All Things Sustainable

The Effect of our Diet on Climate Change (with Dr. Joanne Kong)

October 07, 2022 Katie Season 3 Episode 22
All Things Sustainable
The Effect of our Diet on Climate Change (with Dr. Joanne Kong)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When it comes to climate change and reversing the damage that has already been done on our earth, what individual choices really matter most? Striving to be zero-waste, traveling less, using less energy, recycling more, or could it simply boil down to what's on our plate? 

Dr. Joanne Kong, award-winning speaker, advocate, and author, joins Katie Kurpanek, Eco-Living Coach and Podcast Host, to discuss how our diet plays a leading role in the climate crisis and shares hope for what we have the power to do about it. She uncovers the single most powerful choice you can make to care for our environment and provides so many resources to get started! 


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Katie Kurpanek:

You're listening to all things sustainable, where we unpack topics related to sustainable living, as well as how to apply specific actions to your own life. I'm your eco living coach and podcast host, Katie Kurpanek. Let's jump in. Hey, I have a quick secret to share with you. I recently launched an online video course for parents and caretakers called caring for the earth and kids. And there is literally no other course in the world like it. Seriously. No other courses out there teaches you how to build sustainable habits that are specifically meant to save you time, money, stress and the earth, and then guides you through the entire process from pregnancy and postpartum all the way through young childhood. And then on top of that, you get to join a private online community so that we can all support each other as we continue on our own journeys. raising families can be expensive, I have already saved personally over $6,500 in the past couple of years since having our toddler and that's on the low end, because I keep on realizing ways that we've actually saved more money, all by following the sustainable hacks that I share in this video course. So whether you are pregnant or you're expecting a baby, soon, you're in the postpartum newborn phase, whether you're navigating the first year or toddlerhood or even into young childhood, you should never have to feel alone in this journey. And I would be so honored to guide you in this adventure, living sustainably and passing on long term positive habits to our future generations starts with one step. So head over to that minimal life.com/shop To begin your journey today. Again, that's that minimal life.com/shop. And all of that is linked for you in the episode description. Okay, let's get back to our show. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the All Things sustainable podcast, we are currently in season three. And this whole series is talking all things vegan, there is so much depth to this topic. This is such a broad topic with a wide array of angles that we can talk about in conversation. And so I've dedicated this entire series to uncovering and exploring all the different aspects of what it really means to be vegan, and what that practically looks like for our lives as well. If you've missed any of the episodes so far, you will definitely want to go back and listen to those they are incredible. In the previous episode, we talked with Gwenna and Claudia, who are just two powerhouses when it comes to advocating for social justice in both the human rights and the animal rights categories. So connecting those two things together in this episode was really powerful. They shared some shocking statistics that I didn't even know. And I've been vegan for almost five years, I'm constantly learning so that conversation was beautifully balanced in the scientific and statistical data that is shared also with a cultural and sort of like a spiritual aspect to the conversation as well. It was beautiful. So if you are looking for more understanding and to the types of like oppression and injustice for both humans and animals within the meat and dairy industry, that would be an amazing episode to go listen to. Now today we have Dr. Joanne Kong joining us for this episode. I am so excited. She is actually the very first person that I talked to when I was starting to get this series off the ground, you know, out of my head and doing something with it, which was in December of 2021. And it is now October 2022 When this episode is being released, so she has been a monumental part of getting this series off the ground. She was a huge support. She helped me brainstorm many ideas and like craft some of these episode topics and questions that she connected me with many of the speakers that are in the series. So my personal depth of gratitude to Dr. Joanne Kong is very heartfelt. Now I'm going to read a condensed version of her bio This is on her website, vegans make a difference.com because she is just phenomenal to have here today. She has been praised throughout the country as one of the most compelling advocates for plant sourced nutrition today, raising ethical awareness that greater compassion for animals and our planet are vitally necessary for transformative growth and positive world change. Now, Dr. Joanne is going to be addressing more of the climate impacts in this episode of a vegan diet. And that is so much of what her advocacy and previous talks have been about. She has been a presenter at so many appearances. I can't even list them all if you look at her website, I mean, it's just like Veg Fest after Veg Fest both within our country and internationally. She has been all over the world traveling and speaking her TEDx talk on veganism called The Power of plant based living that It has over a million views on YouTube. And it's actually where I first heard of her. So that's a very powerful TED talk if you want to go listen to it, she is also the author of if you've ever loved an animal go vegan. And most recently, she has compiled a book called Vegan voices essays by inspiring changemakers. So she compiled all these essays and edited them, just by many, many, many voices, talking about the power of plant based living and what it means to be vegan. So that is a fantastic book if you're looking for a good read. And then Dr. Michael Klaper, who is one of the world's leading plant based doctors, he referenced her work in a 2018 newsletter article called people who give me hope. She has appeared in the major documentary eating our way to extinction, which is narrated by Kate Winslet. And in addition to her animal and environmental advocacy work, she has an entirely different life, as well as a critically acclaimed and award winning classical pianist. I can't wait for you to hear more of her story. In her own words, it is so impactful, and she brings such a depth of understanding to the impact of our diet, on the climate on the planet. And as well as the Earth's environment. She also talks sort of about like our own social environment, what would it look like, if the world continues this trend towards plant based eating? What does that look like for us socially, so her, you know, the impact on our environment reaches many depths in this conversation, and I am so excited to get into this with you. So that's all from me, buckle up. This is a great episode, and I cannot wait to dive in. Dr. Joanne Kong, I am so honored and privileged to have you on this podcast. And it feels like it has been in the works forever. I mean, we originally started talking last December, and it's you know, at the time of this recording, it's currently July. So it has been a long time coming.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Thank you so much, Katie. And I think your podcast and everything you do is wonderful, because I think we're at a time in our lives where everyone feels the need to live more sustainability, to be more sustainable, and to make better choices for ourselves and our families to be healthier. And it seems like the the news you hear whether it's reading about climate change, resource loss, all of these things, maybe you feel like me, sometimes it can be very, you know, a very negative sort of feeling. And I think it represents a couple of things. The first thing is that, I think that as humans, we you know, we have these amazing gifts and achievements and look at all the progress we've made. And it's kind of like we've put ourselves on this road of unlimited progress, where we can do anything. And that's good. But at the same time, we've now arrived at a point where we need to kind of question and look at some of the practices we're doing. And in that, that gives us an enormous opportunity to redefine, you know, how we can live more sustainably. And, of course, man's fantastic sense of innovation. I mean, you're just looking at technology. And what's happened over the past 10 years, I think it's really an exciting, positive opportunity. So like you I try to look at it in as positive a way as possible that we can really do exciting things.

