Livia Albeck-Ripka on Simran Sethi
During the Festival of Ideas in Melbourne last year, Simran Sethi looked pleadingly at the audience for mercy before announcing, “I love meat.”
As a high-profile environmental journalist, her omnivorous habits have been the cause of much internal conflict, public criticism and even hate mail.
But for Simran, this is not a black-and-white conversation. Our food system is a complex beast. It requires a multi-layered solution to tackle climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
Simran has been on Oprah, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, hosted forums with Al Gore and moderated panels for the White House. She was named “the environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair and a top ten “eco-hero” by The Independent, but she still struggles with making ethical decisions around consumerism, just like you and I.
We’re trapped in a poisonous dialogue of judgement, believes Simran, when we should be putting our energy into doing our individual best. Whether that’s making the better choice at the big supermarkets, eating less meat, cooking at home more often, or making an effort to shop at farmers’ markets—we each have agency in this mess, because we created it.
Our environmental catastrophe is not solely the responsibility of big business, and only when we own our part in it, can we make true change.
Simran hasn’t always been an eco-crusader. At university, she studied sociology and women’s studies before going on to become a journalist at MTV News in the late 90s, where she covered everything from the rise of HIV/AIDS to conservation. Later, she ended up on screens around the world, leveraging the power of mainstream media to communicate one message, very loud, and very clear: We need to save our environment.
When we meet at the end of December at Queen’s College in Melbourne, Simran is taking a break from working on her latest book, which explores the lost of biodiversity in our food system. But don’t ever call her an academic. We urgently need to reach people, believes Simran, and we won’t do it by intellectualising the issues away from the public arena. Any successful revolution has a powerful narrative behind it. If we’re to revolutionise the way we treat our environment, the conversation needs to change, and fast. We need to tell the story of our ecosystem so that it resonates—with the meat eater, the vegan, the single mum, big agribusiness and corporations, and, most significantly, with ourselves. Because if we don’t care, who else will?