Why “Food for a Compassionate World”?

Why “Food for a Compassionate World”? Migrating From Locavore to #WFPB
(From Madison’s Perspective)

Hello! Madison here. I hope you read Henry’s Food for Thought, because mine is written as a follow-up of sorts, since he hit on all the big points.

I will freely admit I was a skeptic about whole foods and plant-based diets for a long time. I still am sometimes. I had so many questions, but my biggest qualm was (and still is) the transportation costs of eating fresh veggies in the middle of winter, shipped from warmer places far away. I still have a stubborn commitment to eating local. But are the stakes of global climate change high enough to merit cutting animal products out of my diet? (Absolutely.) Why plant-based whole foods? (Health, sustainability, ethics… Let me count the ways!) Why now? (Climate change.)

My answer is always to think globally and act locally. But the global picture of climate change, human population, and human health is much more complex than we ever imagined. And that’s why I’ve said “yes” to #wfpb.

My diet through high school until this year was informed by the local foods movement (which isn’t that different from the #wfpb movement). The local foods movement hinges on two primary ideals: Circumvent the transportation systems that guzzle gasoline, and empower the local community.

A component of the local food movement is meat, especially in cold places like Wisconsin. What can we possibly eat that is “local” in Wisconsin during the winter, when school gets cancelled for “cold days” because it’s so cold the busses can’t run? Whatever veggies and fruit we have preserved…and meat. Everything else is getting shipped in from somewhere warmer, and shipping leads to an appalling amount of CO2.

Being a locavore is a small piece of activism that I can offer as a young person in a rapidly warming world. And it’s still true, no matter how much we don’t like to think about it, the world is falling apart from climate change. I don’t think I need to regale you with details, although I’m sure I will in a future post, but the latest news is that the CO2 levels have just had their highest yearly “low point” of 400ppm. A whopping 350ppm is the highest the planet can sustain. If this is news to you, it’s time to get informed.

This year, my brother started getting informed too. He was initially concerned about the health impact of animal products, and stumbled upon the vast environmental impact of animal agriculture. He came to a different conclusion: beyond just local foods, animal agriculture is having an enormous environmental and health impact. He read Colin Campbell’s book, and watched documentaries about nutrition and animal agriculture. In order to stay connected with him, and because we have a common interest now that is fun to talk about, I watched these movies too and I’m reading some of the books.

I’m realizing that global problems are never quite as simple as they seem. Global climate change is linked to public health crises (such as obesity and heart disease epidemics) through animal agriculture. Not only that, but global human population is reaching a point where we’re using resources on this planet much faster than we will ever be able to replenish them. As much as I hope my ideal dietary source of a happy cow grazing on pasture can be an option for everyone, I also realize that it is a privilege to even live in a place where there’s enough land to graze cattle. Thinking globally, there is not enough land, there is too much methane, and diet-related diseases are on the rise. The Earth is asking us for some pretty drastic lifestyle changes to maintain our relationship with her and her bounty. (Yes, I’m crunchy-hippie-granola like that.)

I’m a huge fan of problem-solving. (Aren’t we all?) My calling is to figure out what I can do and how I can help other people in my community respond to these national and global issues. And that brings me back to diet.

A plant-based diet of whole foods (#wfpb) is light enough on the planet that 7 billion-plus people can eat that way. #wfpb diets require the least amount of CO2, especially when they focus on local foods (and don’t even get me started on the awesomeness and abundance of wild-gathered foods in our own backyards!). And there is growing evidence that we can get all the nutrition we need from plants – and potentially even better nutrition at that!

I have to come clean and say that I do sometimes eat very small portions of local meat, but I now have a renewed commitment to only eat local meat in the winter (December-February) and I’m going to stick to that. I also eat eggs that I buy from a friend who raises chickens in her backyard because, with my student lifestyle, sometimes I need something simple and filling. Lastly, I have a “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” rule that if I am served a meal with animal products by a host, I will not decline the food they have put energy and love into making for me. (If they want to be accommodating, I’ll offer to help cook a vegan meal with them or send along simple recipe ideas.)

Henry doesn’t have any of these caveats and sticks to a pure #wfpb diet, primarily for ethical reasons as well as health, and that’s one area where you will probably get some entertaining discourse from this blog. I hope that our back-and-fourths are as entertaining for you as they are for us! But what we do agree on is the health and sustainability of #wfpb diets, which is what brought us together on this project.

I’ve just made some pretty broad claims, but hey, this is just my first blog post! Stay tuned and we’ll hash some of it out together, Henry and I, and we hope you’ll get in touch with us with your questions and comments too.

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