Forward: Again this week I am away on a great adventure to the West coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Again, I have been lucky in that someone has stepped up to help write the forward to the weekly Top 5 for us. With much gratitude, I hand over the weekly Top 5 to Laura C. Laura is an environmental and animal protection advocate focused on building a sustainable food system, and is the Campaigns Director at the Better Food Foundation.
Hello, Happy Eco News readers! My name is Laura, and I’m writing to you from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where I’ve recently made a home for my pitbull mix, potbellied big, and myself, nestled between the trees and the winding Shenandoah River. I’ve always been drawn to the serenity of nature, which somehow keeps me grounded in this chaotic world—but this week, the sobering news of the fires engulfing much of the West Coast of the US leaves me feeling anxious and unhinged.
Resilience is the word I keep returning to over and over this year, as crisis after crisis comes barreling through—coronavirus, injustices, disasters fueled by climate change. Even after all this, recovery is in our blood, and in nature’s roots. But to help our precious ecosystems and our own communities blossom anew, we must forge a resilient new normal. Things simply can’t return to the way they were before.
One of this week’s top headlines from the Sierra Club declares: “The End of Oil Is Near.” As the pandemic swept the world, the ensuing oil glut quickly became a tsunami, the author writes. Then posited the International Energy Agency: “The energy industry that emerges from the crisis will be significantly different from the one before,” as it urged governments worldwide to use this unique opportunity to invest in alternative energies for “a more resilient and cleaner-energy future.”
There’s that word again: resilient. I can’t help but draw parallels to the other ways in which everyday life has seemingly crumbled in recent months, only to present us with fresh new ways to rebuild, in healthier and more sustainable directions than before. In April, Tyson Foods took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, proclaiming that “the food supply chain is breaking.” Sick workers and plant shutdowns halted meat production and left farmers “depopulating” animals who were backing up on farms.
In reality, the pandemic only lifted the veil over the fragility of our food system. For decades, we’ve been fed a harmful default: cheap meat from factory farms, on which 99 percent of the animals we eat are confined, consuming enormous land and water resources. Eating these animals actually magnifies our own resource consumption: for every 100 calories of grain that is fed to cows, only three calories of beef are produced. And every pound of beef requires up to 8,000 gallons of water, while the equivalent amount of tofu only needs about 300 gallons.
Here’s where opportunity enters: In the midst of disaster, it’s easier than ever to see how swapping beans for beef and chickpeas for chicken can lessen our footprint—and even more so than cutting off the water while we brush our teeth and turning off the lights when we leave a room. Through this tragedy, more and more people have been embracing a more resilient default, ushering in the biggest decline in meat consumption in decades. National Geographic recently reported that almost half of American millennials have been going meatless more often. Globally, a full 70 percent of the population is reducing or eliminating their meat intake, and sustainable plant proteins are flying off the shelves.
Centering veggies in our meals and on menus (which can reduce the selection of animal products by around 80 percent) can give us hope for our climate and our future. This shift is needed on a massive scale, from office parties and cafeterias to conferences and stadiums, but it will pay off. A new study in Nature has revealed that a global move toward plant-based food production has a 66 percent chance of keeping us within 1.5 degrees C of global warming because of increased “carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration.”
Number 5 in this week’s Happy Eco News Top 5; “How to Share Earth with Other Animals,” Treehugger illuminates the ideal of Half-Earth, in which we’d protect half of Earth’s available land for nature to thrive. In this world, “[H]uman society wouldn’t be cleaved from non-human society — we’d still be living among milkweed and monarchs, and even sometimes among bears, panthers, lions, and elephants. The difference, however, is wildlife would also have a safe, stable home of its own.” In Half-Earth, we’d still be interwoven and interconnected.
The good news, reports Treehugger, is that 56 percent of the land “currently has a low human impact.” This idyllic vision thus might not be that far off if we come together at a major, institutional level to protect significant swaths of habitat. And there’s no more powerful way to do so than by dining on healthy plant proteins, which have the potential to cut down on our farmland usage by 75 percent (for scale, that’s about the size of the US, EU, China, and Australia combined). Already, dozens of institutions from coast to coast, like the American Lung Association, Climate Nexus, and the U.S. Climate Action Network, are embracing this versatile concept, called DefaultVeg, by matching their event and office menus with their vision for a healthier planet. Even restaurants and grocery chains are catching on, as with Whole Foods simply swapping vegan mayo into all its prepared dishes in some regions of the US.
To me, there’s something uplifting and calming about building a stronger food system that will truly nourish us along with our relationship with this big blue rock we call home. And we all can become ambassadors for our planet and “nudge” our communities to eat a little lighter and greener by adopting a plant-forward, resilient default right now.
Connect with me on Instagram @DefaultVeg
Happy Eco News, September 14, 2020
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