A sense of shared responsibility

I was reading the letters page of a food magazine this afternoon, when I came across an irate letter from someone who had taken issue with a feature in the previous edition. Apparently, this particular article had suggested that when visiting a restaurant, diners should ask where the fish / meat / vegetables come from, in an attempt to ensure that they are sourced fairly, sustainably and ethically.

To me, this makes perfect sense. If restaurants don’t know that we care about these things, then they won’t do anything about them. The lady who had written to the magazine, however, had a different opinion. Her view was that when she went to a restaurant, she did so in order to enjoy herself. And she didn’t see why she should ruin her enjoyment of her meal by worrying about where the food had come from.

This struck me as a particularly selfish attitude, as well as – depending on the sort of restaurants you frequent – an easy way to get salmonella. But I think it also exemplifies something that lies at the heart of many of our social and environmental problems. We tend to think that it is someone else’s job to solve them. Whether it’s the government, business or just some people who aren’t us, we look to others to sort things out.

This is short-sighted and wrong. Whether we’re talking about climate change, social equality or animal welfare, we need to recognise that we as individuals have a vital role to play in making things better. We can’t just ignore things and hope that someone else will take the initiative. And we can’t expect our political leaders to stick their necks out on difficult issues if we don’t show them that we care.

Solving the problems that we as a society face will require difficult decisions and more than a little bit of hard work. But we can’t keep sticking our heads in the sand. We’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked. We need to take responsibility for our problems, so that we can work together to address them. And we need to do so now.

So next time you go out for a meal, ask your waiter or waitress where the restaurant sources its ingredients. And if you don’t like the answer, or if they’re not able to give you one, then do the right thing and take your custom elsewhere.