Why I choose to be plant-powered

Guest blogger Aaron Brunet won Masterchef NZ in 2013 with his creative and wholesome approach to food. He writes a plant-based food column in the NZ Herald Bite magazine and is excited about the future of super-healthy food. As a plant-powered guy, Aaron is one of the new breed of passionate foodies who have embraced eating for wellness and vitality as well as great taste.

This is an excerpt from Aaron Brunet’s blog, “Why I choose to be plant-powered.” Aaron Brunet is a plant-powered MasterChef NZ 2013 winner and now writes, cooks and spreads the word about loving food that loves us back.

Lots of people I meet these days feel resigned about the state of the world. For a long time I did too, and eventually I grew literally sick and tired of that sense of resignation.

The trouble was that like most people, I didn’t know what I could do about it. How could I make a meaningful difference?

One of the main results of this quest was my choice to eat a plant-based diet, and I’d like to share with you some of the experiences and inspirations that transformed how I think about food.

raw pasta puttanesca

Raw pasta puttanesca.

ENVIRONMENT

When my daughter was about eight years old environmental issues really became personal for me. Ariana was learning about climate change at school and she was deeply affected by it. And I mean deeply. Not just “a little concerned” or “rather anxious”, but seriously heartbroken about what her future looked like. Would there even be a world for her that she could feel safe to bring children into when she grew up? As a dad, seeing my eight-year-old daughter in tears about the state of the world powerfully affected me. It got through my adult defences and made it real for me.

And importantly, it planted a seed, a desire to know what I could do.

It was when I watched the movie “Cowspiracy” that an important part of the jigsaw fitted into place for me. Up till then I hadn’t really given much thought to where the bulk of our greenhouse gases come from., I’d just assumed it was burning fossil fuels. Watching that movie with my daughter made me realise that the way and the scale on which we farm animals was a key issue.

It finally sank in that we’ve taken this to a ridiculous extreme. I wondered if they were exaggerating because surely I would have heard more about this in the past. Apparently not.

The Smithsonian Institute says

“The global scope of the livestock issue is huge. Twenty-six percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface is used for livestock grazing. One-third of the planet’s arable land is occupied by livestock feed crop cultivation. Seventy percent of Brazil’s deforested land is used as pasture, with feed crop cultivation occupying much of the remainder. Globally, 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the livestock industry – more than is produced by transportation-related sources.”

It was a real double-whammy – not only are we creating a staggering amount of greenhouse gases by raising animals on this scale, we’re using between 10 and 20 times as much land as we’d need if we raised food crops instead.

I never used to think about this. I just accepted it as normal that most of New Zealand consists of fenced-off fields of green grass for cows and sheep. I even thought they looked pretty. Now I just see a great big opportunity for us to do better.

The game-changer for me was thinking about the ways I could make a difference.

Taking shorter showers seemed like trying to use a spoon to drain the ocean. Within everyone’s reach but completely ineffective.

Buying an electric car might make a bigger difference, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars and didn’t feel like something most people, myself included, could do soon.

Making a different choice about the food I ate made total sense to me because I could do it right now, and it would have the biggest effect.

I was sold.

raw chocolate mud pie.jpg

Raw chocolate mud pie.

LIFE ON THIS PLANET

As a kid I felt like the odd one out as a vegetarian. Something I learned recently helped me understand why. I was listening to a Rich Roll podcast and heard him talking with Dr Melanie Joy about her book, Love dogs, eat pigs, wear cows. She came up with the term “carnism”, the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals, but not others.

She talks about how we’re so conditioned to a certain way of seeing the world that we don’t realise it’s only one point of view.

“We often assume that only vegetarians and vegans bring their beliefs to the dinner table. But the only reason many of us eat cows but not dogs, for example, is that we do have a belief system when it comes to eating animals. It’s not a necessity, it’s a choice – and choices always stem from beliefs. In meat-eating cultures around the world, people typically classify only a tiny handful of animals as edible. All the rest are classified as inedible and disgusting. Members of all cultures tend to find their own choices to be rational, and the choices of other cultures to be disgusting and even offensive.”

That makes sense to me; most New Zealanders see eating horses and dogs this way.

Carnism also teaches us to believe in the three N’s of justification: that eating animals is normal, natural, and necessary. When we’re born into an institutionalised system like carnism we internalise it and it seems invisible to us. This was probably why I was surprised when I learned about the scale of our animal farming: Around the world, over 100,000 farmed animals are slaughtered – and not just every day, or even every hour. Unbelievably, that’s every minute.

Personally, it feels really good not to be a part of that any more.

image004

Aaron Brunet.

WOULDN’T IT BE COOL

The present world was pretty much entirely designed by people. Hmm, is this the best we can do? I think not! The great thing is that since we designed this, we also have the power to design something better.

I like the “wouldn’t it be cool” game. Wouldn’t it be cool if:

  • We could grow all the food we needed and still have huge amounts of land for trees, wilderness and wildlife. Imagine great forests full of birds and cycle trails close to towns rather than barren fields of grass and eroded hills covered in gorse.
  • New Zealand was known as a world leader in sustainable organic farming, with people coming from all over to study and learn about how to work with natural systems to create super-nutritious plant-based food. Just imagine, we could export high-value, leading edge knowledge instead of bulk milk powder.
  • We all understood and used the consumer power we have to influence businesses.
  • We had one of the healthiest populations in the world. I’d love to see a NZ where going to the doctor was more about fine-tuning our happiness and wellbeing than confronting scary illnesses.
  • Everyone enjoyed taking responsibility for their own impact on the environment and saw it as a playful game to keep creating cooler ways to live in harmony with natural systems.
  • Our children were delighted about their future and felt that we were handing them a world full of positivity and potential.

All of these things are possible. Very possible. And I truly believe that changing how we eat can make a big difference to all of them. When I changed my diet I noticed a strong link with how my body and mind responded. It’s been like a positive feedback loop, a joyous circle rather than a vicious one.

CONCLUSION

I choose to live this way because I love it.  And because it makes the biggest difference to the body I live in, the world we live in together, and the rest of the life on this amazing planet.

At the start I was asking myself a question: What can I do? How can I make a difference? And I found an answer:

We can change the world with every bite.

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