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James McWilliams and Eating Sustainably

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June 1, 2011

Trista Cornelius, Contributing Writer

According to James McWilliams, author of Just Food, the most important thing Americans can do to curb global warming is to eat a plant-based diet. If not a completely vegan diet, then a "radical reduction" of animal products is necessary--ideally decreasing from the average 260 pounds of meat per individual down to 12 pounds per year.

McWilliams recently spoke in Portland about eating sustainably, but it was not until the Q&A that he told the audience he was vegan, stating, "I donít touch any animal products, whatsoever." He was promoted as someone willing to speak his mind, even if what he has to say is "currently unfashionable," but reducing meat consumption was not a prominent part of his talk. I wondered why.

Is eating an all-plant diet still considered extreme and controversial? Vegan from the Inside, a comprehensive study of vegan lifestyles published for free online ( suggests otherwise. The study shows many "average Joes" outstandingly happy with their herbivorous diet and illustrates what so many authors, doctors, and celebrities have been recommending for our health and the health of the planet.

With all this evidence of plant-based diets curing disease and lightening the populationís burden on the planet, why are animal products still so "convenient?" McWilliams blames the farm bill. If you look at what foods our federal government subsidizes, it's in direct opposition to the food pyramid that the same government recommends. For example, McWilliams stated that 70% of subsidies go to meat and dairy, whereas only .37% goes to fruit and vegetables (yes, that's point-three-seven). Animal products--even though they require more land and water, produce more waste, and cause more human and animal suffering and deaths than any plant product--are cheap.

I know it will take time to change the farm bill, but individual stories of living a joyful, healthy, plant-based life inspire others, and individual choices add up over time. Luckily, someone in the audience, maybe a NW VEG member, spoke up about her many years of living a vegan life and took on the subject that even McWilliams, nicknamed 'the contrarian,' shied away from.

Viva la veggies!

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