Barbara Hendricks has taken a controversial meat-free stance in order to set a good example for climate protection.
Germany’s environment minister Barbara Hendricks announced earlier this week that meat and fish would no longer be served at official functions held by the Ministry of the Environment. Because animal agriculture creates such a toll on the environment, and plays a significant role in climate change and degradation of water and soil, Hendricks argues that the German government needs to do the responsible thing:
“We’re not telling anyone what they should eat. But we want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish.”
A department email requested that event caterers prioritize the purchase of seasonal, organic products, preferably those that have traveled the shortest distance, as well as fair-trade goods.
In a country where meaty foods like bratwurst, schnitzel, and pork knuckles are synonymous with cultural identity, this announcement has, not surprisingly, created quite a stir. It’s made worse by the fact that Hendricks is a member of the Social Democrats party (SPD), which is currently ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the polls – and an election is just a few months away.
Christian Schmidt, minister of agriculture, is highly critical of the decision:
“I believe in diversity and freedom of choice, not nanny-statism and ideology. Meat and fish are also part of a balanced diet… I’m not having this Veggie Day through the back door.”
Schmidt is the same politician who has been lobbying to ban meat-free alternative food companies from using the names of meats their products are trying to simulate, i.e. vegan currywurst, vegetarian salami. He says they’re “misleading to consumers.”
Hendricks is also being accused of inconsistency, since the cafeteria still serves meat and fish dishes, along with vegetarian options.
In an online poll, newspaper Der Spiegel asked people to vote on the issue, selecting one of the following statements. As you can see below, opinions were fairly evenly split:
- Anyone who takes environmental and climate protection seriously has to do without meat and fish. (24% of votes)
-This is state paternalism! Meat belongs in every meal. (22%)
- No big deal. If you don’t get meat the ministry, you can get a kebab afterwards. (21%)
- Meat is certainly good, but it shouldn’t be overthought with regulation. (33%)
It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out in the upcoming months. Despite widespread support for Schmidt’s anti-vegetarian labeling proposals, vegetarianism and veganism in Germany has grown exponentially in recent years. Demand for meat-free products went up by 100 percent between 2010 and 2015, while demand for meat products fell by 10 percent in the same period. The global attitude toward meat is shifting, whether Merkel’s party likes it or not.