The Good Advice Prince Philip Never Gave

Apr 28, 2021 | CULTURE, Europe, NEWS, Op-Ed

Prince Philip Death Announcement ©Garry Knight

The passing of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a sombre occasion that allows Britons to ponder the values that the war generation brought to the world, a call of remembrance that is increasingly rare and therefore all the more valuable. 

One finds it in other countries too, with a few minor changes. Three years ago, the death of US Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, brought tributes from near and far.

The urge to invoke a ‘good war’ or ‘people’s war’ narrative runs strong at times like these, and yet the war generation weren’t saints.  As a naval man, Prince Philip knew what it was to serve overseas, but through it all his values and his sense of humour remained fixed in a particular time even as other people moved on.  Nobody remembers the general content of his speech to the World Wildlife Fund in 1986, but this little titbit had a long afterlife: 

“If it has four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”

One suspects this quotation hasn’t featured in the eulogies, though that is as much because of its pertinence as its impertinence.  Simply put, Prince Philip had voiced a general truth that ought never to have been voiced.  Nor has the passage of time lessened its import.  On the contrary, the spiraling death toll visited upon the world as a result of a demand for ‘wild menu options’ (in Southeast Asia as well as China) only burnishes its truth value.  In hindsight, the surprise is not that the natural world has repaid humanity for its encroachments by encroaching upon it in turn but that it took as long as it did to begin.

Queen, Prince Philip at Centennial Celebrations, Ottawa 1967

The Queen, Canada’s Secretary of State Judy LaMarsh and Prince Philip watching a children’s folk concert 1967 | CC Ross Dunn

Again, Prince Philip’s example was, let us say, not above reproach in that regard.  He shot a tiger during a hunt in Ranthambore in 1961 and went on numerous safaris over the years.  These biographical details provide a cautionary tale against moral one-upmanship.  But as shocking as they now seem, they pale into insignificance compared with the COVID-induced destruction of African megafauna happening today.  Across the continent, anti-poaching rangers have reported a dramatic increase in the number of snares and illegally butchered carcasses (mostly lions, rhinos, and other rare creatures).

Desperation lies at the heart of it.  Whole communities now find themselves out of work, owing to job losses inflicted upon them by the lockdown measures.  These impoverished black men understand that poaching is against their long-term interests, especially given that safari tourists generally expect to see animals roaming the savanna rather than turning on a spit roast.  Even so, few other options present themselves.

Poaching is the completion of an extremely vicious circle, the two ends of which each involve carnivorous eating habits.  To any sane person, these twinned developments carry an urgent message:  as long as humanity’s hunger for meat products remains unaddressed, the risk of another pandemic will grow ever higher.

Prince Philip Daoists at Windsor Castle

Prince Philip has been supporting many religions around the world in protecting the environment. His most recent official engagement to support ARC in 2017 at Windsor Castle near London, with three Daoist Masters coming from China to talk about the environmental challenges, and how they are. 

Dancing with death as we now do, it does not seem racist to question the rapaciousness of Chinese eating habits.  Rather, it is simply sensible.  But it is even more sensible to ask why the average number of vegetarians in the entire world is only around 5%.  Nobody can know whether coronavirus would have arisen if the number were inversed and only 5% of the world ate meat.  Still, it’s likely that the times we live in would look rather different than they do today.

Prince Philip wasn’t snooty about his food, had no time for anti-hunting ‘bunny-huggers’ and apparently enjoyed venison and wild game as much as farmed produce.  Had he lived to be a centenarian, he would likely have argued that it is both pointless and joyless to take up a position of militant vegetarianism.  But as a man who gave his name to one of the most famous awards for youth activities, now operating internationally and aimed at self-improvement, he might also have granted that flexitarianism or ‘casual vegetarianism’ deserves a brownie point or two.  After all, it may be the first step back from the brink.

 The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors.