Divest Your Plate
Cut some of the confusion and static in your life by eating in a way that supports your values. You’ll feel great with every meal that helps create the life and world you want.
Environmentalists vote with their wallets by divesting from fossil-fuel companies and companies that support them. You can do something similar by divesting your plates from practices you don’t support. With every meal, you get a chance to support local, organic, and plant-based food created with fair labor practices. Let’s dump our support for unneeded shipping, toxic and cruel farming practices, increased health risks, climate change, and the mistreatment of workers and their families.
Often I go to events where people are working for good causes but the meals served support the very actions we are working against. Given that every meal makes a difference, many meals can make a big difference.
Why You Should Divest Your Plate
Our diet feeds climate change, high health care costs, and personal misery. According to the United Nations, animal agriculture is the largest source of greenhouse gases. Few Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables to ward off preventable cases of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and early deaths. The U.S. currently spends 1 out of every 5 dollars on health care: US$3.2 trillion a year! Among high-income nations, we pay the most for the worst health care.
Crowding animals into sheds and feeding them corn, fish meal, and even feathers is uncalled for. The brutal conditions in slaughterhouses (warning: image) also contribute to high rates of suicide and domestic abuse among the people who work there. We need to stop hog farmers from spraying hog excrement in ways that contaminate the air and homes of their neighbors, often people of color. We must stop wasting about 1/3 of the food we produce, particularly energy-intense meat and cheese.
My call to divest your plate is nonpartisan. It will help slow global warming, reduce health-care costs, attracted business to our healthy and alert workers, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
- If you favor small government and self-reliance, eat plants to avoid getting the diseases of affluence (cancer, heart disease, and diabetes) and save money to fund your own retirement. You’ll have the strength to keep hauling up on your own bootstraps longer.
- If you favor using government as a way to work together on big issues, then shift farm subsidies and government programs to favor eating plants to get rapid results on many urgent issues.
How the United States Policy Can Help
The United States should change its agricultural subsidies, public food purchases, and nutrition education to move Americans toward a more plant-based diet. Other countries should too. Here’s how:
- Shift agricultural subsidies from growing animals to growing locally adapted, organic plants. We need to build a robust food system with a rich network of local farms that grow locally adapted varieties in a sustainable way. We need to make it affordable for young families to start farming and help small and mid-sized farms succeed. Farm workers need better conditions and better pay. That includes guest workers, who sometimes work in conditions approaching slavery. Imagine how many people who are now out of work could benefit from good jobs growing our food. We should begin by eliminating confinement feed lots and other brutal factory farming techniques, as Bill McKibben points out in The Only Way to Have a Cow. But rather than focusing on developing a “meat elite” who nosh on pastured animals, let’s realize that meat, fish, dairy, and eggs should be eaten only when plants aren’t widely available, such as in desert Africa, or as a small part of a sustainable farm’s cycle, with animals as weeders, workers, and homestead food recyclers.
- Shift government food purchases towards plant-based meals. We don’t need to ban meat or dairy, but we can easily reduce the amount we use. Research shows that making healthy food more convenient leads to — surprise! — more people eating more healthy food. So let’s put the vegetables in front of the meat on the buffet line. Put bananas instead of candy bars at the cash register. Avoid dairy, which is hard to digest for many people who do not come from Northern European stock. At an event like the People’s Summit, serve people hummus wraps unless they ask for the turkey sandwich, not other way around. Let’s show kids how delicious plant-based meals are in schools. Families receiving public food subsidies should have easy access to vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. And they should get incentives to buy local produce, an approach that has already proven successful in many communities. Government food service should observe Meatless Mondays and make plant-based choices available at every meal. This includes cafeterias on campuses, military bases, and the Senate Dining Room. We will all benefit from a healthier and more alert populace.
- Teach and demonstrate healthy eating, based on the advice of scientists, not lobbyists. To do this, we need to restructure the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The USDA’s top priority is keeping farmers and ranchers in business. It’s also supposed to “harness the Nation’s agricultural abundance to end hunger and improve health in the United States.” Guess what? This means the USDA tells us to eat more of the most profitable food to drive up farm income, even in the face of our current obesity epidemic! It means that millions of our tax dollars go to help fast food companies like Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell sell more cheese. On the other hand, the FDA’s top priority is protecting the public health. They are the ones who should develop our dietary guidelines. The guideline process, which happens every five years, must be run by nutritionists, not lobbyists. And finally, we need to serve up nutritional education along with healthy meals every chance we get, from pre-school to colleges and from military bases to retirement homes.
Divesting our plates is more important than ever now that the United States has shamefully pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. If our government won’t work with the rest of the world to avert environmental disaster, then it’s up to us. We can make a real difference by voting with our forks.