Are “sustainability schools” ignoring the plant-based solution?


I have my suspicions and have begun an investigation to find out.

Did you know that there are now 123 colleges (See link below) in the USA that offer “sustainability programs” with green degrees? I have written letters to four of them and included a copy of our book. Why? Because I am concerned that the incredibly powerful and Earth-friendly whole foods, plant-based diet-style may not be getting the attention that it deserves. (This article was originally published on 8-28-12 and updated on 9-3-13).

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

The U.N. says that the plant-based diet is not only “legitimate” but necessary.

After not receiving a single response from 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 all of them 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 the brightest and best educated.

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.

Facts about food; not dietary guidelines. When it comes to those 123 “sustainability schools, I am not suggesting that they begin telling people what they should be eating, but rather that they present the environmental and sustainability facts about all legitimate 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.

Legitimate diet-style? Just in case you’re questioning the legitimacy of the plant-based diet; check out the following endorsements, often hidden in obscurity by the powerful lobbies of the meat and dairy industries.

United Nations. “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change,” according to a UN report, June 2, 2010. “As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable,” says the report from United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

ADA (American Dietetic Association) “Vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle….They are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.” From an ADA 2009 position paper.

Albert Einstein. “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Albert Einstein

So what about the prominent nutrition schools? Even though there are few, if any, schools of nutrition that offer a “for-credit” course in plant-based nutrition, that speaks more to the integrity of the school than the legitimacy of the diet.

The diet works for human health and the health of the planet—and it could be the students’ collective interest in the latter that moves our next generation in the direction of an Earth-friendly plant-based diet.

Sustainability and Inevitability. Our typical western diet is simply unsustainable for three primary reasons—water, land and fossil fuel energy. Meanwhile, we’re losing a South Carolina sized chunk of arable land each year while the human population increases by almost 200,000 every day.

Since it is inevitable that we’ll be forced to relinquish the horribly wasteful and harmful western diet eventually, why not teach the young people how to begin that process now in a thoughtful and orderly manner? The lives of our future great-grandchildren are depending on it.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry

Want to learn the truth about nutrition? This is a good place to start.

The Bottom Line. These lifesaving and world-saving truths are not being taught in our schools of nutrition because of money, power, ego and control. As Dr. T. Colin Campbell explained in The China Study:

The entire system—government, science, medicine, industry and media—promotes profits over health, technology over food and confusion over clarity. Most, but not all, of the confusion about nutrition is created in legal, fully disclosed ways and is disseminated by unsuspecting, well-intentioned people, whether they are researchers, politicians or journalists.

The most damaging aspect of the system is not sensational, nor is it likely to create much of a stir upon its discovery. It is a silent enemy that few people see and understand.

President Bill Clinton sees it, understands it and made the choice to take charge of his health after reading The China Study. Why can’t we make this powerful information available to everyone? Why not teach everyone these simple truths—for the long-term sustainability of the human race?

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.

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—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.
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