Saving the World by Eating Plants Together

Today, please  join Linda Watson for our second Guest Post in the series “One Thing I’d Change in 2015” — DrGreene Team

I’m dreaming of a world in which shared meals for groups and businesses welcome everyone to the table with plants. Eating plants instead of meat and other animal products will help slow climate change with minimal personal effort or inconvenience.

You’ve probably read statistics about how raising animals for food speeds up climate change. The United Nations says raising livestock generates more greenhouse gases than transportation does. The Environmental Working Group did the math and found that if every American ate a plant-based diet with no meat or cheese just one day a week, the effect would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

Make the Switch

Switching to a plant-based diet would be a major change for most people, even for one day a week. What will they eat? Where will they get the recipes or ingredients? How will they manage when they eat out or at work, school, church, or clubs?

That’s the beauty of my dream. By basing our shared meals on plants, we could make a big difference with very little personal effort. The booster club would serve bean tacos instead of sausage pizza at sports events. Hummus wraps, not ham sandwiches, would fuel business lunches. Fancy dinners might feature the ancient elegance of Indian or Chinese cuisine. Community potlucks could showcase old favorites like three-bean salad and new twists like my collards with lime-peanut sauce. People used to the Standard American Diet could experience the flavor and fun of plant-based cooking and perhaps try it at home. Eating plants would become ordinary.

I first dreamed of having plants be the choice for “whatever” guests at a Conscious Capitalism conference last year, I was begging the chef for one of the few vegan meals he’d prepared for the sit-down lunch. I hadn’t thought to call ahead or make special arrangements as usual because I knew that the organizer, Whole Foods Market president John Mackey, was vegan himself. But the chef told me that anyone who hadn’t requested a special diet was getting chicken.

What the cluck?

Mackey and the other CC leaders had talked all morning about creating business environments where everyone wins, but then fed participants food that Mackey wouldn’t eat. Everyone could have enjoyed a colorful and fresh meal like the one I did manage to score and that was the envy of my table. The conference could have helped participants avoid the diseases of affluence: heart-disease, cancer, and diabetes.

My dream of eating plants together can help your group achieve a healthy budget, too. Because organization budgets can be tight, people who only buy organic or humane-certified food for themselves often order industrial food from caterers or when eating out. At home, I can eat organic on a food-stamp budget because I eat plants. Even without a wholesale discount, you can serve about 200 people organic beans or about 6 people grass-fed steak. If you want to offer some animal products, then thrifty plant ingredients can give you the leeway to serve milk without Bovine Growth Hormone or more kindly raised meat and eggs.

Plants Fit Every Diet

Plant-based meals are more welcoming, too. At a recent potluck, a friend warned me, gray with shock, to avoid what looked like bread with tahini. He’d unwittingly eaten pork satay. As a Jew, he doesn’t eat “unclean” foods such as pig or shellfish. I remember whispering my way down a buffet line with one of the honored guests at a luncheon. When she saw me skip the chicken, she confessed that she was a vegetarian but always took a small piece of meat to push around on her plate so no one would know her secret.

We don’t want to be rude or make a fuss, but we do want to honor our religious or ethical dietary choices. A poll shows that 63% of the former veg eaters and 41% of those currently eating veg see standing out from the crowd as a major barrier to eating the way they would rather. Serving plants avoids foods forbidden by various religions, from pork and shellfish to animals killed in certain ways to all animal products, including dairy and eggs. Serving plants also avoids unsavory thoughts about pink slime, pork gestation crates, and the dangerous working conditions in slaughterhouses. If everyone eats plants, no one stands out or has to sniff the dip to see if it is bean or clam.

Next time you plan a menu for a group, please think plants first. If you want to include animal products, then position the plant-based choices first (beans before beef, vinaigrette before ranch dressing). People naturally take the first choices available. You will be honoring your guests and the planet.

Published on: December 23, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Linda Watson
Linda Watson started the Cook for Good project after becoming obsessed with the national Food Stamp Challenge: living on a dollar a meal per person for a week. Her three-week experiment became a lifestyle, the website, the book Wildly Affordable Organic, and now the Wildly Good Cook videos and teachers' training program. She teaches cooking classes and gives talks on thrift, sustainability, and food justice across the country. You can get more from Linda on Facebook..
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