Moving to a plant-based diet is one of the top things we can do to stop climate change. Photo by William Felker/Unsplash
We must believe that we are capable of creating “a place of love and mutual assistance and understanding.” This is how visionary Tim Berners-Lee described the utopianist John Perry Barlow at the time of his death, adding: “I don’t think he was naïve.”
Our current climate change crisis calls for this type of bold, inspiring and transformative action. The book Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan to Reverse Global Warming, put out by Project Drawdown, explains, maps, measures and models solutions that are already in place.
“Drawing down” occurs when we succeed in reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on a year-to-year basis. This is not a daydream. We are currently achieving this on a small scale. If we scale up these efforts we can reverse global warming.
Escalating climate change need not be inevitable like the duration of this summer’s extreme heat. It is not too vast or too hard or too complex for us to tackle. It is the most important goal for humanity to undertake at this time.
Eight of the top 25 actions to achieve this reversal involve food. Each one of us can rethink the food we are producing, eating and wasting. And we can call for more government and industry action to support sustainable food systems.
The World Peace Diet offers one way. This diet encourages mindful eating. Advocates say that many animal-based eaters become so largely because of cultural, social and familial pressures. They argue that it is not necessary to carry on these unexamined and outmoded traditions.
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Food impacts everything
Eating is personal, public and political and impacts all aspects of human life. Nothing more fully and powerfully influences the daily lives of everyone than our food, food choices and food systems. Food is a tool to nourish life but also for taking political action and for averting the dangers of climate change and preventing unnecessary harm.
If we shift to plant-based diets and plant-rich living, our water, land and fuel will be used more efficiently and ethically. When we channel grains and legumes to animals and away from human consumption we make it more challenging for small producers to compete in the global supply chain and for the poor to obtain adequate nourishment.
An array of problems arise from animal agriculture — diet-related diseases, food insecurity and inequality, hunger as well as obesity, escalating health-care costs, animal commodification, along with water and air pollution, biodiversity loss and soil deterioration and land degradation.
As it takes many times the resources to produce the same amount of food through animal products, eating more plants and less meat, dairy and eggs would enable a fairer distribution of the world’s food and resources.
Many researchers and activists are calling for more sustainable global food systems.
A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on “livestock’s long shadow” shows that animal agriculture — meat production and consumption — is heating up and polluting the planet’s resources.
Sustainability researcher Marco Springmann and his team, with the Future of Food project and the British Heart Foundation predict that the global adoption of a vegetarian diet would result in 7.3 million less deaths per year. A massive swing to a vegan diet, experts say, would result in additional prevention of obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular mortality.
The Plant-based Prevention Of Disease conference, hosts events to educate the public that plant-based diets can prevent diseases. And Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, a political, social and spiritual movement challenges us when saying, “If we can live well without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn’t we?”
Leaders of such organisations imagine a world where all beings are fed, loved and nurtured. It seems such imaginings offer pretty good returns. We will all benefit from the outcomes of this type of diet change: people will be healthier, there will be less premature death and disability, and provincial budgets could save some resources to attend to additional priorities beyond health care.
Plant-rich living, mindful eating
Animals suffer and lose their lives to the food system, but workers in slaughterhouses also face precarious, psychologically demanding, low-paying jobs.
As writer Jonathan Safran Foer suggests, this system often treats “living animals like dead ones.” Human workers fare only slightly better. Slaughterhouse work is physically demanding and exacts significant mental and emotional strain.
Maybe our ignorance is not so surprising. The opaque nature of our food systems - including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) - is by design. Ag-Gag laws, are present in “virtually every significant livestock producing state.” These laws make it a “crime for anyone, including employees of CAFOs, to take pictures that document animal abuse or environmental violations.”
When it comes to food choices, we are encouraged not to examine exploitative relationships with animals or other people. Humans have become ‘rationalizing, ready to disregard science, morals and our well-being, so we can slaughter and consume animals.
By reducing animal agriculture, we also could improve health, stabilize grain prices, enhance food security and prevent unnecessary harm and violence. Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet says:
“Food is a source and metaphor of life, love, generosity, celebration, pleasure, reassurance, acquisition and consumption. While concurrently, it can be a metaphor of control, domination, cruelty, and death. Eating can be a purposeful, intimate act, a regime of self-care and love, and a powerful political message.” In the wise words of the Lorax by Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
We can choose a non-violent lifestyle. We could choose not to take a life to eat. We could eat an array of nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables to meet our nutritional requirements without giving up on taste or satisfaction.
Movie director, James Cameron isn’t launching the biggest pea protein production facility in Canada because he thinks it will be an idea that will fade. This is the way forward.
Peas are loaded with helpful vitamins like K that strengthens bone health. They provide high fiber, low fat and a powerful source of vegetable protein. And when fresh they taste like summer in your mouth.
Choosing peas can help to build the place of love and mutual assistance and understanding that John Perry Barlow envisioned. Food could be our greatest vehicle for more peaceful, mindful and sustainable living.
About The Author
Kathleen Kevany, Associate Professor Sustainable Food Systems, Director of Rural Research Centre, Dalhousie University