Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Food on the Menu at UN Climate Talks

Sam Kass was the director of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign and the Senior Policy Advisor for her Healthy Food Initiatives.  He assisted Michelle Obama in creating the first major vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden.  Kass is now preparing to be a senior food analyst on the NBC news team. 

Kass’s plans for working at the UN Conference on climate change in December may surprise many of the delegates from 190 countries, whose goal is to achieve a binding and universal agreement on climate.  Kass is planning meals for the delegates – meals that will send a message on the crucial role that food and agriculture will play in either reducing or worsening climate change.  Methane is produced by livestock and food waste; nitrous oxide escapes from manure and fertilizer; carbon dioxide is left unabsorbed when rainforests are cut down to make way for cattle and soybeans.   “If it were a nation, rotting food would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas (after the US and China) and takes 28% of the planet’s agricultural land to produce” says Kass.  He plans to serve a meal on two different plates – one made with typical, resource depleting, greenhouse gas emitting ingredients (such as corn-fed beef) and one made with truly sustainable ingredients.  Kass is hoping to compel leaders to place the food system on the list of sectors requiring action, along with energy and transportation

Kass recently co-hosted a sustainably focused meal with a Peruvian chef  and with Sean Penn at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund meetings in Lima, and spoke to the power of food to inspire sustainable policy.  For his work at the Paris conference, Kass will be working with allies such as the Center for Food Safety (CFS), who will be there to highlight the importance of carbon capture through agroecological practices.   CFS maintains that this kind of carbon capture can be started immediately, carries no risk and will increase crop yield, minimize erosion, and help the water carrying capacity of soil.  (Agroecology is the study of the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment within agricultural systems. It includes organic farming, traditional framing methods, crop rotation and polyculture rather than monoculture.) 

President Hollande of France and the French Minister of Agriculture have expressed an interest in putting soil carbon sequestration among the actions to be recommended at the UN conference.  Kass hopes to inspire high-profile chefs throughout the world to keep in mind the issues of food, agriculture and climate.

What we can do about these issues? I suggest reading and ultimately subscribing to Civil Eats, an online news source from which most of this column is taken. It is fascinating reading on many subjects related to food policy, highlighting good practices as well as bad ones.  Compost, feed your leftovers to a neighbor’s chickens (or your own), and eat lower on the food chain.  Enjoy our organic farmers’ wonderful produce.  They are agroecologists!

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH
 past columns on this blog

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