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The Tomorrow Project and the Importance of Environmental Education

By Alie McDougall

Every day across the nation, high school students like myself wake up at the crack of dawn, then rush off to class where we find ourselves for the next 7 hours. Analyzing the texts of Shakespeare and Orwell, calculating complex equations, and reading off passages in a foreign language make up a mere fraction of the activities we do for the 9 months of classes we take each year. Yet, for many of us, there is one essential lesson that we have yet to receive from the current education system – climate & environmental education. 

“According to the National Academy, only 15% of elementary school teachers teach about climate change in school. Students grow up unaware of the importance of sustainable living and the science behind/repercussions of their choices. Once elementary schoolers develop unsustainable habits, it becomes very difficult to break and relearn them when they grow older. That’s why we need to make systemic change and foster green mindsets from a young age.”  – Surbhi, an Executive Director of the Tomorrow Project

The Tomorrow Project was built around a shared vision to instill sustainable habits in the next generation – the leaders of tomorrow – through unique classroom experiences rarely offered in traditional curricula. These experiences aim to teach young students the effects of climate change and utilize interactive workshops and peer-to-peer interaction to provide these students with the tools to combat such looming effects.

The Tomorrow Project facilitated a workshop with Ms. Williams’ fourth-grade class on the effects of pollution in Lake Washington.

It all began in 2019 when the four founding members attended a highschool seminar about citizenship and social action. After identifying the climate crisis as a shared passion and topic of interest, the four worked nonstop for months to see their vision come to life. Turning Seattle’s popular Whole Foods Market into their designated office space, they pieced together what would soon become the Tomorrow Project.  

As of May 2020, the organization has successfully launched on a national level and is now comprised of more than 75+ highschool volunteers and 7 new chapters spanning from coast-to-coast. Despite having to postpone all in-person workshops due to Covid-19, these volunteers remain hard at work, designing new online curricula, launching marketing campaigns, and holding virtual conferences with influential leaders from various educational and environmental groups. 

“Climate Change is an issue that impacts everyone, and if we do not collectively take action now, the devastation will be irreversible. However, the problem often feels unapproachable because of its scale, and in turn, passionate people opt instead to do little to nothing. Our project emphasizes small, simple actions that are easy to implement in people’s everyday lives – which can be extremely powerful when done collectively.” – Max Feldman, Executive Director of the Tomorrow Project

The Tomorrow Project Leadership Team

You can learn more information about The Tomorrow Project on our website or on Instagram.

The Public Comment Project Joins us at CSoT!

By Eden Cypher

For this week’s blog topic, I’ve decided to introduce The Public Comment Project, which will be joining us at our upcoming Climate Science on Tap Event, Climate Science goes to Court on February 27th! With a mission of encouraging science-backed policy through promoting scientists to comment on federal legislation, the values of the Public Comment Project relate closely to Cascadia Climate Action’s. Both CCA and The Public Comment Project encourage people to become informed on how they can get involved at a governmental level to push for a more sustainable future.

The public comment process was enacted under the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946, which required government agencies to allow the public to provide their own opinions on proposed government actions. The documents that are put up for public comment are preliminary rulemaking documents, new regulation or rule proposals, proposed changes to existing rules, and agency information collection activities. Not only can citizens comment, but non-profits, industry lobbying groups AND other government agencies have access to using the public comment process, which makes it important for citizens and independent scientists to take advantage of this ability. Though the commenting forums exist online, the summaries and sorting capabilities of the website can be difficult to navigate – this is where The Public Comment Project comes to the rescue!

On their website, which you can check out here, concerned scientists and citizens alike can easily find documents with layperson summaries that are up for public comment. Government agencies are supposed to consider the public’s suggestions seriously, but the openness of public comment is especially important because more disciplines, sectors and professions are included in the discussion.

If all of this sounds interesting to you, make sure to stop by The Public Comment Project table at our event tomorrow, or use their website to make your mark!

Student led Climate Change Strikes Movement Makes its way to Seattle

By: Gabriella Chilczuk

The children of our future are making their voices heard around the world. From the Juliana v. United States case, to the climate strikes rapidly spreading across the globe, climate change is now a conversation that the youth of our planet has taken into their own hands. From cutting class to go on strike, to suing the federal government, they demand to be heard.

