We’ve all heard the phrase “vote with your dollar,” countless times. It’s a phrase that calls people to boycott or support companies whose values align with their own. But how often do you think about this phrase in-context of what you eat every single day? If you’re like most people, you probably do anytime you choose to pay a little extra for food that is organic or touts a specific health benefit you’re after. Increasingly, when people choose to buy plant-based foods, they are not only voting for that particular brand, they are also voting to reform our industrial food system.
Over the past 30 years, Americans have started to do something that previously may have seemed unprecedented: they started to eat less meat. Thanks in large part to growing education and awareness about the health implications of consuming red meat (not to mention the stray hormones and antibiotics in cheap meat and dairy), in addition to the environmental impact of factory farming … oh, and the horrific conditions the animals are subjected to in these facilities, people started voting with their dollars for plant-based alternatives.
In the past decade alone, demand for plant-based proteins and dairy alternatives has shot up. So much so that Big Meat and Dairy are actually pushing to ban these products from bearing the labels “milk” or “beef” (yes, they are arguing that the reason their sales are down and almond milk is up can all be chalked up to “consumer confusion”). The overall plant-based meat alternative sector is set to hit a market worth of $5.2 billion within the next two years, and food giants like Tyson and Cargill are actively investing in companies that make plant-based products. But this isn’t just another story of a fad consumer trend making a new corporation rich. The success of plant-based foods is a win for human health, the environment, and animals all in one … not to mention these products can help us feed our growing population without completely decimating our natural resources.
Growing the plant-based food industry and creating change in our current food system is a cause near and dear to Michele Simon, the Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association. If you haven’t heard of this powerhouse organization yet, it is a trade group representing the nation’s leading plant-based foods companies. The Plant Based Foods Association aims to level the playing field for plant-based foods by lobbying to eliminate policies and practices that place plant-based meat, milk, eggs, and butter at an economic disadvantage, such as labeling restrictions.
In a recent episode of the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast, Michele gets into the various ways our current food policy is failing the rising plant-based space. From checkoff programs that pay for multi-million dollar ad campaigns to subsidies for crops that go toward feeding livestock, these government-funded initiatives artificially lower the cost of meat and dairy, begging the question: Are we doing enough to change our failing food system by simply eating plant-based foods? In short, no.
Now, we don’t want to get you down here because by eating a predominantly, or completely, plant-based diet and encouraging everyone you know to do the same, you are undoubtedly having a great positive impact. But the part that most people miss when they decide they want to vote for plant-based foods with their dollar is that it’s just not consumers at play here.
As Michele explains, as citizens we can all help the growth of the plant-based food space by encouraging our government representatives to change policies that currently give industrial animal agriculture an unfair advantage. The Plant Based Foods Association recently sent a letter to leadership and members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, calling on them to consider provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill in support of “Specialty Crops” (including fresh produce, almonds, chickpeas and other pulses, coconut, flax, hemp, oats, and soybeans). The letter also stresses the importance of allowing funding for plant-based protein research and calls for a reconsideration of current subsidies and checkoff programs that make it difficult for plant-based products to compete. These are the kinds of issues that we all need to be aware of, and as such, we must support organizations fighting to level the playing field.
In addition to encouraging manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurant chains to offer more plant-based options, we can all get to know our representatives and let them know why they should support policies that advance plant-based foods.
For many, eating plant-based foods is about more than just delicious food, it’s about changing the food system. So if you want to learn about how you can do more to help this happen, listen in!
You can listen to the full episode below or on the following platforms: iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher.
If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe to the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast for new episodes with food industry leaders, health, and sustainability experts, as well as entrepreneurs and creative minds who are redefining the future of food – and order your copy of the #EatForThePlanet book!
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