Sustainability and Food Choices. Is anyone listening?


The “experts” are giving food choices “lip service” at best.

A very hot topic these days, the word “sustainability,” Google yields over 82 million responses in a half second. Everywhere you go, people are talking about sustainabilityEco-Schools (headed in UK) now operating in 53 countries, has more than 40,000 schools participating.

Eco-Schools banner

In the United States, there are now hundreds of colleges (See link below) in the USA that offer “sustainability programs” with green degrees. But I can’t find a single one that even mentions food choices. As for Eco-Schools, their program is based on nine key topics, and food is not one of them. (See link below)

Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander

Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander

Apparently, NONE of the big “eco” or sustainability programs around the world are focusing on the single leading cause of global environmental issues—the raising of livestock for our dinner tables. Last week, I learned about another “big picture guy” like myself—Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of  Comfortably Unaware. (See Amazon link below).

As he says, everyone is talking about the importance of sustainability, yet most of them are unaware of the most important human activity as it relates to all aspects of sustainability—our food choices. At the end of his video lecture (link below), he summarized what has happened in the world during the last hour that he’d been talking:

  • 8 million land animals have been slaughtered
  • 114 thousand tons of grain have been fed to livestock…
  • …while 684 children have starved to death
  • 5,835 acres of rainforest have been destroyed (for livestock use)
  • 4 million tons of greenhouse gases have been generated by livestock

Even the most prominent sustainability experts seem to be unaware of all of the above. Either they are unaware of the facts about food—or they lack the courage to challenge the almighty food industry. No doubt most of them are eating the typical western diet themselves and prefer to believe the food industry—so that they may continue eating their own harmful and wasteful foods without guilt.

Just over a year ago, I decided to reach out to some of those experts, writing letters to the department heads of four of the nation’s most prominent schools of sustainability. Although I suspected that they were all giving “lip service,” if any mention at all, to the destructiveness of our standard American diet, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and reach out to a few of them.

My letter to the department head at Yale. My letter to Yale was mailed on August 17, 2012. Three other letters went out to other prominent “sustainability” schools across the country. After over one year, I have not heard not so much as a courtesy note from a single one of them.

  • Dr. Edward A. Snyder, Dean
  • Yale School of Management
  • 135 Prospect Street
  • New Haven, CT 06511
  • Subject: Sustainability Schools

Dear Dr. Snyder,

While searching online for prominent universities with sustainability programs, I discovered that one of them was in my own neighborhood — the Yale School of Management. As the author of Healthy Eating, Healthy World, which is primarily about sustainability, I am very interested in doing what I can to promote the single most powerful decision that humans can make for their health AND for the health of the planet. It’s the decision about what to put on the end of our forks. 

Although I identified 123 schools that offer Green Degrees, I doubt that many of them give much more than lip service to the power of plant-based eating when it comes to sustainable living. But knowing that Yale is one of the premiere universities in the world, I was confident that would not be the case there. From the Sustainability website, I learned the following about Yale SOM:

Yale School of Management (SOM) has social and environmental sustainability woven throughout its core curriculum and more than 45 elective courses. The school has been recognized as a Gold Net Impact Chapter, signifying that many SOM students are highly active in learning about sustainability and tackling sustainability challenges.

After almost 600 consecutive days of blogging (at hpjmh.com) about the impact of our food choices, I find myself focusing more and more on our planet’s ability to support the long-term sustainability of the human race. I have concluded that the planet is going to be just fine; the question is how much longer she will be able to support life, particularly human life, as we know it?

The students of sustainability schools all over the world deserve to learn the absolute truth about how to get the most “bang for the buck” when it comes to lifestyle changes. They deserve to learn about the #1 cause of global warming, the #1 cause of our water crisis, and the #1 cause of decreasing species diversity. It’s the same thing in every case—our toxic western diet.

Take a few hours to review our book and then let’s talk about how we can work together to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth. Since I live less than an hour away, perhaps we could arrange for a visit in your office sometime soon. I look forward to hearing back from you. Sincerely, J. Morris Hicks

After not receiving a single response to any of my four letters, I concluded that my original suspicion was correct.

None of them are taking our food choices seriously when it comes to sustainability.

How could that possibly be? How could they all be so unaware of the single leading cause of so many of our environmental problems? I can only conclude that it’s the ubiquitous “protein myth” that seems to be embraced by 95% of our population—including some of the brightest and best educated people in the world.