The Juliana v. United States case is one representation of the youth’s voice that has made a bold presence in the climate conversation. Like many others in their generation, the 21 youth plaintiffs stated that their rights to life, liberty and property have been stripped from them through the government’s actions. This case, now being called the “trial of the century”, will use scientific evidence to support their statement that the government’s allowance of the fossil fuel industry and other harmful practices have threatened their future. Their end goal is to get the federal government to create a national plan that phases out the fossil fuel industry and restores earth’s stability. Under both the Obama and Trump administration, statements have been made that there should be no trial. Yet a strong case has been made and the wait for a trial date continues. Andrea Rogers, the attorney defending the young climate group, will be one of the panelist speakers at the next CSoT. She will be giving insight on how science will be used to drive policy change in a court setting.

Science marches in Oregon.

While the Juliana v. United States case is using their voice in court, others are striking to show the weight climate change has on them. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, unknowingly began a global movement last year when she started to take time away from class to demand for actions against climate change. Her actions got attention in Britain, where the movement took off. Marches are now happening across the globe. Germany, Australia and Uganda, are only a few of the countries following Britain’s lead. With the amount of missed school increasing, participants have made it clear they demand a better future for themselves and for the planet.

The movement is now making its way to the Pacific Northwest, where Zero Hour Seattle has taken the lead on planning a climate march. The march is planned for July 21st, following a lobby day on July 19th and a poster/art event on the 20th to create props before taking the streets.

3 Ways you can get Politically Involved in Climate Issues

Welcome to Cascadia Climate Action’s weekly intern blog! If you’re just joining us, please take a moment to check out Eden’s post (here) on her letter to her representative urging her to support the Transit Zoning Bill, SB-50, in her home state of California.

In this week’s CCA intern blog, we’re going to briefly review key ways you can get politically involved on climate issues.

1. Join the Community

With the often sensationalist news covering a disastrously divisive time in American politics, it’s all too easy to become jaded. If left unaddressed, this can cause or contribute to anxiety, depression, and isolation. Fortunately, many may discover an antidote through joining a sympathetic community.

There are innumerable benefits to being a part of a community: inspiration, motivation, support, and celebration are just some to name a few. Luckily enough, being a part of an environmentally-focused community comes with all the same benefits!

You may already have found friends and community at our informative and fun Climate Science on Tap events (here), and if not, we hope you’ll join us, soon.  There are many great environmental groups out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one you like.  We’ve listed a few involved in climate changes issues below:

  1. Seattle350
  2. Citizens’ Climate Lobby
  3. Sierra Club Washington
  4. Seattle Green Drinks

2. Follow the Calendar

With all the different groups and communities out there working to make a difference in, around and for the environment, it’s easy to get lost in all the events, campaigns, programs, and projects on top of everything else. However, staying aware of each and everyone has never been easier with CCA’s continuously updated calendar of events (here)! We post events happening all over the Puget Sound region and beyond from workgroup meetings and hearings,  to talks and film festivals. There’s something for everyone! Check it out!
Take action.

3. Take Action

Reversing climate change while remaining within the other 8 planetary boundaries can be expected to require a change from all of us, in every aspect of our lives. Tackling climate change is not as simple as swapping out our light bulbs or buying an electric car. Unfortunately, solving climate change is much more complicated than that. We have to have a portfolio of solutions as a society through clean energy bills, fully-funded regulators, and local, transnational, and international agreements on planetary conservation and protection. And we have to have a willingness and humility as individuals to embrace change in every big and little way.

Like our blog? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to check us out next week with Gabriella!

A Letter to my Representative

With the Washington legislature recently in session, I found it fitting to write a letter to my representative, to feature in this week’s blog post. As I’m from Oakland, California, I’ll be writing to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 13th District.  

Fun side note: My sister won the Fan Favorite component of the Congressional Art Competition, and had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Lee (pictured).

Writing to your representative may feel like a daunting task. The likelihood of your representative personally reading your letter is slim, but that’s not to say no one will open it. Usually teams are dedicated to opening and responding to citizens’ letters, and to quote my hometown basketball team (go Warriors!), there’s strength in numbers.

