Blog

Vegan Exposures in the Latest Sustainable Events in D.C.

From the Food Tank Summit to the Green Festival Expo, springtime in Washington D.C. is seeing the sustainable food revolution heating up. Danielle Nierenberg, founder and president of Food Tank, started off the summit by saying, “I’m frankly tired of hearing about how bad things are … we are here to focus on innovative solutions.” Solutions are being applied to make changes in the real world.

At the 2016 Food Tank Summit, 70 farmers, chefs, scholars, business owners, policy makers, writers, reporters, and activists shared the latest trends and actions in the sustainable food and agriculture movement. Topics include interdisciplinary collaborations, nutrients in foods, protein of the future, food and national security, food waste and recovery, progresses in policy, investment and entrepreneurship, organic food and agriculture, social equity and fair trade, and last but not least, family farmers who lead the change with their hands.

The summit set a stage where global-level challenges in the food and agriculture system were presented, and cutting-edge efforts at local and community levels organically blended into the picture. By connecting knowledge, experience, and passion, both face to face and through touch screens, interactions that took place during the two days are able to inspire, motivate, and accelerate actions around the world.

Leslie Barcus speaking at the “Protein of the Future” panel.

At the panel on sustainable protein sources, alternatives from organic grass-fed beef to cricket powder were discussed, while Leslie Barcus, president of VegFund pointed out that plant-based proteins can meet the nutrient needs of humans. And although some ideal animal farming practices, such as regenerative grazing, value the interconnection and interdependence in the ecosystem and refrain from harming predators, Leslie highlighted the real threat posed by many sustainable animal farming operations to wild predators like coyotes.

During the Q&A session of the panel, comments and questions from the audience repeatedly emphasized that animal products are not the only source of protein, and that plant-based proteins contribute more to people’s health while lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and type-2 diabetes.

Vegan lunch option

Screenshot 2016-05-18 09.20.55

Vegan lunch option

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VegFund also sponsored vegan lunch options during the summit, provided by Calabash on the first day and PEP Foods on the second day. The foundation also contributed to the Green Festival Expo in Washington D.C., which went a step further – all the foods and drinks at the food court were vegetarian, most vegan, provided by Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar and Nyota’s Ting International Vegetarian Catering Company.

A strong theme of plant-based living could be found among many speakers at the expo, from the experience of fighting obesity and reversing disease, to building “vegan muscles”. The screening of the documentary Cowspiracy occupied the lunchtime slots at the center stage for two days, attracting a good audience.

Exhibitors at the expo also shared their stories and visions about plant-based lifestyles. Sherimane, owner of the NaturallySweet Desserts vegan bakery, gradually went off medication by switching to a vegan diet. As a real life example, Sherimane is helping customers enjoy healthy eating and healthy lives.

Screenshot 2016-05-18 09.25.07

Vegan dessert at the Green Festival Expo

Photographs by Wanqing Zhou

A Vegan in Norway: Food, Policy, and Public Attitudes (Part II)

April 1, 2016

Mia MacDonald traveled to Norway in October 2015 to visit the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and to be a tourist.  This blog is the first in what will be a four-part series on her experiences and observations related to food, policy, and public attitudes. Here’s a snippet from the blog (which can be read in its entirety here):

Wangari Maathai House

I’d planned my trip to Norway with two main aims: first, to visit the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, which documents and celebrates the life and work of Nobel peace laureates. My trip to Oslo in 2004 was for what I expect will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I went to attend the Nobel peace prize ceremonies for my mentor and all-time heroine, Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and campaigner for democratic space, equitable and sustainable development, and women’s equality. Wangari was the first African woman and first environmentalist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for peace. A project to honor her legacy and ensure her pioneering work reaches new generations, the Wangari Maathai House, is being launched in Nairobi. I’ll have a role in making it a reality.

Viking ship

My second reason was to be a tourist. I wanted to visit Oslo’s best-known museums, spanning thousand year-old Viking ships and the expressionist art of Edvard Munch, see the new waterfront opera house where you can walk on the roof, and also experience Norwegian nature like fjords, mountains, and intact glaciers.

