Le site de la Chaire d’études Europe-Russie de l’UCLouvain
Sometimes the quick fix isn’t the right option.

Do EU sanctions make sense? That’s the question that comes to my mind every day as I follow EU news. Whenever I try to answer that question, I spiral down into an abyss of nuances.

Traditionally, my answer would revolve around breaking down the goals: what does «efficiency» mean? Does it mean stopping the Kremlin from crushing Ukraine? Evidence shows that sanctions do not affect the aggressors’ intentions. Does it mean signaling the strongest possible opposition to Russia’s actions? Then yes, sanctions partly work, although they contain exemptions, transition periods, and all sorts of technical opt-outs that make them incomplete. And yes there are loopholes, which gamblers and unconvinced partners exploit, not to mention the innumerable side effects such as surging prices that fill up the Russian state’s war chest.

I just can’t give a simple answer, because the question is flawed. So I usually lose my audience’s attention and patience shortly before the third nuance.

But today, as I was trying to figure out what’s going to be for dinner tonight (everything is slightly more complicated with three kids to feed during a self-imposed fasting time), the revelation came. EU sanctions are best explained through vegetarianism. Here’s why.

1. As a vegetarian, your primary goal is to opt out of a system – as a principle, as a way of life, as a philosophy. You know you won’t break the system by refraining to eat the dead animal, but you just won’t have your family eat it.

2. It’s not easy to stop, and your kid will moan in front of the lentil soup. He longs for a burger. You try to brush it off with stories of industrial farming, food processing, suffering, fear and blood. That kid, if left to his craving, will fall for the quick fix. And so will the rest of the world. You want to tell him he wouldn’t fall for it, if only he knew what lies behind each bite.

3. You have to search for alternatives, because your body still needs protein. Those alternatives are not easy to find and are much more expensive. You sometimes have to turn to absurdly expensive suppliers – say, for example, that organic shop outside the shopping mall. Their chicken nuggets are a rip-off and won’t taste like the real thing. And for that makeshift food, they will take the money that you otherwise need for something you like.

4. Your schedule is a mess because you have to start soaking lentils, chopping veggies, and dusting trays.

5. Despite your efforts and your sky-rocketing expenses, you won’t even make so much as a dent in the powerful meat industry. You wish you could do more, but you can’t go and blow up every meat processing plant because you’re neither a warrior nor an anarchist.

6. On top of that, your vegan friends still despise you for consuming eggs and dairy, which keep the enemy’s industry rolling. They tell you you should be brave enough to walk the extra mile and live off chickpeas, oil, and flour.

Even though you can’t change the system, despite those costs that will impose other sacrifices, despite the dizzying smell of your neighbor’s barbecue, despite the flaws in the tofu industry, and despite knowing it’s never going to be enough, you stick to the principle because you believe it is the right thing to do – and because it’s the only thing you can do. And that’s what you want to tell the world: join me because you know that the world would be a better place if you did.

I am not saying anyone should be a vegetarian, nor that sanctions are the world’s greatest idea, but I do think that this metaphor explains a lot of the rationale behind the sanctions.
Mum’s wisdom sometimes makes political science a lot clearer.

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