Want To Take A Stand Against Climate Change? Look No Further Than Your Plate!

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It is no more a secret that intensive animal agriculture is at the helm of the environmental crisis that we face today. Be it global warming, massive energy consumption, land and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and species, the majority of the problems are rooted in the way humans are producing and consuming animals.

We have often been told that driving hybrid cars or getting solar panels are required to make the biggest difference. But how often have you been told that what you put inside your shopping bags at the grocery store can actually have a greater environmental impact than any other thing mentioned above?

Removing animal products from your plate is one of the most powerful ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint. The reason people aren’t able to tally the heavy environmental toll of animal products is because the destruction caused by intensive animal agriculture is largely hidden from our direct experience. It is easy to identify the carbon emissions from activities like driving fossil fuel cars as the damage is much more observable. But, for animal products, the math is not so simple, for the hidden externalities remain the climate crisis secret – less known and even less thought of!

How Does Our Diet Endanger Biodiversity?

Intensive animal agriculture is the primary driver of biodiversity loss. This is because, in order to support the production of animal products,species-rich natural ecosystems are being converted to arable land and pastures. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 2006 report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, stated that, “Livestock plays an important role in the current biodiversity crisis, as they contribute directly or indirectly to all the drivers of biodiversity loss (habitat change, climate change, invasive alien species, overexploitation, and pollution), at the local and global level.” (1)

Livestock And Public Health Externalities

Battery cage facility in India – poor waste management, overstocking causes several public health and environmental challenges, and severely compromise animal welfare

Production and consumption of animal products is not only bad for the environment but also for both, our individual and community health. Overstocking of animals and absence of waste management in animal farms poses a major health risk to the workers employed in the industry, people living in neighbouring areas and consumers eating the produce of such units.

Factory farms located near urban and peri-urban areas become a source of water contamination which may result in the spread of zoonotic diseases. (2) . People working on these farms and those living in and around the farms are more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections (Brief Report on the environmental status of some poultry farms in India, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, 2017).

Accelerating Climate Change, And Threatening Food Security

Climate change is a hunger risk multiplier. And since intensive animal agriculture significantly contributes to climate change, the need for a global shift away from meat and dairy to combat the harmful impacts of animal agriculture on climate and world hunger becomes imperative.

Animal agriculture is also one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, with more than 15% of the world’s total GHGs coming from animal agriculture. These emissions are a result of the immense inefficiencies during the conversion of plant protein to animal protein, in addition to the manure management and enteric fermentation in ruminants. A stunning 50% of the GHGs emitted by food and land use systems are associated with conventional animal agriculture, and, as farm animals’ numbers grow, their emissions are also likely to grow, even assuming “efficient” growth. Ruminant meat production is the third largest GHG emitter in India, even though consumption is relatively low. (10) With a growing demand for animal-based protein, this statistic is alarming – the need to incentivize consumption to more environment-friendly protein sources is critical to maintain diets that are within planetary boundaries.

A United Nations report on the effects of climate change concluded that the global consumption of animal meat must come down to curb global warming, reduce growing strains on land and water and improve food security, health and biodiversity. (3)

This change calls for a greater focus on plant-based food choices at the individual level and encourages plant-based feeding and farming practices to hunger and food security problems at the policy level.

HSI/India culinary training.
HSI/Canada culinary training.

There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

The gains in efficiency that reduce the prices of animal products tend to increase the externalized costs. Plant-based meats score better than animal protein as they emit; 30%-90% less greenhouse gases(4)(5), uses 72%- 99% less water(6) (7) ,uses 47%-99% less land(8) ,and causes 51%- 91% less aquatic nutrient pollution as it produces no manure, unlike conventional meat(9).

Thus, plant-based meat has tremendous potential to help build a sustainable food supply, primarily due to its efficient use of resources. Governments and agencies across the globe are realising the urgency for substantial dietary shifts from animal-based products to plant-based diets and hence are investing in the development of alternative protein sources.

HSI Initiatives

Humane Society International works across the world to help food and hospitality businesses increase the availability of plant-based foods on menus, and is carrying out successful programs across Asia, such as the Green Monday program in Vietnam, Meatless Monday in Sri Lanka, among others through our plant-based initiative. In 2019, we convinced more than 400 institutions, ranging from daycare centres, orphanages, schools & colleges, as well as global food service and catering companies to adopt policies around serving less meat and more plant-based foods in their cafeterias, by conducting more than 150 culinary events, training over 1,330 food service professionals around the world. We also conduct plant-based awareness programs in schools and colleges across the Indian subcontinent, calling for more sustainable and humane consumption patterns. We are heavily invested in aiding the growth of the plant-based meat, dairy and egg sectors in India, and are working with stakeholders from academia, policy makers, and several others to bring affordable, nutritious plant-based and cultivated protein to consumers.

Way Forward!

The earth has reached its tipping point and we can’t continue to live with our unsustainable ways. Food is a powerful lever, and one with which we can optimize human health and environmental sustainability on this earth. We’re a microcosm of this huge structure and each one of us has the power to influence it and strive for a sustainable future- a future that ensures the well-being of all: humans, planet and animals.

HSI/India co-organizes the annual ‘Future of Protein Summit’ 2019, an event that discusses alt proteins and brings together various stakeholders from the government, business, scientists, and others.

References:

  1. Livestock’s Impact on Biodiversity (FAO).
  2. Water Pollution From Agriculture: A Global Review (FAO).
  3. An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.
  4. Poore J, Nemecek T. Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers. Science. 2018;360: 987–992.
  5. Heller MC, Keoleian GA. Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger life cycle assessment: A detailed comparison between a plant-based and an animal-based protein source [Internet]. University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems; 14 Sep 2018.
  6. Dettling J, Tu Q, Faist M, DelDuce A, Mandelbaum S. A comparative life cycle assessment of plant-based foods and meat foods [Internet]. Quantis USA and MorningStar Farms; Mar 2016.
  7. Heller MC, Keoleian GA. Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger life cycle assessment: A detailed comparison between a plant-based and an animal-based protein source [Internet]. University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems; 14 Sep 2018.
  8. Peters C, Picardy J, Darrouzet-Nardi A, Wilkins J, Griffin T, Fick G. Carrying Capacity of U.S. Agricultural Land: Ten Diet Scenarios. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. 2016;4: 000116.
  9. Selman M, Greenhalgh S, Díaz R, Sugg Z. Eutrophication and hypoxia in coastal areas: A global assessment of the state of knowledge. World Resources Institute; Mar 2008.
  10. 10. Slyvia H. Vetter, Tek B Sapkota. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from agricultural food production to supply Indian diets: Implications for climate change mitigation (2017)
All images courtesy of Humane Society International.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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