A Wake-Up Call From My Generation Z Son

Originally printed in the July 2020 issue of Produce Business.

Some weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to write a column on how (or whether) Generation Z’s view on the world has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. I started discussing it with my 23-year-old son Milan, who was temporarily staying with us. When The Netherlands went into a so-called ‘intelligent lockdown’, he was the first to move to our family home in solidarity with the government’s guidelines. His reason for going into self-isolation at home? ‘I am not doing it for myself, I am doing it to protect others’.

At first, our discussions around Generation Z and COVID-19 outbreak were fairly superficial. Milan bought a Nintendo Switch to curb his restlessness with having nothing to do. We laughed as we reminisced about his famous Pokemon battles with his brothers when they were small. We had a fight because Milan felt that my wife and I eat too much red meat. We spoke about not being able to hug his 92-year-old Grandma. All sort of ‘normal’ stuff for a father-son discussion.

And then George Floyd died. The videos of his death went viral. I saw my son, Nintendo Switch in hand, becoming more and more agitated. Instead of having to deal with questions to which I had no answers, I asked him to write up his thoughts. This is Milan’s letter to me….

‘True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute.’

Desmond Tutu
Milan Eric Jooste

‘Dad, yesterday I realised that no matter how much you argue against it, for me it is more than clear that the world is at a turning point. People everywhere are watching as the situation in the United States unfolds. As a Generation Z citizen, I believe that we are sure to see a mass revolution of the mind very soon.

Yesterday, I was standing on the famous Dam Square in Amsterdam along with 5,000 others. People from all backgrounds and all walks of life were there with one common goal: to amplify the voices of the black people who were present. This protest was to show solidarity with the victims of police violence, but it was also there to show that people are fed up living in a system that puts our fellow men at a disadvantage. This letter is not about foreign politics; it is aimed to give you a look into my mind.

Looking around yesterday, I could see people from four generations who were present. From grandmothers who were standing there in solidarity despite being part of a risk group for COVID-19, to toddlers, unaware of the change that they are witnessing. Some of these children may become tomorrow’s civil rights leaders. Observing and trying to comprehend what was happening in the world, I understood that somehow the solution lies in education. In the words of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.

People of my generation have all the information in the world available at their fingertips. With this growing awareness of, and exposure to, global issues, we are also starting to care more and more about things that don’t directly affect us. What is the direct result of what we spend our money on? Can the money I spend today not only provide me with sustenance, but can it also provide someone else with safe housing? Healthcare? Education?

I personally believe that the discontent that Gen Z is feeling comes from what we have inherited. We didn’t start the industrial revolution, yet we are reaping what was once sowed. We didn’t ask for the earth’s oldest forests to be cut down to make way for animal agriculture, yet we are left with the damage. The realisation that the actions of the ones who came before us have a direct result on the ones who are yet to be born, weighs heavy on us all.

This is why the rise of veganism and vegetarianism is many times higher in my generation than in other generations. We know that what we eat and how we eat it directly influences the state of the world and the ones working to grow that food.

The power of Generation Z – and others like us – is that one day we will be your only clientele. We will be the ones that will need to be marketed to. We will have to be provided with reasons why we should buy your products. I urge you to listen to the younger generations; we are on the frontlines of the social and environmental revolutions.

When I told you about my plans to join the protest in Amsterdam, you asked me what about the risk of COVID-19. I did not answer. Today I can honestly tell you that my generation is prepared to put ourselves at risk to fight for social and environmental justice. Would you do the same?

Love you lots,