Oprah Enthusiastically Throws Her Support Behind Meatless Monday


Oprah celebrates Meatless Monday

Oprah celebrates Meatless Monday

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey may have just encouraged a large segment of her 30 million viewers to join the Meatless Monday movement following her latest show which gave us a rare glimpse into where some of our meat comes from.

The Meatless Monday campaign’s national awareness has more than doubled in the last 2 years. An FGI Research survey found that 30 percent of Americans are aware of the public health campaign. My guess is that following Oprah’s very public backing and the announcement last month that the food service company Sodexo implemented Meatless Monday national and global awareness is going to sky rocket!

The episode, entitled “Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan: The One Week Challenge” featured celebrated “veganist” Kathy Freston and journalist Michael Pollan, best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” A large chunk of the show followed Freston encouraging sometimes belligerent but mostly willing Oprah Show staff members to eat a vegan diet for one week and their testimonials on how they did. A few employees said the experience helped them lose weight and become healthier. Following her experience, Oprah decided, quite enthusiastically, that her studio’s café would do Meatless Monday every week.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future helped launch the national Meatless Monday campaign back in 2003. The campaign’s primary focus is to reduce America’s saturated fat consumption by 15%, following the recommendations of the Healthy People 2010 report issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in 2000. Key recommendations from the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 reiterate the message that we need to reduce our consumption of solid and saturated fats.

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CLF is reading…

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer PhilosopherCultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
by Frederick L. Kirschenmann
A collection of Kirschenmann’s greatest writings on farming, philosophy, and sustainability
Theologian, academic, and third-generation organic farmer Frederick L. Kirschenmann is a celebrated agricultural thinker. In the last thirty years he has tirelessly promoted the principles of sustainability and has become a legend in his own right. Marion Nestle says, “Kirschenmann is right up there with the other agronomic philosophers-Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. His book is an unfailingly interesting reflection on his own farming experience. It should inspire everyone to start planting and to think deeply about the food we eat.”

edited by Daniel Imhoff
A collection of essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, Republican speech writer Matthew Scully, journalist Michael Pollan, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., members of our Center for a Livable Future staff, among many others
The CAFO Reader gives a full picture of the environmental, social, and ethical implications of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), and includes a section of essays on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture.” A CAFO is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws. The CLF-penned article is about the role that CAFOs play in the rise in drug-resistant bacteria. Read More >

Eat Less Meat, Eat Better Meat

Nicolette Hahn Niman

The list of Meatless Monday supporters continues to grow across the globe, and surprisingly to some, many of the latest enthusiasts make their living either cooking meat, such as chef Mario Batali or producing it, like rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman. What makes Meatless Monday so successful is its simple and inclusive message which promotes moderation with the goal of improving public health and the health of the planet.

Nicolette and her husband Bill run the BN Ranch in Northern California near the seaside raising beef cattle on pasture and heritage turkeys. Bill knows a thing or two about ranching. He founded the famous Niman Ranch Inc. known for its sustainable and humanely raised meats. Nicolette is a Renaissance woman of sorts—new mom, writer, environmental lawyer, and interestingly, a vegetarian.

I recently was able to catch Nicolette for a few minutes by phone to ask her why she and Bill support Meatless Monday. She made it clear that she didn’t have much time; she was in the midst of a writing project, running the ranch (Bill was traveling) and taking care of her 14-month-old son who I could hear in the background chatting and occasionally clinking the keys of their piano. Knowing that time was short; I got straight to the point:

RL: A lot of people mistakenly believe that the Meatless Monday campaign is promoting the demise of all meat production, while it has always maintained that its message is simply one of moderation and inclusion of omnivores and vegetarians alike. As a rancher yourself, what would you say to any farmer who is threatened by the MM campaign?

NHN: Bill and I are very supportive of the Meatless Monday campaign and here’s why: We think that to really improve the way food is being produced and the way people are eating in this country people should eat less meat but eat better meat. All food from animals—meat, dairy, fish, eggs—should be treated as something special. Anyone who is raising food animals in the traditional healthy way, without relying on industrial methods, drugs and chemicals, is someone who will benefit from people embracing that approach. We think the Meatless Monday campaign is part of a shift in attitudes about meat, towards something that is precious not something that is consumed without thought or in enormous quantities. Read More >

10 in 10: Ensure Every American Child Has Access to Healthy and Affordable Food: A “Gentle” Wish For a New Decade

10in101A new decade brings new opportunities and challenges. The interaction between diet and health received significant attention during “The Aughts.” What will we do during this next decade to respond to the call for action for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? This is the fourth in a continuing series highlighting 10 ways you can help this year.

