Participating in the ‘Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice’ march last month in San Francisco was an exhilarating experience! Scheduled just days ahead of California Governor Jerry Brown’s “Global Climate Action Summit,” the event brought together over 30,000 people and at least 300 organizations demanding an end to corporate profiteering over real solutions to our climate emergency. Indigenous women led the way. In solidarity with other marches happening simultaneously around the world, environmental and climate justice groups, labor organizations, communities of faith, immigrant justice organizations, youth and others let it be known that the time for action is NOW.
“I’m here from North Dakota where the oil industry continues polluting our water, air, and land,” stated Candi Mossett-White of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The people are dying. Who will speak on our behalf if not us? We want a just transition to small, distributed solar power, and a return to sustainable, local food and water.”
“I come from where the forests, rivers, and mountains have life,” said Mirian Cisneros, president of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador. “Our community has fought against oil drilling in the Amazon rain forest for years. We want the world to know that our communities have innovative solutions to climate change, like our proposal to provide permanent protection to all forests and life.”
The urgent need to protect biodiversity was a dominant theme. Stilt walkers dressed as fantastical trees towered above the crowds. Along with an end to fossil fuel extraction came the call for an end to dependency on animal agribusiness – the lesser recognized, yet second biggest cause of global GHG emissions and a driving force behind ocean dead zones, deforestation and species loss. Demonstrators with the Climate Friendly Agriculture Alliance, Seed the Commons and Plant-powered Planet Protectors drew attention to a new study (published in July by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and NGO Grain) revealing that the five largest meat and dairy corporations (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra) are already responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. A twenty-foot high inflatable cow named Methane Molly loomed large! ‘Climate justice street theatre’ actors nearby focused on the plight of both wild and domesticated animals impacted by conventional food production. And in an historic first, farmers from near and far who have turned away from animal-based agricultural systems in favor of stock-free growing methods marched together in support of the message on Seed the Commons’ street-wide banner: “Veganic Farming for a Cooler Planet.”
Dedicated to defending our food systems from corporate monopoly and fostering alternatives that are truly sustainable, Seed the Commons’ co-founder Nassim Nobari told the crowds that it is time to reject false solutions to climate change like tech fixes and animal-based farming and start rebuilding our food systems based on agroecological, plant-based farming principles. She knows that this admonishment runs counter to interest in the U.S. and beyond in producing more beef from cattle raised in exclusively pasture-based systems rather than in grain-finishing feedlots, and that 41% of U.S. Land is already used for livestock. This is exactly why alternatives to animal-centric farming must be heard, seen and understood. Environmental researchers have determined that a nationwide shift to pasture-raised cattle in the U.S. would require increasing the number of animals by 30% in order to produce the same quantity of beef as the present-day system! We need a drastic decrease in meat consumption worldwide, not just a moderate reduction involving animals raised under less inhumane conditions.
As I’ve noted previously in this column, the idea that cattle are beneficial to carbon sequestration and therefore vital to the healing of damaged ecosystems has been challenged by some very thorough studies. And veganic growers around the world are proving that it is simply untrue that regenerative agriculture with farmed animals is the only alternative to conventional farming based on fossil fuels. But romanticized notions about the necessity of farmed animals in sustainable food production run deep. At a conference hosted by Seed the Commons the day after the people’s climate action march, speakers addressed the pervasive influence of meat and dairy interests on today’s food movement as an extension of colonial history.
Missing from much mainstream environmental dialogue is the understanding that sustainable food production without the use of animal byproducts like manure is not only possible, it is hardly new. Chema Hernandez Gil explained how prior to colonization and the European introduction of non-indigenous species to Mesoamerica, his ancestors and others thrived in large numbers on the ‘milpa‘ system for millenia. Planted together, the ‘three sisters’ (corn, beans and squash) are environmentally complimentary. At well-managed levels crops grown in a milpa constitute a nutritionally balanced, self-sustaining food system. Eurocentric bias is responsible for the erasure of much indigenous agricultural wisdom and practice.
However we choose to celebrate the harvest season, decolonizing our diets can be a step in the right direction. A team of researchers from four American universities have determined that if Americans ate beans instead of beef, for example, the U.S. would reach 50-75% of its GHG reductions targets for the year 2020.
Vegan Black Bean and Squash Chili Recipe (with thanks to Yasmin Fahr)
2 T. olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 T. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 medium cloves garlic, minced
3.5 ounces (1/2 small can) chipotle chilies in adobo
2 Cups veggie broth (I use Herbal Bouillon)
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)
1 ripe avocado
- Directions: Heat oil in skillet, add squash, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Add onions, peppers, and cook until soft. Add cumin, oregano and garlic. Stir. Add your chipotle, veggie stalk and beans and cook for another ten minutes or so. Mash beans gently with a wooden spoon to help thicken the dish. Season to taste, and serve with chopped scallions, vegan cheese shreds and avocado. Buen provecho!