The proposed bill I’m asking Congresswoman Lee to put her support behind is State Sen. Scott Weiner’s (D) bill, SB-50, also known as the Transit Zoning Bill. This bill would change zoning laws around transit stations and high frequency bus stops, allowing for more multi-family housing and apartment buildings to be built. As described by State Sen. Weiner, this would be “pro-affordability and pro-sustainability,” as more affordable housing would be available for the ever-growing population of the Bay Area. As for being a sustainable measure, more housing around train stations, such as BART (which I grew up riding), would give people more incentive to ditch their cars and take public transportation to work. The transportation sector is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gasses, and so making buses and trains more accessible would mitigate our emissions.

Here is the letter I sent to Congresswoman Barbara Lee:

Honorable Barbara Lee
House of Representatives
1301 Clay Street, Ste. 1000-N
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Representative Lee,

My name is Eden Cypher, and I was born and raised in beautiful and vibrant Oakland, California. At the moment, I’m living as a California transplant in Seattle, attending the University of Washington and pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies and Communication. Aside from having seasons and enjoying a lot more fresh salmon in the PNW, Seattle has a lot in common with the Bay Area. Both cities face a massive influx of people, but at the same time want to move toward a greener future.

I believe that State Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB-50 bill addresses these issues in a proactive way. Restructuring zoning laws around transit centers to allow for multi-family homes is a great way to deal with the increasing population of the Bay Area, provide more affordable housing, and promote public transportation.

Promoting sustainable practices on an individual level is one of my main motives for entering the environmental field. Aside from the larger issues this bill would address, I hope to one day move back to Oakland. On a personal level, if this bill is passed I will be more likely to live in my favorite, diverse and magnificent hometown, as will many others! SB-50 allows many others to experience the Oakland I was lucky enough to grow up in, so I hope that you take this into consideration and support this proposed bill.

Thank you,

Eden Cypher

I hope this letter can be an example for others to reach out to their own representatives! I’ve never written a letter like this before, so I looked at some examples online. You can find them here and here. Citizens Climate Lobby is another great resource for learning about how you can reach out to your representative, and they have a great webpage for finding your congressperson and writing to them!


Beyond my own Backyard

By Gabriella Chilczuk

Hello CCA blog readers! I am the third and final intern to introduce myself and share my experiences that have brought me to the University of Washington’s environmental studies program. If you have not read Eden and Jon’s blog, go check them out! All our unique experiences have lead us to this amazing internship with CCA. By reading our introduction posts, you will get insight on the passion that drives us CCA interns to give you all a positive experience with this organization.

To start things off, it is important to know some background information about myself. My parents immigrated from Brazil and Argentina, looking for a better future in America. They met years later in Seattle, got married, and had four children. As a family, we never discussed the environment or its degradation. When we did learn about the environment, it was in school learning about simple sustainable lifestyle changes, like the “Three R’s” (reduce, reuse, and recycle!). We practiced these behaviors at home, but that was the extent of our environmental awareness. Looking back this is surprising to me since we were constantly outside. If we weren’t on the soccer field or rowing out on Lake Union, we were playing out in our backyard. Screen time was never an issue with us. Being outside was where we were the most comfortable.

Fast forward to college. It’s fall quarter of my sophomore year and I am taking my first environmental class. It was also during this quarter in which I took my first hike. Immersed in the mountain ecosystems, I was in a completely novel setting. The view of the Cascades at the top took my breath away; the whole experience feeling unreal. In that moment, my connection with the outdoors grew. This new environmental knowledge I’d learned from class extended the outside from just my urban backyard, to the tops of Western Washington mountain ranges. I was struck with amazement at how special our planet is.

By the end of the same quarter, I was enrolled in the Program of the Environment. Who knew that all it took was hiking up into the mountains? I had always had a connection with the outdoors, but in a smaller, human-influenced space. My backyard was just that, my backyard. Up in the mountains I felt like I transported to new landscapes. I wasn’t exploring a city in Europe or Asia, I was exploring the natural world. Nothing made me feel more appreciative of our planet then that.

As I continued hiking around the Pacific Northwest, I was learning about the science behind it all. From how the landscape formed billions of years ago, to native species and their roles in the ecosystem. With this, my passion grew.