I arrived near the end of Norway’s summer. It’s a short season of long, warm, sunny days and usually blue skies that helps Norwegians endure the equally long, cold, dark winters. When I was in Oslo in 2004, there wasn’t any snow, but the sun was setting at 3:30 in the afternoon and rising about 9:30 in the morning, making those the shortest days I’d ever experienced.

My first night in Oslo in August, I’d gone for a walk to the City Hall where the Nobel peace prize is given to refresh my memory of those events. Along the curved street that leads up to the hall, I spotted a branch of 7-11, the U.S. convenience store. Oh, no, I thought: how ugly, how unhealthy. How could a 7-11 be located here, directly across from the City Hall where I’d attended the elegant Nobel ceremony? It depressed me to see this outpost of fast food culture – one of the worst U.S. exports to the world — here in the heart of Oslo.

Fragrance of the Heart

But then I saw something encouraging and also surprising (I hadn’t yet accessed the Vegan Oslo app). Across the traffic circle, on the same curved street as the 7-11, was a vegetarian restaurant, Fragrance of the Heart. It was open. And it was busy. Wow, I thought, dinner wouldn’t have to be an apple or some dried nuts after all.

Fragrance of the Heart became a place I went to eat lunch or dinner, or to have a soy café latte, every day but one that I was in Oslo. The food was hearty, as opposed to gourmet: flavorful and filling “comfort food” like quiches, vegetable pies, wraps, soups, salads, along with quite a few desserts. There were vegan and gluten-free options, and plenty of coffee and several non-dairy milks to drink with it. Fragrance of the Heart used this as a marketing point (it advertised its “coffee club” on signs) and probably an entry point for people who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily go to a vegetarian restaurant.

So what did I eat? Lentil soup, spinach soup, a thick gluten-free vegetable pie made from cauliflower and various grains, and green salads with a light dressing that was very good. I always felt full when I left Fragrance of the Heart. Come to think of it, I never ate any of the desserts. What I liked about the restaurant in addition to the food was the atmosphere. It was casual and friendly, and also international. I heard people speaking lots of languages: English and Norwegian (of course), as well as German, Chinese, Japanese, and European languages I didn’t recognize.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.31.11 PM

Sri Chinmoy

The workers, all men when I visited, came from across Europe. A few had actually just been in New York, because Fragrance of the Heart is, not entirely unlike 7-11, part of a chain of sorts. The restaurant is one piece of the legacy of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual teacher. For many years until he died in 2007, Sri Chinmoy was based in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City. (I live in another one, Brooklyn.) Some of his disciples run restaurants in cities around the world that are also centers for sharing Sri Chinmoy’s teachings, his meditation instruction, as well as his music (mainly flute) and art.

But the “selling” of Sri Chinmoy was soft; you weren’t pushed to consume the philosophy with the food. The prices were fair, too: between $15 and $20 for each of my meals. That seemed about right. Fragrance of the Heart has another branch in Oslo, also centrally located, near the main pedestrian street, Karl Johanns. I stopped by that one, too, to pick up a cookie my last night in Norway.

 

A Vegan in Norway: Food, Policy, and Public Attitudes

Mia MacDonald traveled to Norway in October 2015 to visit the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and to be a tourist  This blog is the first in what will be a four-part series on her experiences and observations during the trip. 

Oslo, Norway’s capital, has a reputation, which is deserved, for being expensive. When I visited the city 10 years ago, I recall eating a salad for lunch that cost about U.S.$25. It was very good, full of fresh field greens and raw vegetables. But the cost was about 2.5 times what it would have been in New York City, where I live and most often eat. So when I went back to Oslo in August, I planned to eat as little as I could and as cheaply. I was curious about whether veg*n cuisine had taken hold in Norway and how “veg-friendly” Oslo would be. I hoped I’d have more options to eat well and affordably than I’d had in 2004. I figured I wouldn’t eat a salad like that again, given the price!

