As a high school student, I would eat fast food every day. I had a daily after school routine that involved Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and other food locations like those. My main caretaker and guardian didn’t cook and fast food seemed to be the cheaper, easier, and more convenient option for many years.
For a long time, I derived my main nutrition from fast food meals and did not question the health, nutrition, sustainability, and climate-intensive nature of the foods I was consuming and the production and distribution systems they had passed through.
Since moving to the United States as a Latina immigrant, my family had quickly found that fruits, vegetables and other whole food ingredients did not appear to compare in price and convenience to fast food options, especially without information supplied to us on farmer’s markets and the many other ways to obtain fresh ingredients locally.
The main information I remember seeing growing through the U.S. public school system was the USDA Dietary Guidelines, also known as MyPlate or the Food Guide Pyramids. Whether it was a plate or a pyramid, I clearly remember the heavy emphasis all had on the importance of supporting the emissions and pollutions-heavy meat and dairy industries.
From all my memories learning about food in school to today, none indicated you could thrive and achieve full nutrition on a lactose intolerant or vegetarian diet! This is important as the mass percentage of meat and dairy products come from Big Agriculture and factory farms which are especially bad for the climate and environment as well as because of all the political lobbying power and subsidy support the meat and dairy industry had gathered over the years to influence the diets recommended to Americans.
Not that you can blame me and my family for the imperfect food habits we held for many years. Like most people, we were held busy with school, work, and other commitments.
We wanted to be healthy, to take care of ourselves and the planet around us and build positive conscientious interactions with our food but none of these opportunities were made convenient in our surroundings as far as we knew.
Which is exactly why myself and thousands of other young climate activists like me are standing up and speaking out against the powers of Big Agriculture and factory farms and why we believe it is important that healthier, more sustainable and climate-friendly foods are made convenient and accessible for everyone. We don’t believe in blaming people, especially given all of the factors which can be outside the control of a family or household. Instead we stand up against the massive industrial and corporate powers that place profit over people and create communities across the world where it is very difficult for the people living there to access healthier and more sustainable options for themselves and their families.
The agricultural and factory farming industries are especially important to focus on in addition to the fossil fuel industries and executives because agriculture is the leading source of the top greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon-dioxide, nitrous-oxide, and methane emissions and also responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2019 report called for a mass shift toward plant-based diets which they termed as ‘healthier’ and more ‘sustainable’. According to the United Nations IPCC, mitigation of the climate crisis would not be possible without this mass shift to plant-based diets.
But we’re not here to shame or judge anyone. Instead, we stand for equitable access to healthy, sustainable, climate-friendly, fresh and delicious food in all communities. We stand for food justice. As the young generation, we have stood against movement focus on shaming plastic straws and imperfect recycling. Instead, we have built a just, inclusive movement of people fighting for their future.
As young people, we build a just and inclusive movement once more at the intersection of food and climate by standing against judgement and instead standing together for more equitable fair access to healthier, more plant-based foods through institutions, policies, business and world leaders.
About the Author
Lana Weidgenant is a Climate Justice Activist and Deputy Director at the international youth-led climate organization Zero Hour. When Lana isn’t busy being a full-time student, she can often be found organizing for climate action and the climate potential of shifting food systems. Lana even had the opportunity this year to present at the United Nations about how food and climate are related and recently published through Zero Hour how we could bring together organizers from the Plant-Based and Climate Movements.