Whether it’s scientists and food producers racing to get lab-grown meat on the shelves or big conglomerates like Unilever investing in plant-based animal product alternatives, the plant-based movement has been growing exponentially for the past couple of years.
In light of our The Future of Meat event, I talked to Pablo Moleman, Co-Founder of The Netherlands branch of prominent international food-awareness organisation Proveg, about the present and future of the plant-based food movement.
Kinder World: I’ve noticed that in a lot of your communications at Proveg you use the term plant-based instead of vegan, is this a strategic move to ease people into the idea?
Pablo Moleman: Almost all of our communication at Proveg is context-specific, so it’s not that we never use the word vegan but it really depends on the audience. Our communication is based on five perspectives: pro-health, pro-environment, pro-animals, pro-justice, and pro-taste. So we try to find common ground with everyone to move towards a more plant-based world.
I feel like within the ending animal farming movement the main focus is often on animal ethics and the word vegan seems to represent that side of the whole advocacy, do you think solely focusing on animal ethics can be trivialising the movement and pushing people away from it?
It could, yes. At least I would say that we are losing out on the opportunity of reaching a larger audience with our message. Some people might not be ready to hear the animal ethics message but they might be open to moving towards a plant-based diet for other reasons. We should be inclusive and try to get them involved as far as they can manage.
When it comes to discussions on ending animal farming, it seems to me that individual action is at the forefront. Is advocating for personal diet change the most effective way to promote a vegan diet?
That’s definitely the points in which Proveg is trying to change what activism looks like. In the very first phase, individual diet change was all that we had despite knowing that it wasn’t really that effective because it takes up a lot of resources and it’s very difficult to scale most interventions up.
But people’s behaviours are influenced by a lot of different factors, they are very much influenced by their peers and by their choice environment. When there are limited vegan options they obviously become more resistant to change. So, by working on a more institutional and corporate level: trying to change policies and trying to change what food producers are offering, we can make the grassroots level work that is individual diet change easier. The two approaches are very complementary.
Do you see growing interest from businesses towards Proveg’s work? Because I feel like the plant-based movement has gained a lot of traction in the past couple of years.
Definitely, there is a growing interest. Even to the point that it’s sometimes hard to be sure that the impact that we’re seeing is coming from our work and it’s not something that would have happened without our involvement. That wasn’t really an issue two years ago where we could be quite sure that if we hadn’t talked to a company they probably wouldn’t have moved.
Why do you think that is? What made it click for people?
I think on the consumer side there has been steady growth for ten years but it’s only recently that businesses started to take note of it. And that’s something that the vegan movement has been working towards for many years, trying to get more media attention, more corporate attention, and more investors.
So you think the movement and the attention will keep growing?
Yes, the consumer interest will continue to grow and I’m quite sure of that for two reasons. The first is that the growth of the vegan consumer market is built into the demographic. We’re seeing a lot of interest in plant-based eating among millennials and in Generation Z, so it’s actually a waiting game.
And second, the growth is actually driven by three other trends which are health, environment and animal welfare. These are growing trends and I would be very surprised to see all three of them suddenly collapse.
I do expect that there’s going to be a reduction in media attention. It’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t mean there will be a reduction in public interest but the media side will fade. The plant-based diet will become so common that it won’t be newsworthy anymore. We’re already seeing that in industry media like trade magazines and trendwatchers.
As a finishing thought, as we’ve discussed, Proveg works on different levels of advocacy: individual diet changes and community building but also the corporate and policy levels. Is there a hierarchy of effectiveness within these when it comes to sustainable long-term interventions?
The thing I’m most certain of is that we need a shift towards more institutional work. From there, there could be some prioritisation but synergy is the most important thing. We will see the most change when we are working in all these fields at the same time because they change the choice environment and they reinforce each other. Rather than pulling on one string, we are looking at creating diet change in a much more holistic way than we did before.
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One week has passed since Cyclone Idai — according to the UN, one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever affect the Southern Hemisphere — made landfall near Beira, in Mozambique. However, the true extent of the damage and the exact number of people who died in the disaster is yet to be determined.
The cyclone struck in Mozambique but Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar have been affected as well.
Images and reportages from these areas can be extremely upsetting and heartbreaking and even inspire a sense of desperation. How can we avoid getting overwhelmed by the news and instead effectively contribute to a solution?
One way could be donating to effective organizations operating on the ground at the moment. We’ve then collected 5 Kinder-vetted charities you can consider making a contribution to:
All donations to this fund of the Global Giving Foundation will support recovery and relief efforts for areas affected by the cyclone. Initially, the fund will help first responders meet immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once this first relief work is completed, the fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations responding to the disaster.
World Vision UK staff are on the ground responding across the region to wherever there is an urgent need for food, water, and shelter. More specifically, World Vision is providing maize flour and soya chunks, and tarpaulins and plastic sheeting to the many vulnerable children and their families.
UNICEF is on the ground too, assisting those displaced by the flooding providing critical emergency supplies to camps and communities.
Welthungerhilfe, a German NGO working in the fields of development cooperation and emergency aid, is at the moment supporting smallholder farmers in the Chikawa district, in Malawi. For medium-term recovery, Welthungerhilfe plans to rehabilitate boreholes that have been destroyed or damaged and to distribute seeds or sweet potato vines for winter cropping, as most of the maize harvest has been destroyed.
Oxfam Novib is part of the COSACA consortium, a network of major international organizations that are working in close collaboration with the Mozambican government to bring emergency relief in the country. (In Dutch)
Can’t decide? Donate through our widget and we’ll divide your contribution equally between all five organizations 👇
In all of this, let's not forget that disaster relief is crucial but it risks to make us complacent about ongoing, everyday disasters such as poverty and disease.
As climate change brings harsher and more frequent natural disasters to all corners of the planet, we better be prepared for when they hit, not in desperately saving lives, but containing the damage. Developing countries with poor infrastructure struggle much more than the developed world and they need funding, not only after the disaster strikes, but also before.
In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.
👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.
As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.
"We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.
“A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.
The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness — is the first free medical facility in the region.
Credit header image: Stu Spivack
The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.
Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.
The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.
My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).
As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.
In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.
A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.
Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.
Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.
When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.
A similar process occurs in the Arctic.
The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.
Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.
When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.
As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.
Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.
As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.