What is that myth? The misguided belief that we “need” to eat animal protein to be healthy. Until we dispel that myth in a big way, there’s simply not going to be much progress in promoting our own health or in promoting the planet’s ability to sustain us as a species. My conclusion:

Shifting to a whole foods, plant-based diet will do more to ensure the long-term survival of our species than ALL other possible initiatives combined.

Dr. Sander van der Leeuw, Dean of School of Sustainability, Arizona State

Dr. Sander van der Leeuw, Dean of School of Sustainability, Arizona State. Zero response from him either—after over a year.

Facts about food; not dietary guidelines. When it comes to those hundreds of “sustainability schools, I am not suggesting that they begin telling students what they should be eating, but rather that they present the environmental and sustainability facts about all diet styles. The students deserve to have this information so that they can make their own individual dietary choices.

Since the students in this curriculum are obviously interested in sustainability, many of them may very well choose a whole foods, plant-based diet once they realize what’s at stake. Not only will they be rewarded with vibrant health and a trim body, but they’ll also know that they’re taking the single most powerful step possible to promote a healthy planet.

But they’re not getting that information and probably won’t for a very long time. And I don’t believe that we have time to wait for our system to change. Prominent scientists are predicting the collapse of our civilization before the end of this century, yet our top experts in sustainability and medicine are doing nothing to address our #1 problem in both fields of study.

Seriously Radical Intervention Needed

Promoting health, hope and harmony on planet Earth

Win-Win. What’s healthy for us is also healthy for the planet and for her ability to sustain our species.

Hardly any (if any at all) of our sustainability experts know about the importance of our food choices. Likewise, less than 10% our medical doctors know that 80% of our cost of healthcare is driven by our toxic western diet.

This despite the fact that a former president of the USA has talked openly about reversing his heart disease by replacing his meat and dairy with veggies, grains and fruit.

What to do? In the past few weeks, I have been posting blogs on this topic. How do we fix the mess we’re created? Rx for Global Food Information System. Complete Re-design

For your convenience, here are more links on this most crucial of all topics—the longterm sustainability of the human species.

Handy 5-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf page and also enjoy some great recipes from Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

SHARE and rate this post below.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
This entry was posted in Activism & Leadership, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sustainability and Food Choices. Is anyone listening?

  1. CJ says:

    I applaud your efforts to make these university leaders aware, with your appeal to reason, which should be welcome at those places of learning. Unfortunately, the higher education system in this country is pretty much now run like a corporation, for profit, with only places for issues that will help the bottom line. Anything that smacks of going against the mainstream, unless it’s very profitable in the short term, would be potentially disastrous for them… getting labeled in a negative way is not even something they want to touch. The lack of response is sad, but not at all surprising. The days of critical thinking, analytic reasoning and debate have sadly faded away on most campuses. As you well know, Jim, the people you are reaching out to are business people that only can think about enrollment, filling the seats, tuition and budgets and marketing campaigns. Where’s the advantage to a potential negative critique or worse, a lawsuit from Big Food, etc.? It’s the same situation in government.. maybe with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. http://www.veganpalooza.com/access/dennis-elizabeth-kucinich.html

  2. Linda says:

    The lack of response is not just disappointing, it’s rude.

  3. Randy Hogg says:

    Jim,
    Great angle to pursue this most important topic – looking at Sustainability programs. Thanks for all you do.
    To further pursue the Sustainability education question: Do we have any way to look at the curricula of these Sustainability programs at major universities? Required texts or course outlines for the coursework? Is it possible that the coursework does indeed cover material on the WFPB options that we promote – perhaps piecemeal and organized differently – but contacting the heads of the programs isn’t revealing it? Sounds somewhat tedious but looking at the course catalogs, checking for online materials, interviewing faculty, etc. might be needed to really quantify whether what you are thinking is really the case.
    I suspect, though, that what you fear is mostly true. Higher ed formal curricula, particularly at the bigger schools are not usually on the forefront of change. Thinking back to the student movements of the 60s, I wonder if that is where the impetus for this next great revolution will come from.
    Best wishes for your continued voice in articulating our greatest issue!
    Randy Hogg

    • Jackie Pekar says:

      Randy, I think you’re right on. The schools won’t change until the students (and general public) demand it. I see great strides in what is served in resturants just because people demand it. Heck…30 years ago would you think McDonalds would have salads on their menu??? We are getting better. I am, however, as disappointed in the lack of response of our school leaders! We must keep pushing!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s