Grand Hotel

To be fair, I’d eaten that salad at the café of the Grand Hotel, an Oslo landmark. The Grand is not only luxurious but also historic. It’s where Nobel peace laureates are lodged when they receive their prize each December 10th. American TV icon Oprah Winfrey stayed here when she hosted the Nobel peace prize concert in 2004 (which I attended). Norwegian writers and artists like Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch, used to eat lunch in the Grand Hotel’s café a century or so ago. (I learned at Oslo’s Ibsen Museum that, despite knowing many of his fellow diners in the café, Ibsen rarely spoke to any of them, including his friend the painter Munch.)

Street Vegetable Stand

So before I left New York I did some research and was surprised and pleased to find a Vegan Oslo website that helpfully offered a Vegan Oslo app that I downloaded to my phone. My expectations, though, weren’t high. “Their diet is the worst,” a friend, not a Norwegian herself, told me. She recounted meals full of meat (lamb, mutton and “cured” meats like sausages) or fish (mainly salmon), potatoes and cheese, and with very few vegetables.

My friend’s perception showed up in the data. Norwegians eat relatively high levels of meat: 66 kilograms a year each (more than in China), along with a lot of cheese. They even outdo Americans. Each Norwegian ate an average of 18.1 kgs of cheese in 2013, while in the U.S. the total was 15.4 kgs each. And data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization shows consumption of meat in Norway rising, at least through 2011.

Streets of Oslo

In line with its small population of 5.1 million people, Norway has a relatively small livestock sector. But livestock are Norway’s main agricultural “product.” The sector’s shape, though, is changing. The number of cows in Norway fell by 16 percent between 2000 and 2010, to about 600,000. And the number of number of pigs and chickens rose a lot, as it is in many countries: the population of pigs grew by 16 percent, while the number of poultry (mainly chickens) leaped up by about 50 percent. Of course, like the rest of Europe and other developed countries, industrial animal agriculture exists in Norway.

Conditions tend to be more intensive – and worse overall – for pigs and chickens than they are for cows used for meat or dairy. At the same time and again, like people in other parts of Europe, animal welfare and “healthy food” rank high for Norwegians, according to a 2013 survey of agricultural policies. Reducing food prices was given much lower priority by those participating in the survey, and the use of GM (genetically modified) seeds wasn’t popular with Norwegians at all.

Vegetarian Cafe

More recently, the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) wanted to find out if Norwegians knew about the effects of livestock production on global greenhouse gas emissions, and if they cared enough to take action. Their survey found that to lower their “ecological footprint”, 51 percent of Norwegians had reduced electricity use. But a much smaller proportion,14 percent, said they’d eaten less meat. The researchers blame Norway’s media for giving very little attention to the environmental and climate change impacts of meat production and consumption. Norway’s politicians also don’t have a consistent position on the issue.

Plus, the SIFO observed, agricultural interests and environmentalists’ perspectives on meat vie with each other in the media, leaving many Norwegians “hoe-hum” or confused. That’s unfortunate. From another perspective, however, the SIFO survey results are encouraging. It means that almost 750,000 people in Norway are eating less meat on ecological grounds. How many countries would have 14 percent of their people doing this? It’s hard to think of any, apart from the United Kingdom.

 

An Environmental Studies Education Minus the Food: What Do Students Studying Environmental Studies Know About The U.S. Dietary Guidelines?

As discussed in a previous blog post, The U.S. dietary guidelines were recently released without including recommendations on sustainability and more sustainable ways of eating (i.e., less meat, more plants). As an environmental studies major at New York University, I was curious to learn how informed my colleagues were about these guidelines. Since this seemed to be such a significant loss for the environmental community, I expected that many students would be aware of this decision. To find out, I surveyed 55 university students. I asked a series of questions which included:

  1. Are you an environmental studies major or minor?

 18% Yes

  1. Did you know that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines existed before taking this survey?

25% Yes

  1. Did you know that a sustainability element was potentially going to be included in the guidelines released this year?

5% Yes

  1. Did you know that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines that were published did not include these sustainability criteria?

