The ecclesiastical environmentalist: Choice cuts, but at what cost?

We might like being carnivores, but we need to meet creation midway to tackle climate change, argues Catholic cleric

Last week, we heard about how Father Robert Culat, the Catholic priest for the city’s French-speaking community, is on a mission from God to fight climate change.


The ecclesiastical environmentalist revealed how the Catholic Church now incorporates environmentalism into its teachings, how new agricultural practices are destroying the way of life for millions of subsistence farmers, and how we in the West need to make fair trade the norm, not a risible gesture.


This week, Father Culat argues that the biggest difference we can make is with our consumer choices: namely the regularity we purchase and eat meat, the countries that we buy food from, and the way we feed and nature our children.

At the core of our existence today is a disrespect for food, the environment and creation, and the ecclesiastical environmentalist has had enough!


What lessons can we learn from the New Testament in respect to our environmental concerns of today?

I would say I think that the first place to learn from is not the New Testament, but the Old Testament and the book of Genesis. Its first two chapters regarding the creation of the world are so, so, so interesting from an environmental point of view. It tells us man is important, that the human being is the summit of the creation, but it doesn’t mean that we have to waste the creation. We don’t have the right to do what we want to do, we are not the owners of creation, but we are the entrustees.


Father Robert Culat, the ecclesiastical environmentalist (Photo: Ann Charlotte Vengsgaard)

So we were on a mission from God?


Yes, and in Genesis, God is saying to cultivate the Garden of Eden, which is a very beautiful image, but to cultivate is not the same as having the right to destroy the Garden of Eden. It is through the woman that the creation is able to give fruit – but by all means good fruit. That is the point we may have forgotten.

Also we have forgotten the link between our existence, our life and God the creator. If we find that link again, I think automatically, we will respect all forms of life, because life is life.


Obviously I must respect human life more than cat or dog life, but if I respect human life, I have to respect animal life and all life, as all life is connected.

It’s all connected and this brings me to the meat industry, and its highly scandalous practices today, which are a long way removed from ‘normal’. When we think about how animals are treated in the meat industry, not only in the USA – it is the worst – but also in Denmark and Europe, I think that man, by treating animals in that way, is hurting himself: that’s the point. It’s extremely bad. Really, I don’t understand how they can find people to work there, because it’s so awful, so degrading.


We talk so much about climate change but, and this is very strange, we rarely speak about the meat industry. For example, during the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, they hardly spoke about it. After all, if we really started speaking seriously about it, then we must all change our way of life, because it’s at the centre of the problem.


How can we change our lives to make a difference?


Most people don’t know what it takes to produce 100g of meat, how much arable land you need, how much water, and how much pollution it creates. It’s particularly bad in the swine industry, where the pollution goes directly into the soil and groundwater. So if we want to seriously contribute to the environment, we must ask ourselves this question: is our conception/perception of meat reasonably justified? I think no! It’s neither advisable or necessary to eat meat each day. You can manage very well eating it only once a week or even becoming a vegetarian. But a very great change like that would make it a question of money, and we all know there’s great interest in that! We could make Rio a meeting about meat, but you know among the politicians in attendance the primary concern is going to be their money agenda. And that is why current environmental thinking cannot take us forward.

Real change has to come from the people, not the politicians.


Sometimes I wonder about the Catholic Church’s financial decisions. Putting money in a bank is part of normal life, but do we reflect enough on which one? In France, there’s a bank where profits are not their only motivation, where it’s not just about money, money, money, but helping good causes like hunger programmes. And where does the church bank – not in that bank! Why is that – it’s not logical. We could be fighting famine, but instead we give it to people who have no ethics.


What should our top priority be?


The education of the children, because as we know, children have instinct. So when they begin to eat something and soon after that something is on the floor and it is thrown away, it creates this horrible waste mentality. Children need to be educated from an early age that food does not come from heaven.

There is labour behind that food. It has been grown and it has taken a lot of resources to grow it.
I remember how in the 1960s in France, we put pesticides in almost everything. They were bad for the earth and for us, and it was disrespecting the work of agriculture. It was like the last thing you could wish for was your child to become a farmer, that it was better they worked in a bank.


We must again give to those people working in the countryside the respect they deserve, and they must have a good life. Everything is linked: the economy, demography, the environment. It really is possible for the whole world to be fed with healthy food if we learn to eat less meat and more wholegrain food.


So we need to consider our consumer choices more carefully?


Yes, the supermarkets are full of produce grown in Spain through intensive agriculture. We don’t want to know that the workers in the greenhouses wear protective clothes to protect their skin from all the pesticides they spray on them, that the workers are slaves to the system, that most of them are immigrants from Morocco who live where they work in horrible housing, isolated from civilisation, forbidden from going to the cities. They live like prisoners … in Europe, the home of civilisation!! Hello!! This is not Asia – in China we know it’s like that. This is slavery happening in Europe. So then it becomes clear why these vegetables are so cheap, because they don’t pay the people. The only solution is simply not to buy these vegetables from Spain.