Solutions journalism is news about how communities and organizations are responding to social and environmental problems. This collection contains solutions stories that highlight the diverse communities in which plant-rich diets are being welcomed. In Hawaii, a movement to shift back to to indigenous crops is underway, and Mexican-American chefs are embracing the trend of updating old favorites with a vegan twist. A U.K. soccer team has also embraced an all-vegan menu. From produce prescription programs to hydroponic school gardens, fruits and vegetables are bringing environmental and health benefits to a wider audience.
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Want to use some or all of these stories in a classroom or community setting? Here are some questions to get you started. Or make a copy of this collection and create your own.
- Why do plant-based diets have such a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
- Consider and discuss how democracy and food are related.
- (Group) Both the “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Hydroponic School Gardens” stories address the issue of so-called “food deserts,” predominant in low-income, socially challenged neighborhoods. These food deserts are areas where residents have to expend significant energy, time, and expense to get to a proper supermarket, and therefore often rely on local convenience stores and fast food outlets for their and their family’s nutrition. As a group, hypothesize why you think there are food deserts, and then describe specific social, health, and emotional impacts living in a food desert might have on you, if you were to live in one.
- Vegan food is not a traditional part of Hispanic/Latinx culture. Assess the cultural significance of this new movement in the context of changing US demographics, in which Hispanics will represent an increasing percentage of the US population.
- Do you or any of your friends or family eat an exclusively, primarily or partly plant-based diet because of the impact of meat and dairy on climate change? If you eat meat or dairy on a daily basis, would you consider reducing your meat intake because of climate change? Does your college campus food service provider offer plant-based items on a regular or even daily basis? Why or why not? Find out.
- Evaluate whether or not you think that understanding the food chain—where our food comes from, and how it gets to us—is important to our health, our social welfare, and our environment.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains not only good for human health, it’s also good for the health of the planet. Project Drawdown's research estimates that "business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet." According to a study by the Center for Behavior and the Environment, eating a plant-rich diet is among the seven most impactful actions that individuals and households in the United States can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A global shift toward a plant-rich diet is one of the most effective climate change strategies, and one that most individuals can fairly easily, and inexpensively, adopt.
Here are answers to the discussion questions:
- Plant-rich diets not only reduce emissions from industrial agriculture, but also tend to be healthier, which reduces rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual individual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent by adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet. The report’s analysis indicates that globally, as much as $1 trillion in annual health care costs and lost productivity could be saved.
- How well is a democracy functioning if it doesn’t adequately feed its citizens? How can children learn to think critically and participate in the civic process if they are hungry and distracted? The food hubs can also support underrepresented farmers by getting their product to market, enhancing their socioeconomic status, and allowing their children to pursue professional and educational opportunities. In addition, a well-nourished community is a community that can devote energy previously devoted to addressing scarcity to engaging in civic engagement, education, and community-building activities.
- Food deserts are almost exclusively found in communities facing socioeconomic challenges. Poor people have far less money to expend on commodities, making them essentially undesirable consumers. Food deserts disproportionately impact minorities, women, and children. Living in a food desert has substantial and far reaching consequences: children go to school with limited or unhealthy nourishment and don’t learn as they might otherwises; parents expend tremendous time, expense, and energy simply acquiring nutritious food for themselves and their children; and the health impacts of high-calorie, low nutrition fast and convenience foods are the foundation of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- If the plant-based movement can make inroads in the Hispanic/Latinx community, it will have an inroad into a meat-intensive culture that is increasingly significant in US demographics. Tyson foods, the largest processor of meat in America, slaughters 35 million chickens each week, as well as hundreds of thousands of pigs and cows. Any significant cultural change amongst this population would result in potentially dramatic reductions in meat consumption in the US, and correspondingly dramatic reductions in carbon emissions from industrial animal agriculture.
- Answers will vary.
- “Farm to Fork” is now almost a cliché, but underpinning the concept is an understanding that for the last 10,000 years, humans have thrived by maintaining a close relationship to the land amidst which they live and utilizing the resources available to them. The modern industrial food chain interrupts that relationship, creating a situation in which study after study indicates that many urban children, when asked where their food comes from, can only say “the store.” This disconnection from the food chain has several deleterious consequences, from healthy food choices at the individual level to policy decisions at the national level. Given that our industrial food chain is one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gasses, thinking that chicken magically appears in McNugget form—and not understanding that over 6 billion chickens each year are slaughtered to provide those nuggets—blinds consumers to the dramatic environmental impacts of their food choices.