COP21 Live Dialogue: Engaging the General Public on WeChat

Imagine waking up every morning to fresh event reports on climate change, livestock, and dietary shifts, and contributing to the hot discussion with researchers, practitioners, and activists after dinner. During the 21st Convention of Parties (COP21) in Paris, Brighter Green experimented on such an engaging project using WeChat, a smart phone application phenomenon in China.

WeChat-Logo-vector-imageAlmost everyone in China with a smart phone uses WeChat. It has the function of both WhatsApp and Facebook, allowing group discussions and sharing of photos, articles, and videos with followers. Since December 2014, Brighter Green has organized monthly discussions featuring experts on animal rights, nutrition, and diet, as well as the environment; the series is called Global Dialogue Online.


WFD WeChat group header

In the WeChat group established for a certain topic (e.g. farm sanctuaries, veganism, livestock and climate change, animal protection, etc.), the guest speaker can communicate with an audience in English or Chinese, with nearly simultaneous translation by volunteers. Brighter Green collaborates with What’s For Dinner? director Jian Yi and intern Miao Jie, in addition to a growing group of global volunteers, to coordinate these monthly live chats. Global Dialogue Online is an interactive aspect of the larger What’s For Dinner? (WFD)-themed WeChat group, which posts engaging, rich, unique content articles almost daily. Read More

Rebranding Veganism

By Chloe, a new vegan restaurant that recently opened in Greenwich Village N.Y., has an open atmosphere, trendy décor, and great food, but unlike most vegan restaurants, there is a constant line out the door. More importantly, the majority of these people are not vegan. Every time I eat at By Chloe, an all-vegan restaurant, I hear people whispering in line about how they are not vegan. Could veganism be the new trend?

I decided to investigate this idea by interviewing a variety of non-vegans who have eaten at By Chloe. Their reasons for coming were different. Whether they were dragged by a vegan friend, saw it on social media, or just because it looks like a cute place to dine, everyone agreed that this dining experience changed their perception of what it means to be vegan. Most of the people I interviewed agreed that all vegans were extreme hippies who ate weird foods. Jenny, a student at NYU, said that she thought all vegan food was just an attempt to recreate meat and cheese, particularly because she cannot comprehend how one can eat a full meal without these elements. Regardless of why they came, everyone agreed that the food was delicious. Stephen, a writer in New York City, said that he pitied people who were vegan because they didn’t get to enjoy food, but now he realizes that there are many food options that taste great and that are vegan. He even said that if more restaurants like By Chloe started opening up, he would frequent them. Miriam, another student at NYU, commented that since eating at By Chloe she has tried many other vegan restaurants and has started to lower her meat consumption.

By Chloe Restaurant

Photo credit: By Chloe Restaurant

As this restaurant becomes more popular, perhaps a greater number of people will change their minds (and palates) about what it means to be vegan. Once we realize how easy it is to find great tasting vegan options in New York City, veganism does not seem like such a big obstacle in our quest for tasty food. Thanks to restaurants like By Chloe, veganism is being “rebranded,” making it the new cool, trendy way to eat. Only time will tell if this trend sustains itself and makes veganism a “mainstream” thing, but so far it seems to be moving in the right direction.

Photo Credit: By Chloe restaurant and Natalie Petrulla



African Voices Lead Discussion on Animal Welfare and Livelihoods

Brighter Green and Lantern Books co-hosted a discussion on the future of conservation in Central and East Africa on Tuesday, November 17 in Brooklyn, NY. The three speakers had just arrived from Kenya the night before: Josphat Ngonyo, founder and director of the Nairobi-based Africa Network for Animal Welfare [ANAW], who has more than 15 years of experience in ‪‎wildlife‬ conservation‬; Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich, chair of ANAW’s board of directors and former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service and chair of the National Task Force on Wildlife Crime, and Kahindi Lekalhaile, a wildlife scientist also working with ANAW. Jean Kim Chaix, director of the Virunga Fund, who’d planned to speak but was unable to since he was still in DR Congo, where Virunga National Park is located.

(L-R) Josphat Ngonyo, Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich, and Kahindi Lekalhaile.

Josphat, Amb. Rotich, and Kahindi spoke about the history of ANAW, its current work on both animal welfare‬ and conservation issues (spanning humane education, ‪‎anti-vivisection, and factory farming) and their efforts to protect wildlife and get local people involved in conservation — and ensure they receive its benefits. Amb. Rotich remembered working with Kenyan Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai and how she would hug trees to prevent bulldozers from destroying them. He also recalled how over thirty years ago, newspapers would not cover the topics of wildlife or the environment, but how this has changed. He urged those attending that “we need to work together,” whether it is to help protect trees, wild animals, or domestic animals. The speakers also underlined that when animal welfare is improved, human welfare‬ is improved and that this is a message they hope more people will come to understand in Kenya and elsewhere. Kahindi also discussed the concept of “animal freedom” and ANAW’s work to expand this experience of freedom that, he said, all non-human animals share and desire, whether domestic or wild.