Knowing that the obesity epidemic in the United States has some scientists predicting that for the first time in history American children will live shorter lives than their parents, my wish for the next decade is to see First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and his administration succeed in their mission to ensure that every American child has access to healthy and affordable food. A recent gathering of Obama Administration officials invited to discuss their efforts to improve America’s food system left me hopeful that my wish will come true.

Courtesy: White House Blog

Courtesy: White House Blog

Last month in D.C. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Dora Hughes, Counselor to the Secretary of Health, and Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator for the First Lady each shared their goals for the next year during an event for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Program. Surprisingly it wasn’t their words that left me so inspired; rather it was the words of 10-year-old David Martinez-Ruiz. Kass shared with the audience a letter that the D.C. elementary school student had presented to the First Lady following his class visit to the White House Garden.

One of the things that I want to say about being at the White House was how gentle the feeling was. It felt surprisingly natural to be there. We planted on a warm day. The sun was out and there was a little breeze. The grass was beautiful and green. The people made us feel good. I liked the way the staff person who helped me was very gentle with the worms we found. I think about the garden as being gentle: gentle with nature, gentle to your body, and gentle with each other. Read More >

How Much Does U.S. Livestock Production Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions?


"Livestock’s Long Shadow"

A round of applause for Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein for pointing out last week the undeniable fact that meat production is a major contributor to global warming, and that consumers can make a difference by cutting out their meat consumption just one day a week. How big a difference in greenhouse gases reduction it would make in the United States has long been a topic of debate, and something I’ve wanted to clarify for quite a while. Before I explain why, I want to make it clear that there is more than enough evidence that shows reducing meat consumption nationwide would lead to dramatic improvements in environmental degradation, widespread public and personal health risks, animal welfare and environmental and social justice issues.

First off, I’m pleased to see that mainstream media outlets are finally increasing their coverage of food systems’ effects on climate change. Believe it or not, it’s taken a while for the news gatekeepers to catch on. Last year Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s research and policy director Roni Neff published a paper in the journal of Public Health Nutrition that found U.S. newspaper coverage did not reflect the increasingly solid evidence of climate change effects due to current food systems. Read More >

What’s all the Buzz about CSAs?

Fresh strawberries from One Straw Farm, a CSA-participating Farm in White Hall, MD

Fresh strawberries from One Straw Farm, a CSA-participating Farm in White Hall, MD

In an age where large scale industrial farming operations dominate our food system, a counterrevolution focused on local and sustainable agriculture is growing. Data collected in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that 12,549 farms in the United States reported marketing products through a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement. One of the primary ways this counterrevolution is manifesting itself is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. CSAs are operations in which consumers pay a fixed fee at the beginning of a growing season in exchange for local, often organic, produce (and sometimes meat and dairy products as well). While reports about global warming and climate change, and the U.S’s astronomical ecological footprint (calculate your own) can make the problems we face today seem overwhelming, CSAs provide an opportunity to be part of the solution, to help make one’s lifestyle more sustainable, more healthy, and frankly, more fun.

As a CSA member, I receive eight local, seasonal, types of produce every week (though some CSAs also sell partial shares at farmers’ markets, where members can pick a given number of items from those available each week). Each week, I am surprised by at least one vegetable I’ve never heard of (e.g. garlic tail). The challenge, as in the Food Network show, Chopped, is to conjure something delicious out of this basket of unknowns. Thanks to some tips from experienced locavores, I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of success (as measured by the approval of my family, as strict a panel of judges as any on the show). Read More >

Increasing Appetite for Documentary’s Unsavory Message

food-inc-posterDespite its content, moviegoers’ appetites for “Food, Inc.” are only growing stronger. Just in its second week of limited-release, theaters are selling out of tickets for the documentary, which is highly critical of the industrial food system. Much of the demand may be attributed to the tidal wave of accolades from critics and writers in newspapers, magazines and blogs all over the country.

Most recently Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the film in his Sunday column:

“A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward. (It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.” If you happen to be eating a hamburger as you read this, I apologize.)”

Movie critic Roger Ebert admitted his review didn’t read much like a movie review:

“This review doesn’t read one thing like a movie review. But most of the stuff I discuss in it, I learned from the new documentary “Food, Inc.,” directed by Robert Kenner and based on the recent book An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I figured it wasn’t important for me to go into detail about the photography and the editing. I just wanted to scare the bejesus out of you, which is what “Food, Inc.” did to me.”

Truthfully, the movie shouldn’t scare you, but I hope it inspires viewers to do something about it. The makers of “Food, Inc.” hope so too and offer “10 simple things you can do to change our food system.” Considering I’m the project director for the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Projects, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight number five.