Now I spend moments outdoors with my siblings in a different way. I share my knowledge with them and watch their love for the environment grow. I have seen a huge difference in all my siblings attitudes towards the environment. I am learning more and more every day that I can spark a fire in people. Simply being outside and sharing your love for the environment with an individual can truly make a difference and inspire change. Sharing the experiences and knowledge I have gained in college with my family has transformed our household. Being outdoors is now a new experience where we all get to appreciate and learn about the environment.

If you have read this far, I hope you enjoyed my story and I hope it has inspired you to share your love for the environment with others. Next week’s blog will feature the first hike I went on in the PNW, including trail information and photos. Stay tuned. See you next week!

Fanning the Flames

By Jon Doyle

Welcome to Cascadia Climate Action’s weekly intern blog! If you’re just joining us, please take a moment to check out Eden’s post (here) on her introduction and personal motivations for pursuing a career as an environmentalist before continuing on to read about mine.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jon Doyle, and I’m currently an undergraduate senior at the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment along with Eden and Gabriella, who you’ll hear from next week. Like Eden and Gabriella, I’m interning with CCA as a part of my Environmental Studies capstone, which I’m coupling with research on the environmental movement.

I didn’t always expect that I would study the environment before moving up to Seattle from Elkhorn, Nebraska four years ago. Up until the end of my freshman year at UW, I expected to pursue a career in law, yet, I was always engaged with environmentalism in large part due to my parents and the household I was raised in.


A picture of my hometown, Elkhorn, just west of Omaha, Nebraska.

Both of my parents were devout Catholics who worked professional jobs in the city’s small downtown. Growing up, they taught me and my siblings that discipline, determination, and service were the keys to success. Discipline in our chores, determination in our school work, and service to the community through our church and school. Additionally, they made a point of keeping us informed about the world outside our hometown through our regular family dinners, the only time of the day that all of us could sit down together as an entire family. These dinners were my first exposure to the idea that humans were already stewards of the planet regardless of our choice to be so or not, a theme familiar to many Catholics.

You see, my siblings and I were very blessed that our mother would take the time to make our family dinners as international as the local grocery store would allow. “I won’t have you leave my household as an adult knowing nothing outside of your own traditional American cuisine,” my mom would say. Having grown up in Seattle with immigrant parents, my mother was very conscious of the seclusion the rurality Nebraska would bring to our childhoods and was determined to counteract as much. Always hand-made, some of my favorite meals my mom would prepare included Indian, Thai, Japanese, Swedish, and Spanish dishes.

“And don’t you dare think about wasting it.” my dad would add. “You children are so blessed by God with everything you are given, many children like you across the world and here in America go without.” He would often defend his claims citing a recent NPR story he’d heard that morning on the radio news about a drought or global warming. “In 25 years, when you are all adults, the world will be facing extreme resource scarcity, and it’ll be up to you to use what you have wisely.” Even in rural, red Nebraska, my siblings and I grew up with the understanding that humans have already impacted the Earth, and that not only was it our moral charge to be conscious and conservative, but that it was also an existential one.

That’s a lot to take on as an eight-year-old. Indeed, it’s a feeling I have no doubt that many of you reading this post, if not most, hate to relate with but still can nonetheless. In fact, some social scholars now describe the bombardment of harrowing news stories about the climate catastrophe -premier amongst others- as contributing to a new phenomenon called climate anxiety. In a book called, No Impact Man, Colin Beavan’s wife, Michelle Conlin, describes another relevant term, stasis through obfuscation, in which people are so overwhelmed with catastrophic climate rhetoric that we’re paralyzed into inaction. And that’s exactly what happened to me.

After every dinner, I’d go to my room worrying about the state of the world and my inability to do anything about it other than bury myself in my school work or extracurriculars to prepare myself for a career in a professional, corporate world. And that’s how I coped, by not taking anything my parents ever said too seriously. Perhaps that came directly from the extreme privilege of my childhood, which I do not deny, but even the privileged can’t escape a phenomenon as global as anthropogenic climate change.

As I prepared for high school, I remember playing for my hometown’s baseball team. One afternoon, our whole team was grabbing a bite of pizza after practice and I noticed a clip of blazing fire in my peripheral. I turned to catch one of the TV screens overhanging the restaurant countertop, showing footage of a column of black smoke like one would see coming out of a volcanic underwater ocean vent, except it was billowing from the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I was mesmerized, shocked, and anxious. But even deeper still, I was disgusted. It was the first time I remember reflecting to myself, “How could we have let this happen? Why were people filming it instead of doing something!?” I watched and rewatched that same footage for weeks thereafter. Today it’s one of the few flashbulb memories I’ve acquired. A distinct remembrance of the time I woke up from my stasis, turning my attention to what was actually happening right in front of my very eyes.