Those in attendance had the chance to ask a few questions. One person wanted to know how local people could be incentivized to protect wildlife. Josphat mentioned that local people need to learn the intrinsic value of wildlife (through education) and how it’s to their benefit to conserve these animals. The speakers also spoke about the colonialist history of national parks and reserves. Since Kenyans generally oppose the government, they are skeptical of government-sponsored wildlife protection programs and generally resist them. In the past, the government has never given the local community the opportunity for ownership and responsibility of these protected lands. Therefore, a popular alternative would be to build more community-supported conservancies, rather than state-sponsored parks. One of the last questions asked was about the issue of food security and the problem posed by increased meat consumption. Companies have been taking advantage of increased food demand by promoting a shift towards more intensive farming (similar to factory farming). However, Kahindi stressed that Kenya has enough food, but the issue is distribution, unrelated to quantity. Lastly, even though there are many advantages to having a plant-based diet, there is a long association of meat with wealth, which makes many hesitant to make this shift.

Afterwards, Brighter Green’s Emily Lavieri-Scull asked each guest some related questions (submitted by followers of our What’s For Dinner?-themed WeChat group in China). VIDEO COMING SOON.

Montreal Vegan Festival – An Exchange on the Food Movement

It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit and windy, but veganism created a hot spot at the heart of Montreal. Organizers of the Montreal Vegan Festival estimated that on November 7th, over 10,000 people were attracted to the rows of vegan product-sampling booths, mouth-watering culinary demonstrations, and eye-opening stories that transformed lives around the world.

As part of the forum, Brighter Green’s documentary What’s For Dinner? was screened to 250 people, followed by an introduction to the ongoing vegan movement in China.

To most people in Montreal, China is both familiar and unfamiliar. Media coverage about China’s growing meat consumption can easily worry our vegan friends in Canada, but the reality is still far beyond reach. Through the lens of film director Jian Yi, the audience was directly exposed to the social and environmental complexity on the other end of the globe, as well as the discussions and changes that are taking place at the moment.

Through the documentary and dialogue, the audience found answers to several questions about which they were concerned:

Are Chinese people very carnivorous? No, the traditional Chinese diet is mostly plant-based and the culture does not encourage people to eat a lot of meat.

Are Chinese people aware of the problem of animal-based foods? Yes, and there are hard-working activists in China, diligently spreading the latest news, research, videos, and opinions that promote a healthier and happier life.

Is the government trying to stop you in any way? No. We see our goals in line with several priorities of the government – public health, environment, and food security – and there were local officials coming to our screening event in China!

Do people in China care about animal suffering? Of course yes. We are all human beings. When we are exposed to the ugly facts, we have the same feeling of sadness, and the same desire for putting the cruelty and violence to an end.

Yes, we are all humans, and yet, every encounter is always full of surprises. Exclusively volunteers, without even one full-timeVegan Activist, Anne-Sophie paid coordinator, organized this big festival. Local vegan magazine, Versus, was very impressive with its pleasing artistic designs and professional print quality, presenting in-depth analytical articles, moving stories, fashion sketches, and delicate recipes.

In Montreal, a food movement is in full gear. This can be seen in the long lines outside the vegan festival site, in the airplane stickers on farmers’ market price tags indicating imported vegetables, in numerous vegan restaurants serving delicious and creative foods, and in beautiful young women who reach into dumpsters without hesitation to rescue slightly scratched pumpkins.

All of these are the hope of a food system full of love and consciousness. When we break down stereotypes and exchange hope, we begin to feel the commonality in each other, no matter how great the distance is between us.

Photo Credit: Montreal Vegan Festival & Wanqing Zhou

Waste Not, Want Not

Food waste throughout the U.S. and the world has been a major problem over the years. Recently, it has received more attention globally and now in the U.S., with a call for serious action by the Obama administration which recently brought food waste “to the table” as a part of its efforts to combat climate change. The goal the Obama White House set was to reduce food waste in the United States by 50% in the next 15 years, but what does this reduction mean? How much are we really wasting?

According to the UNEP, 30-40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted; per person, this equals more than 20 pounds per month. Americans are not the only ones wasting food. Approximately “one-third of all food produced worldwide… gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems.” While all of this food is being wasted, there are millions of people throughout the world who are still undernourished or hungry. In response, many initiatives have been created to address this issue, including the creation of World Food Day, to raise awareness about food waste and promote ethical practices. World Food Day was held this year on Friday, October 16.


Series of photos taken from Left Over Food exhibition

Brighter Green and our partners in Jiangxi province, China, had a significant presence on World Food Day by initiating a project to raise awareness about food waste worldwide. In China, What’s for Dinner? director, Jian Yi, and colleague, Miao Jie, organized the Left Over Food Photo Exhibition that illustrated the colorful, albeit plentiful amount of left-overs that sit on our table, or plates, after every meal. This exhibition was displayed on campus at Jinggangshan University in Jiangxi province, and presented a series of more than 700 photographs collected in just 3 days. The process of collecting these photographs demonstrates just how prevalent food waste really is within many societies, whether in China, the U.S. or elsewhere.



Photo of student looking at Left Over Food exhibition

On the other side of the world, Brighter Green’s Executive Director, Mia MacDonald, attended Expo Milano 2015 in Italy on World Food Day. She had a strong reaction to the lack of attention to the sustainability and equity aspects of food and agricultural production at the Expo. Learn more about this from one of her Facebook posts.

Photo credit: Left Over Food