“5. Meatless Mondays – Go without meat one day a week”

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future have embraced the Meatless Monday national campaign since its inception almost a decade ago. The campaign’s goal is to reduce the negative health and environmental impacts of industrially produced meat.

Read More >

WSU to Return “Ominivore’s Dilemma” to Its Common Reading Program

Washington State University alum and former WSU regent, Bill Marler, has offered to foot the bill to bring author Michael Pollan to the school’s campus. WSU said it will take Marler’s offer to pay the speaking fee for the author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and will reinstate the school’s Common Reading Program. According to WSU, the Common Reading Program had been suspended due to financial concerns and not because of pressure from the agriculture industry. In recent days, the land grant University has faced a barrage of criticism over the suspension of the program.

We believe Washington State University has worked hard to reach its status as a leading national research institution (its College of Agriculture is ranked second in the nation in plant science by the Chronicle of Higher Education). There is, however, the continued concern that large agriculture interests have undue influence over WSU and other land grant universities which conduct important research in areas surrounding food production and its effects on the environment and public health.

Congress could alleviate these concerns by committing federal dollars to help WSU and other land grant universities and remove the potential conflict of interest by receiving financial support from Big Ag. Imagine where we would be if the biomedical research community did not have support from the National Institutes of Health and had to rely on the pharmaceutical industry for exclusive support?

We’re looking forward to Michael Pollan’s visit to WSU and the discussion of his book. He told the New York Times that he is pleased the program was restored. He said it’s especially important that it’s taking place at a land grant university, “because we are in the midst of this national conversation about the future of food and agriculture, and land grant universities have a critical role to play.”

WSU’s Book Controversy Shines Light on Big Ag’s Influence on Land Grant Schools

It isn’t easy being a land grant university these days, especially when your Ag School depends so heavily on industry money for support. Sadly, fear of losing funding from their biggest money stream is limiting the types of research many scientists are undertaking at agriculture schools across the country. Now there are accusations that the funding fear may have crept its way out of Washington State University’s Ag School and has taken hold in, of all places, WSU’s Common Reading Program.

Months after WSU’s Common Reading Committee selected “Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan as this year’s thought provoking book, the university announced that it decided not to hand out the nearly 4,000 copies it had already purchased to its incoming freshman during WSU’s orientation sessions and cancel the reading program altogether. The first official reason offered earlier this month was, “given the circumstances currently facing our institution, changes must be made to the program.” Through an email sent to faculty yesterday, WSU’s president, Dr. Elson Floyd, and his provost, Dr. Warwick Bayly, stated that those “circumstances” are the university’s financial woes. The email goes on to say:

This is just one of scores of hard decisions that have been made in recent weeks to address the $54 million cut in our biennial state appropriation. As you well know, this austerity has forced us to reduce or eliminate a number of programs and positions. Reducing the scope of this program — including not bringing the author to campus and avoiding speaker’s fees and travel, facilities, and event costs — will save an estimated $40,000.

However, faculty members were quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education questioning the fiscal excuse:

Jeff Sellen, an instructor at the university who sat on a committee in charge of implementing the reading program, says members of that panel were told “we could not call it a ‘common reading.'”

“I think that was important because it would be less official and would maybe fly underneath the radar,” he says. “It was obvious that it was political.”

He says that there was never a substantial budget for events around the book—certainly not enough to bring in Mr. Pollan as a speaker—so he dismisses the idea that there was a financial rationale for the changes in the program.

For those of you who don’t know, Pollan’s book reveals the serious problems that our broken industrially based food system poses for the environment, our health and our own morality. It looks like the book may have hit a little too close to home for one of WSU’s Board of Regents. The Spokesman-Review quoted Regent Francois X. Forgette as saying his fellow Regent Harold Cochran “had read the book and raised concerns.” According to a release from Governor Chris Gregoire’s office, Cochran is a third generation wheat rancher and is a member of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Walla Walla County Wheat Growers.

Regardless of what led to the decision, the ensuing controversy has spotlighted serious concerns regarding the influence Big Ag has over large public institutions that are entrusted to further academic research in food and agricultural sciences. I witnessed this influence first hand while serving as the communications director for the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP). Read More >

Show Me the Movement!

Aaron French’s commentary yesterday on the Civil Eat’s blog raises this issue of how prepared the sustainable food movement is to take its seat at the table in Washington. An important question given the receptivity the current administration has shown of late. It seems some more organizing is necessary. Case-in-point: a statement from Obama, as quoted by Michael Pollan at the Georgia Organics conference (where I was on Saturday), in reference to taking action on sustainable food:

“Show me the movement. Make me do it.”

While Obama’s comments are encouraging, they point to the need for stronger organization within the movement. Read More >