Unlike the temperate West Coast of the United States, Nebraska and the neighboring lands of the Great Plains are seasonal, and dramatically so without any major body of water to buffer temperature extremes from the Gulf of Mexico to the south or the Canadian tundra to the north. Consequently, summers can be hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and winters regularly reaching below the freezing point, sometimes below 0. This aspect of the weather in Nebraska filled my childhood with green summers and weeks’ worth of snow days, due to drifts of snow blocking people in sometimes up to ten feet. But it also served as a climate baseline for me.

Throughout high school, I would notice odd changes in the climate, all associated with warmer weather. Droughts and brown patches became a more frequent sight over summers, and winter snow days whittled down to 0 during years when it was too warm for snow to even ever stick to the ground longer than an hour or so. And the seasons started to blend into one another. The very stories my parents warned me about at our dinners were starting to become more visible to me in my everyday life. But what could I do about it? All this time I had been preparing for college applications, I hadn’t really thought about what ways I could help other than watching my own habits.

When it came time to head off to college, I intended to study political science at the University of Washington, known for many famous political scientists. And in one of my classes, we discussed what at the time was a current event, the Paris Climate Accords, formally known as COP 21. That day in my Food Politics class, I learned that there were people working to make a difference, and urgently so. I remember sitting there and feeling goosebump inspiration and focus. I began to reconsider the vision of my horizon and greater incorporate an aspect of service to my studies. And I’ve been on this path ever since.

I recently flew back home to Nebraska over the winter holidays to celebrate Christmas and a few family birthdays. Just like when I was a kid, our whole family sat down again every night and had many a wonderful meal over talk about the news. Perhaps being my last Christmas visit home as a student, I took the opportunity to ask my dad why he always would talk to us about our responsibilities, specifically as stewards of the environment.

“Because I see climate change this way, Jon. The house is on fire, and the adults downstairs are fanning the flames, with their children all locked in the attic.” He said with such sangfroid. I can’t forget it.

For those of us tempted to believe that we aren’t implicated in this analogy, you are misguided. We all are. The question now is, who are we in this analogy. Who are you? Who am I? Are we the parents fanning the flames, or the children locked in the attic?

As for me, I’m still working on being neither. Denial accrues interest, and inaction is defeatist. We need to put out the flames, for it’s all there is time left to do before the house burns down.

My Goodbye to CCA

By Mary Cappelletti

Today, I write my tenth and final blog post for Cascadia Climate Action. I’m writing this a couple days after the big Climate Science on Tap event that signified the end of my internship and work with CCA. To wrap it all up, I was asked to write some final thoughts on the blog to summarize the summer. Working with Cascadia Climate Action has been a rewarding experience that taught me a lot, both about myself and about nonprofits. 

Watching my boss, Mary, balance almost all of the work for CCA has made me realize how much goes into running a small organization and how difficult it can be with a small team. It often means people have their individual tasks to be completed independently and then reviewed jointly. Which can create differing ideas and various visions for the organization itself or aspects of it. But, more importantly I saw people overcome this and use teamwork and dedication to be efficient advocates for the environment. Things may not have always gone smoothly or quickly, but ultimately everyone was always eager to work hard to get the job done. I will always admire the amount of energy, time, commitment, and enthusiasm that the people I encountered bring to climate action. But, most of all, I will admire Mary Manous for her incredible dedication. 

I also learned how lucky I am to be surrounded by such an amazing community here at UW and in Seattle. A few days before the recent Climate Science on Tap event my father was kind enough to fly out to Seattle to assist me in moving. Luckily, this meant he could attend the event and see a bit of what I’d been working on the past few months. One of his biggest takeaways was the community that had gathered at Lagunitas. The amount of people there dedicating their time to both learning about climate change and teaching about it was exciting to him. He also continuously expressed how impressed he was with the amount of PhDs and educated individuals at the event. This was a good reminder for me. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such dedicated, inspiring individuals that push me to be the best student, advocate, and person that I can be.

