As I write these lines, I have just received my personal copy of Nutrition in clinical practice, 4and Editing. For anyone who has written a textbook, you know how rewarding it is to have this baby in your arms after such a long gestation. For those of you who haven’t, my advice is: don’t. It’s very painful.
I mention the book because I added a few chapters at the end where I vented my particular passions, and in no way more ardently than the very last entry, Chapter 52: The planet is your patient. In this chapter, I tell the following story.
Some time ago, in a pre-pandemic world where talks involved a podium and humans shaking hands, I addressed a group of fellow medical professionals, followed by a book signing. During the conference, I integrated my usual speech: “you can no longer legitimately claim to be a “health” professional if you don’t advocate frequently and fiercely for the health of the planet. There are no healthy people on a ruined and uninhabitable planet..”
The book signature line gave me the opportunity to gauge the response to my rant, and it was a mix of gratitude and relief. They were knowledgeable people, fully aware of the current impacts and the worrying trajectory of climate change and environmental degradation. They were prone – just like me – to stay up at night worrying about it. But they did not know that it was their professional responsibility to talk about it every day with clients and patients and, therefore, to take constructive action. In my role as “the out-of-town guy with slides,” I allowed that – and my co-workers lined up to say “thank you!” For me, it was as surprising as it was gratifying. Little did I know medical professionals were waiting for a license to deal with the greatest health threat of our time.
Here, with the help of the awesome Dani Nierenberg and my friends at Food Tank, I want to deliver the same message to you.
You don’t have to be a medical professional for the planet to be YOUR “patient” as well. It is enough to have never loved a forest, or a seaside, or an alpine meadow; it is enough to have savored a fresh summer fruit; just savor the sweet, gentle promise of early spring breezes. Really, you just have to live here.
And all the more so if you live here and love a child. You need only worry that our children and grandchildren, not to mention theirs, have a world with water to drink and food to eat; with glaciers and archipelagos; with lions, tigers and bears; with coral reefs and tropical forests.
Let’s start with the lungs of the world, one of nature’s most iconic wonders and the planet’s premier biodiversity incubator – the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon is not only being destroyed before our eyes; it is being destroyed at an accelerated rate. We are running out of time to save him. Not to do so is to explain to the generations that follow us why they no longer have any. Shame in this bewilders the mind.
So if this is all within our purview, what can we do about it? We can put our motives where our mouths are, literally.
The main driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin is the global demand for beef. Of course, the horrible president of Brazil is part of the problem. Of course, meatpacking giants and misguided investments are also part of the problem. But eventually, if enough of us simply refused to buy beef so long as it endangered the pristine rainforest, then the supply problem would go away.
We the people are the demand for food. So we the people actually have control over the food supply – if only we choose to exercise it. We are not entirely at the mercy of these huge corporations, misguided politicians and misguided investments. Certainly they possess the supply. But we, the real people, in our collective, the righteous could control our demand. And demand takes precedence over supply. They will stop making what we refuse to buy, every time. There is hope in this, and there is also a mandate. If we can, I would say we must.
It is a proposal and a plea to do just that. the The single biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin is the global demand for beef. So let’s all come together, for a week, and collectively say “no” to beef if sourcing it involves burning down the rainforest. Let’s express our just indignation in a global context #NoBeefThisWeek challenge. Please accept the pledge; join the challenge; support the cause (donations will be divided equally between the campaign itself and reforestation efforts in the Amazon); and invite your friends.
Take the pledge; Join the challenge; Support the Cause; Invite your friends
No, it’s not a general beef protest. Beef can, of course, be obtained without burning down the rainforest to do so. Not all beef is the problem, though usually the world needs to eat a lot less stay within sustainable limits. This campaign, however, is specifically focused on saving the Amazon and saying “no” to burgers made from the treasure of irreplaceable biodiversity.
No, beef isn’t the only problem – the Amazon is also burned to grow staple soy, which in turn is used to feed poultry along with livestock, among other uses. But the particular emphasis on beef is justified as a first step, as it is the main driver of rainforest loss.
You probably didn’t know that what’s on your plate and the fate of the planet were so indelibly linked. Upstream COP26the big meeting of world leaders (so called) to update our collective response to climate change and the peril of our planet, the New York Times updates on our status on their rarified front page. They noted some progress, but concluded that we are far from doing enough. For me, however, the salient point of their reporting was what was not mentioned: food. There was no mention of food, diet, meat or beef – despite the excessive meat-centric diets exact of the planet. Likewise, when 200 leading medical journals simultaneously published a plea for necessary climate and environmental action from world leaders, the same essential words – meat, beef – did not appear.
This is a crucial omission both because feeding the scale of 8 billion starving Homo sapiens has a colossal impact on the planet, and because it is the one area where each of us really has the power to take meaningful action every day.
We will be healthy and vital people on a healthy, vital planet – or we just won’t be healthy, vital people at all. There are no healthy people on a ruined, inhospitable and ultimately – for our species of animal, at least – uninhabitable planet. We are marching in that same direction with astonishing complacency. I am with Gretaeven though I’ve spent all these years trying to calm the worried nerves of my readers: now, I want you to panic.
But let’s not stop there; panic is unproductive unless channeled into meritorious action. As Gertrude Stein so aptly put it: a difference, to be a difference, must make a difference. Maybe we can do one together.
A one-week hiatus from buying beef isn’t enough to cost anyone their job, and that’s intentional. Suffice it to say that the world’s beef supply must not come at the expense of virgin rainforest. As noted, this is not a general protest against eating beef, regardless of its merits. On the contrary, this very targeted action invites the best players in the beef sector to expel the bad – under penalty of punishment at the cash register. He points out that even many die-hard burger lovers consider running the treasure of biodiversity through a meat grinder too high a price to pay.
There will be much, much more than that to do if we are to achieve healthy, vital people on a healthy, vital planet – and bequeath the blessings of such opportunity to future generations. But it’s something we can do: not buy or eat beef for a single week in April. It’s a beginning. We have the power of demand; it only matters if we exercise it for good. The best way to predict the future is to create it. I hope we all agree, regardless of our other differences: Earth’s future must include the glories of the Amazon.
Join the #NoBeefThisWeek challenge and help us make it that way.