbinding, that is unlikely. We can certainly direct our anger toward Trump, but our Danish politicians have done just as little to lead the way.

Politicians are not bad people, but the fact is that the climate is a political non-starter, as no politician dares run a campaign based on anything beyond the next election period. And that’s why the political climate initiatives will always be too little, too late. Why? Because the price must be paid here and now, while the results will have to wait for 50 years. No political initiative can withstand this time horizon. When it comes to the climate, history clearly shows that the parliamentary process has failed. Therefore, we as citizens must take a personal stand and take democracy back for the people.

This is why our campaign tries to start a discussion by showing the absurdity of history repeatedly teaching us that what we currently think is normal will probably seem head-shakingly grotesque in the future. So let’s get past the knee-jerk reactions and the outrage. Let’s start the discussion, let’s learn from each other, and let’s move forward.

We only have a few years left to prevent devastating climate change. It is probably already impossible to avoid a 2-degree rise in global temperatures before the end of the century. But while 2 degrees will have significant negative impacts on the conditions of survival for humankind, 3 degrees would be catastrophic. If we just reduce our meat consumption by 40% to 50%, then we will have come a long way. So come on, dear friends, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

- Jakob Jønck

Sep 28, 2018