Lastly, this internship constantly reminded me of the urgent situation we humans have put ourselves and the other life that exists around us in. It’s sometimes difficult to find the right words to summarize what climate change is and all that it will mean for the world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. This experience reminded me how important it is for each and every one of us to be doing our part to reduce the impact we have. It reminded me of the sometimes intangible effects small actions can have and also the big changes we can make when we work together. 

I am far from a fully informed and educated individual when it comes to most topics, including climate change. But, through my time with Cascadia Climate Action I’ve made leaps and bounds toward the type of advocator and person I want to be in life. I don’t know what I want to do with my life or how I will make a difference, but I learned that it is possible to make a difference and that there’s an entire community waiting to embrace me as I embark on a journey of fighting for this beautiful planet. I hope all of you will consider joining me and this inspiring community as we continue in this battle.

A Holistic Approach

By Mary Cappelletti

Throughout my college experience, my study abroad trips, this internship, the interviews I’ve participated in, and my evolution as a person and an environmentalist, I’ve continually been introduced to new ideas, outlooks, approaches, and attitudes. At times I am met with desperation and despair, other times I am met with hope and optimism. Some want to change the tide in politics to create policy changes that benefit the climate and all life on earth. Some want to change the way people consume to promote ethical, sustainable relationships with the things we consume and the natural world. At times, this becomes overwhelming and confusing. How do I find the best, the right way to combat climate change? I’ll probably never find the one best way to solve the problem of climate change, likely because there is no one solution. But, if there was it would likely be exactly what David Perk described in our recent interview.

David Perk is just a normal parent and citizen, but somewhere along the line he realized, “something had to be done.” David says it’s possible that we’re past the tipping point, but he joined the fight after the Bush administration and hasn’t stopped since. He has been involved in stopping coal and oil trains in Washington through participation in a variety of organizations, and is currently a board member for 350 Seattle. David isn’t sure how to persuade people to get involved, but he believes some major changes need to be made. In particular, capitalism needs a makeover or a complete disposal. He notes that capitalism is an expression of human nature, and therefore it will be difficult to change. However, it is critical that humans develop a more holistic way of living and thinking. We must realize the consequences of our actions on future generations and the planet. We need to change the way we consume to start living in a way that benefits all of society, rather than our individual selves. 

David wants to see the system change, and he thinks it will likely have to happen bottom up. Theoretically, most of the world gets it (Paris agreement), the US is just behind. To him, it seems the crazy has all risen to the top in our government, but he sees hope in the young people of the next generations. David says that although the changes he speaks of have to happen from the bottom up, simply increasing awareness will not do the trick. People can be educated, but they have to feel something if they’re going to be inspired to make changes. There’s a difference between understanding and feeling, and David thinks that might just be the key. Rather than just making people to “get it,” we need them to “feel it.” An interesting thing to consider for yourself. Do you simply understand climate change, or do you believe in it and feel something about it?

Conscious Consumer: Why is food important?

By Mary Cappelletti

In the past, I have mentioned my passion for personal choices and sustainability. In particular, I am very interested in the things that we as humans consume on a daily basis, like food. Food is fascinating to me for many reasons. For one thing, it is very closely tied to culture and often defines what most people know about foreign places and people. Your average person may not know anything about Thai culture, but they’ve tasted the delicious, savory pad thai and pad see ew that comes from the far off country. This can of course be problematic at times, but food does allow us a glimpse into exotic places and unfamiliar cultures. It is also directly tied to our wellness as it dictates the health of our gut microbiome and overall body. Not eating the right foods can result in fatigue, disease, obesity, mental disorders, and so on. So, it’s not only necessary for our survival, but it can also determine our quality of life and define the cultures we exist within. And now, we are discovering that it heavily influences the health of the planet. Needless to say, food is valuable, fascinating, delicious, and of monumental importance.

This past December I completed a research project on food culture and food choices in the city of Arusha, Tanzania. I interviewed 100 locals from a town just outside the city limits. Each day I would take an hour long commute of dala dala (a “bus” that was actually a van with the occupancy of a bus) and piki piki (motorcycle taxi) to the town where I would then enter the homes of various community members to hear a bit about why they ate the food they ate. I asked them about health concerns, the environment, money, transportation, and so on. I learned that the majority of the residents made their food choices largely based on monetary concerns. However, eating cheaply looks different there than it does here in America. A low-income Tanzanian living in the town of Bangata eats meat about once a week and buys their food from relatives or neighbors. Meaning that they buy primarily fresh produce and a few animal products, as well as rice and other basics, from local sources. This does not ensure that they prepare healthy, nutritious meals, however the average Tanzanian has a very direct relationship with the foods they consume. 

