Ann Arbor Forum Focuses On How Plant-Based Diets Can Help the Environment



ANN ARBOR, MI – The A2Zero Climate Action Plan urges Ann Arbor residents to eat more plant-based meals to help the city become carbon neutral by 2030.

As part of this effort, the city hosted a virtual sustainability forum on January 28 to showcase organizations promoting a plant-based diet. Some of the panelists were from Better Food Foundation, Project Grow, and Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels. The forum was moderated by Zach Smith, a specialist in community engagement for sustainable development.

The Better Foundation’s program, called DefaultVeg, was officially introduced in February 2020. It works to refocus the current status quo from meat products to plant-based products. The catering service offers plant-based meals by default and instead offers its customers the choice of adding meat or dairy products on request. By making herbal options the default on a menu, it can push consumers towards a healthier option.

“DefaultVeg preserves choice, no one is forced to have one diet or another. There is always the choice to have the option you want,” said Trevor Leonard, program associate for Better Food Foundation.

Leonard spoke about a Harvard School of Public Health study that found the percentage of people who ate meat dropped 43% when an experimental group saw their default meal switch from meat to vegetarian. Studies on their website also show that serving 1,000 plant-based meals can save 1,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of a car driving from Chicago to Paris, France.

How a vegan diet could fit into Ann Arbor’s carbon neutral plan

Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels (AAMOW) is also trying to get residents to eat less meat. They strive to minimize food waste by scheduling the days when their customers want food and try to offer seasonal specialties by including food from local farms. One of their vendors participates in the Farm to Freeze program which freezes produce at the peak of maturity, making healthy produce such as broccoli, cherries and blueberries accessible year round.

As a result of their efforts, 94% of their customers say they eat healthier and 97% say AAMOW has helped them stay at home, said Meals on Wheels manager Courtney Vanderlaan, which was particularly noteworthy. important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the oldest community garden in the United States, the Ann Arbor Grow Project has provided space and education for residents who wish to grow their own organic vegetables since it began in 1972.

Project Grow farmers donated approximately 3,410 pounds of food to Food Gathers, an organization that works to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in the community, according to board member Joseph Schutte by Project Grow.

“Having good, fresh, organic vegetables doesn’t come cheap,” Schutte said. “You can get it at the Farmers Market, it’s not cheap, but by growing it yourself you know exactly where it’s coming from.”

A University of Michigan to study conducted by the Center for Sustainable Systems found that eliminating food transportation for a year could save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles. The study also shows that switching to one vegetarian meal per day could also save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles. As a result, growing vegetables near home and having at least one plant-based meal a day in a garden could help reduce a person’s carbon footprint.

According to Environmental Protection Agency, limiting food waste can reduce the amount of methane released from landfills when these organic materials break down. Eliminating food waste can contribute at least 5% of the total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The next Ann Arbor Sustainability Forum will be held on February 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Urban Forestry and Green Infrastructure. Registration beforehand is compulsory.

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