5% Yes

  1. Do you care that this was not included? Why or why not?

82% Yes

  1. Do you think the government can/should encourage people to eat more sustainably? If so, how?

91% Yes

When reviewing the survey results, I was shocked to find that 18% of the students surveyed were studying environmental studies as a major or minor but only 5% of students knew that new guidelines were published this year. Of this 5%, some were not even environmental studies students.

How is it possible that those students who are majoring in environmental studies know so little about the U.S. Dietary Guidelines? As an environmental studies student, I feel that food is often overlooked and not seen as one of the most important climate change issues. Although I have learned about food in some of my classes, and there are many electives centered around food, it does not seem to be a concern for the majority of students. This became very clear with the results of my survey. I strongly feel that this issue needs to be “brought to the table,” most especially in the classroom of those aspiring environmentalists, because the way we eat does have a significant impact on the environment.

Survey pg. 2

Survey pg. 1

 

Photo Credit: Natalie Petrulla and www.timigustafson.com

 

 

Animal Farming and Planet Health at COP21

This blog is part of Wanqing Zhou’s longer report on her work at COP21 in Paris, France in December 2015. To read that longer blog entry, click here.

Brighter Green’s side events took place in the second week, when the number of other side events related to meat production and consumption also increased. These stimulated the discussion on animal farming and its impacts on climate change, environmental pollution, food security, and public health. Experience of dietary change was also a hot topic, with philosophical reflection on the widespread overconsumption of meat and in general, on the differences between typical western and eastern views of nature and health, and on whether meat, eggs, and dairy should be categorized as foods at all.

wanqing_speaking_cop21_dec9

Wanqing speaking at Brighter Green’s side event on December 9.

It is not clear how many people in the group are already following a vegetarian or vegan diet, but among those who actively participated in the discussion, at least half were not. However, based on the discussion, consensus was that a plant-based diet is better for the health of people and the environment.

This perspective is also reflected in the comments under “COP21 Side Events Call for Less Meat Consumption and Less Emissions”, an article by Ling Wang and published on Caixin.com. Among a dozen comments, more than half supported the idea of eating less meat. Examples include:

“This is not a joke. It is actually the same as calling for green transport and energy saving,”

“We indeed need to reduce meat intake,”

“A plant-based diet is better for the environment,” and

yummy meal

One of Wanqing’s climate-friendly meals in Paris.

“Zero meat consumption is also doable.”

Hongqiao Liu from the Earth Journalism Network also reported on the Brighter Green side event, as well as the neglected issue of meat in the climate negotiations.

The role of regenerative grazing was brought up by some WeChat group participants who followed this method in their research. It was agreed that although regenerative grazing, when done correctly, can help restore ecosystems and sink organic carbon into the soil, more research is needed to study the effectiveness of this practice in different areas, and better farm-level measurement is needed to show the net climate impact on commercial stocking rates, before it is used to encourage the consumption of “carbon-sink meats”.

VegPlanet post including Wanqing’s coverage from COP21.

This is especially true in developed countries like the U.S., where per capita meat consumption has already exceeded threefold a level that poses serious threats to human health. At the same time, as shown in the WeChat group discussion, an increasing number of people in China, where the per capita meat consumption is 50% lower than that in the U.S., are waking up to the fact that the human body doesn’t require animal-based foods to be healthy.

On December 7, excerpts from the first week of group discussion were edited into a WeChat article and posted on VegPlanet, the largest vegan online platform in China, and reached nearly 1800 readers. It is encouraging to see the general public becoming increasingly concerned about the problems of livestock production and overconsumption, and sharing their opinions openly using information technologies to benefit more people. One year after we launched the WeChat Monthly Global Dialogue, our readership and volunteer group continues to grow, and we are seeing richer involvement in the discussion. Looking forward, activities like this are leading towards not only raised awareness, but also real actions for a more sustainable food system.

Photo Credit: Wanqing Zhou