I don’t bring this up in an attempt to persuade my readers to adopt a Tanzanian diet, but I do ask them to reconsider their own. We have so many options at our fingertips and very few constraints in comparison to many around the world. Within a five mile radius from each of our homes there is likely a Safeway/Fred Meijer/Trader Joe’s, a local market, a gas station, a dozen restaurants, and maybe even a bulk store, like Costco. Within each of these stores there are veggies, fruits, meats, frozen foods, premade foods, fresh deli foods, organic foods, local foods, etc. We are surrounded by a multitude of food choices. Many of which have traveled across the country, or even world. They’re also likely covered in plastic and possibly pesticides. It’s also probable that they are a part of some larger political scandal that we’re all unaware of (watch the Netflix docuseries Rotten). This means that very few of us Americans have any sort of direct relationship with the food we consume. We often don’t know where it was produced, how it was produced, who produced it, and the impacts it had. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consume a plant based diet. I do this for a variety of reasons, one of which is environmental. According to Drawdown by Paul Hawken, “The most conservative estimates suggest that raising livestock accounts for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gases emitted each year; the most comprehensive assessments of direct and indirect emissions say more than 50 percent.” He then goes on to say, “If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” This is due to the methane cows directly produce, the carbon dioxide that is produced through the land use and related energy consumption to grow feed for the livestock, and the nitrous oxide that is released from manure and fertilizer. This doesn’t even dive into the amount of water and feed that goes into raising the cattle, rather than feeding hungry people or solving droughts around the world. So, why does food matter? That is just one reason why. 

Eating a plant based diet is one of the best things an individual can do for the environment. This is primarily due to lessening the demand and consumption of harmful products such as beef. However, I’m aware that regardless of how convincing I am in this post, all of my pleading and begging will likely not convert many, if any, to a vegan diet right away. Of course, I would love for each and every environmentalist and climate change fighter to abandon all animal products, but using my realistic outlook, I’m instead going to use this opportunity to implore that we simply take whatever steps we can towards becoming conscious consumers. If that means adopting a plant based diet for some people, that’s awesome. If it means buying local at farmers markets for others, that’s also awesome. We don’t live in Tanzania. We live in a country where we have pretty much everything we could want at our fingertips at all times. This means we have to force ourselves to be aware of the choices we make. Being a conscious consumer can expand past food, and it must if we are to build a sustainable future. But, for now we can begin to focus on the relationships we have with the food we consume. Read the label on the products you buy. Take note of whether the products you consume are organic, local, vegan, and how many ingredients they have. Go to the farmers market. Buy in-season produce. Find alternatives to animal products. Eat food that doesn’t cause harm to the world around us. Cattle production is not the only part of the food industry that has negative impacts on the climate and the natural environment, so try to educate yourself on the other things you consume. Food is incredibly influential in many ways as its production can lead to numerous negative impacts, including clear cutting, dead zones in the ocean, soil erosion, degradation, pesticide contamination, and so much more.

Ultimately, I want to urge you all to educate yourselves so that you can become conscious consumers. Be aware of how your food was produced and the impacts it has. I understand that food is part of culture and that is so important. My hope is that food culture is not too damaged by climate motivated lifestyle changes. However, culture can change and perhaps it must. As we know, many large cultural changes have occurred in the past when pieces of it have been deemed unethical. It’s time that we stop finding excuses and to the best of our abilities we make the necessary changes to become conscious consumers of sustainable, ethical products. Because, food matters not only for our health and our cultures, but also for the other people, beings, plants, and ecosystems in this world. 

P.S. There are so many things that need to be discussed on the topic of food. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’ve left important pieces out. I want to say that I fully understand that things like soybeans can also be detrimental to the environment, however fun fact – soybeans are sometimes fed to cattle! Ultimately, I urge everyone to educate themselves on food and start discourse with people in their lives. One source, is the book I cited above Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken. There is so much to learn and so many changes to make. Why not start today?!