By Dr George Jacobs
This is a follow-up article to Is Singapore ready for a plant-based food day?
There are many possible ways to encourage people to go plant-based at least once a week. Here, divided into categories, are some ideas off the top of my head and others taken from what has been done in Singapore and other countries to promote the eating of plant-based foods. But first, a reminder; this is a voluntary initiative – no one is going to be walking around in white boots booking people seen eating meat.
Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
Environmental organisations and activists might want to support a weekly Plant Based Food Day by educating members about the links between factory farming and environmental degradation. Indeed, some have already done such education.
- Nature Society (Singapore) – http://nss.org.sg – had a vegetarian cooking class and sometimes has vegetarian food at its events.
- Ground Up Initiative – http://www.groundupinitiative.org/story.html – teaches people to grow their own plant-based food.
- Green Kampong – http://www.greenkampong.com – and Eco Walk The Talk – http://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog – are two local websites that advocate plant-based diets among their other environmental protection ideas.
- Well-known climate change campaigners, such as Sir Nicolas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6891362.ece – and Dr R.K. Pachauri head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/07/food.foodanddrink – advocate meat reduction.Sir Nicolas forecast that society’s attitude towards meat could evolve as have our attitudes towards smoking. “I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”
- Many online carbon footprint calculators include diet in their calculations: http://footprint.wwf.org.uk
Many health organisations, internationally and locally, already advocate increased consumption of plant foods. Perhaps, they could use a weekly Plant-Based Food Day as one more way to accomplish that goal.
- The world’s largest organisation of nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association, says that plant-based diets can have health advantages – http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-07/ada-aru070109.php.
- The Singapore Heart Foundation, although their diet recommendations include meat, advocates, “a diet high in fibre, freshness and plant-based protein … you should consume plenty of fruit, vegetables, soy products, beans and legumes. Besides fibre, especially soluble fibre which helps to lower cholesterol in your body, these colourful goodies also provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants” – http://www.myheart.org.sg/healthy-heart-principles.
- Similarly, the Singapore Cancer Society urges people to eat, “foods rich in fibre” … “fresh fruits and vegetables” – http://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/lac-gci-how-can-we-reduce-our-risk-of-cancers.shtml.
A weekly Plant-Based Food Day could spur new ideas by businesses and provide a way for companies to boost employee’s health. A shift towards plant based foods wouldn’t mean fewer jobs, as people would still be eating as much, just differently.
- Meat restaurants can feature plant based dishes on Plant-Based Food Day.
- Vegetarian restaurants can have special promotions.
- As part of their Work-Life Balance programmes, companies can provide workshops to teach staff how to make their own plant-based dishes, or they can have food tasting sessions to introduce staff to plant based dishes with which they might not yet be familiar.
The youth of today have the most at stake if we don’t slow meat consumption. They are the ones who will suffer most from ill health and from environmental degradation.
- Various primary school have had incentive schemes to encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables.
- At NUS, as part of the university’s effort to fight climate change, in 2009, Thursdays were designated as days for voluntary meat reduction – http://www.nusfightsclimatechange.com/votes_meatout.html.
- Metta Welfare, which helps students with special needs, set up a vegetarian café, called Happy Arts Deli, where graduates of its school work and receive further training –
- Secondary school Home Econs classes could teach more plant based dishes, as well as explaining the rationale for them.
- Promoting the weekly Plant Based Food Day could be a focus for students’ CIP (Community Involvement Project) activities – http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/secondary/cip.
While we don’t want to depend too much on government bodies, they certainly can play a role.
- Health Promotion Board encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables for health reasons – http://www.hpb.gov.sg/foodforhealth/article.aspx?id=2648. For instance, HPB urges us to eat a variety of colours.
- Our Health Minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, has used Facebook and traditional media to let people know that he has adopted a plant based diet in order to boost his own health.
- Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, suggests that governments could use taxes and subsidies to encourage people to eat more plant based foods. After all, the health and environmental problems associated with meat will end up being paid for, in part, by governments.
The media, traditional and new, offers many avenues for public information and debate.
- In the Channel 8 Chinese drama ‘Your Hand in Mine‘, there is always a conversation segment among the drama family members on green issues before the telecast of the drama episode of that day. On 5 July 2010 (Episode 171), during dinner at home, some characters explain to others that they are only having one meat dish because of meat’s role in global warming – http://video.xin.msn.com/watch/video/your-hand-in-mine-%E6%83%B3%E6%8F%A1%E4%BD%A0%E7%9A%84%E6%89%8B-episode-171/1gqrwz697.
- New media platforms, such as The Online Citizen, have lively discussions on whether plant-based diets are appropriate – https://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/06/moving-towards-plant-based-diets/.
- Recipes and restaurant coverage are popular in both new and traditional media. Plant-based dishes could be promoted in this manner.
Dr George Jacobs is the president of the Vegetarian Society (Singapore) – a non-profit, non-religious charity