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The People's Summit: Winning Clean Energy and Climate Justice for All

I wish you could have been with me at the People's Summit. Over 4,000 people came together to make the world a better place. It was a big love fest, ending with us all singing This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. I was so moved I just had to hug the woman standing next to me, a stranger no more.

Although Bernie Sanders wasn't asked my question about food during the Q&A after his speech, I asked it myself at the session on Winning Clean Energy and Climate Justice for All. The session was moderated by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus. (Don't you love his hat? Science Not Silence!) Just before I asked my question, he answered a question on financial divestment like this:

I think it is very important for all of our organizations, labor unions in particular, even our green organizations, to divest immediately from fossil fuels. We cannot be a clean energy movement and still rely on dirty fossil-fuel money. There are no jobs on a dead planet. That isn't a slogan, that's a real deal. We as a movement have to do that and make it happen.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus and Linda Watson of Cook for Good

What a great lead in! When the microphone came my way, I said (see 52:30 on the session video):

I'm Linda Watson with Cook for Good and I'd like to ask the panel and everyone here what we're doing to divest our plates. I think it's a hugely important thing. Animal agriculture is the largest source of greenhouse gases, yet I have not heard it mentioned once at this conference. Our food has been meat, meat, meat three times a day. I do want to thank you because I noticed that all the vegan lunches were gone before I could get there, so I know some of you are already that way. It's a huge thing we could do and we don't have to wait for the government. We can do it right away. It's also important for water and for pollution of all sorts. The nurses know that it is good for your health to eat more fruits and vegetables; that is completely uncontroversial. What are your organizations doing for that and what are you doing for that here?

Rev. Yearwood's response?

I'm a vegan, so I'm with you all the way on that one.

You can see why I had to go up to thank him afterwards.

Response from a Registered Nurse

He then asked Michelle Nungester, RN, to respond. Michelle said:

Methane gas is a huge huge huge problem. When we are going around talking about environmental justice and clean air and clean water, it's one of the things we talk about when we try to educate people out in the community. There's a lot of information out there on the internet but like you said a lot of people don't think about it. The most that we can do is to go out and talk about it to people and go out and spread the word. People don't realize that one of the largest producers of methane gas is cows. If you are going to be an environmental activist, then it starts with yourself. You have to not waste food and you have to not buy 300 bottles of water every single week. We have to recycle the stuff that we are using.... We have to own this. This is a problem. We have to start at home.

She also talked about the recycling programs in hospitals that the nurses in Florida created.

My Request: Let's Use Every Meal as a Chance to Educate and Act

It's wonderful that nurses are educating people about the need to shift to a more plant-based diet and to waste less food. But they can do more. For example, the People's Summit was largely organized by National Nurses United. They could have fed most of the 4,000 attendees plant based meals, reducing the climate footprint for the conference and setting a healthy, green example. Instead, meals were heavy on animal products, including top Food Waste Effect items beef and cheese. When I arrived early, I found some tasty plant-based options for which I'm grateful. But even though I went right from hearing Van Jones speak to the lunch area, there were only two empty tables where the vegan lunch choices had been. (Seriously, who walked out on Van Jones?!?) In the background are several tables with hundreds of meat sandwiches. I took this picture after 20 minutes of seeking options. The difference was even more stark when I first arrived.

empty lunch tables for vegan options at the People's Summit 2017

I wound up having a tomato and lettuce sandwich for lunch and leaving behind the turkey, mayonnaise-dressed salad, and dairy-filled cookie that came with the only lunches left. (A cluster of hungry vegans begged the food-service manager for other options, but he said was no other food available in or near the gigantic McCormick Center.) Although I feel a little churlish even mentioning this, we're talking about 28,000 meals at the conference, plus a chance to set an example that could multiply the effect many times over.

rejected food from turkey sandwich lunch

Response from Food and Water Watch

Later in the panel, Michelle Merkel of Food and Water Watch came back to my question (see 1:08 on the video):

I wanted to say something about the global food movement. It's absolutely true we need to decarbonize our food system as much we need to decarbonize our energy system. Our global food system is responsible for 29% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of that is due to mass deforestation. We are supporting industrial scale agriculture which you see all over this country. We are warehousing millions of animals in geographic areas and producing waste we cannot manage, producing methane that is contributing to global warming. California dairies are 45% of their methane problem. 45%. So there are efforts right now to pass mandatory methane reductions for dairy and incentivize the shift away from industrial-scale agriculture to small, pasture-based production which is better for the environment, which doesn't pull from a tax base, which doesn't poison air and water. This is a lot of information on our website and the Institute for Ag and Trade Policy just came out with some really good materials on the connection between climate and ag and I encourage everyone to check those out as well.

Unfortunately, the plan to get off fossil fuels on the Food and Water Watch website does not ask visitors to change their eating habits. It mentions that climate change will cause chaos in our food system but not that our food system is a major contributor to the crisis.

Let's encourage our organizations to divest our plates

I agree with Rev. Yearwood that:

I think it is very important for all of our organizations, labor unions in particular, even our green organizations, to divest immediately from fossil fuels.

An easy way to divest and inspire is to avoid animal products--especially beef, cheese, and pork--and focus on plant-based meals. Given the positive response from the crowd, I feel sure that this will be addressed at the next conference.

See People's Summit Sessions Online

To see more conference sessions free online, visit the People's Summit website. Don't miss Wake Up for Justice with the fiery Nina Turner. Thanks to National Nurses United and the Sanders Institute for putting together this inspiring event.


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