Katie Kurpanek:

I'm so glad that you, of course, I'm so glad you framed it that way. Because I think that that is the only way that we're going to be able to move forward and see really positive and lasting change is by you know, being optimistic and not optimistic in a naive sort of way, but a realistic way. And I know, you know, one of your friends and colleagues, Dr. Sailesh Rao, he, I was talking to him for this podcast as well. And he has the same mindset in that everything has been the way that it needed to be for its time doesn't mean that we continue doing the same thing always, right, like there are times to then pause and reflect on what got us to this point. And then what do we need to do now to change in order to keep moving forward?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

And I love the way he created Vega the cow, you know, this very cartoon this character, but you know, it frames it in a very positive way. And I think what's really important is that it appeals to young people because it's the young people and the young activists. There's some statistic about that 42% of vegans or vegan leaning folks are millennials. So Sailesh is doing a fantastic job of pointing to the younger generation and saying, Hey, this is your future. Be out active and do something about it. So, he's doing tremendous work.

Katie Kurpanek:

absolutely. Oh, I agree. And you have been so supportive really like just an incredible support getting this podcast off the ground and connecting me with certain people that have now been, you know, on the podcast. And so I am so appreciative of not only you and your work, but also your support and your network.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Oh, thank you.

Katie Kurpanek:

Thank you. Well, I already told my listeners a little bit about you in like the introduction. But I would love if you could tell us a bit about yourself. You know, who are you? What are you passionate about? Who are some of the beloved people in your life. And, you know, in this particular episode, we're going to be speaking a lot to the various impacts that veganism can have on our planet, and specifically the climate, but also just throwing in there, I know, even based on your TEDx talk, which is amazing. And it has over a million views currently on YouTube. But you said yourself in the beginning that you are not trying to come from a place of judgment. That's not where your heart is, you're trying to raise awareness to all of these things. And so we're very like minded in that area, I am trying to always lead from a place of empathy and respect and compassion and shame based tactics are just never like a healthy motivator for people. So all that to say, I'm excited to talk to you today and to hear more about you and your story. And thank you for your heart and where you're coming from.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Thanks so much, Katie, a fellow advocate of mine Shankar narayan. I met him four years ago when I was on a speaking tour in India. And he has this wonderful saying that becoming vegan, it's not a destination, it's a journey. So I think if we embrace it, as you know that veganism is not some perfect standard that we're trying to achieve that it's an all or nothing thing. It's simply being more conscious about what we can do with positive intention to improve our lives for ourselves and the planet. So my background is my profession is that I'm a classical concert pianist, and I'm a university music professor. So I grew up loving music, and I decided in high school that that was going to be my profession. And the whole veganism idea, for me was really, you know, as representative of the idea of journey. It's been a very long journey for me. My journey began about 37 years ago when this was what 1985, my husband and I were living in San Antonio, Texas. And one day, my husband brought home the book, animal factory's written by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. This was a book that came out in 1980. And it was groundbreaking because it was one of the first to show where our food comes from. It's a thin book. And it had black and white pictures of animals in industrialized factory farms. And this was like a lightbulb moment for me. And I point out, this is how it is, oftentimes, for many people, we never really think about it. And so the very next day, we said, we're no longer consuming animals. So at that point, we came vegetarian. And then about eight to 10 years ago, I was just becoming more aware, more and more aware of the impacts of animal agriculture on the planet. And even though we did buy dairy products, once in a while, I decided we really need to be fully vegan. So we made that decision, mostly, for me anyway, based on the tremendous negative impacts on the environment. So that was a real motivating factor for me to go vegan. And then I think, you know, for some of us, when we reach middle age, it's like, we start questioning, gosh, there has to be something bigger, something more important that I can do. And I guess it was a natural thing. I am a college professor, and why not educate people about the importance of this lifestyle change to go towards plant based eating. So that's basically how my advocacy started. And it really encompasses a lot of things. Even though my main focus is an ethical one, of course, I saw the tremendous benefits to health and the planet and I think everyone who goes vegan, no matter where you start, you soon start to realize just the overarching significance of making that choice. I don't know if that's how it was for you.

Katie Kurpanek:

It was it. I think that it's amazing to hear it. Everybody's personal story that I've talked to so far in how and why they went vegan, because there are so many different facets and angles as to you know why, like, what was their influence, or their tipping point. And for me, it started with my health. And then from there, I learned more about the environmental impacts, and then started to look into the entire animals sector. And it was like, just one domino after the next but, but I'm very excited to keep talking with you about these environmental impacts, because I think that that is the most common denominator. When I'm talking with people who are interested in this diet, it's because there's no case study out there that shows that a vegan diet or even a vegetarian diet is bad for the planet, like you're just not going to find that. So, from an environmental standpoint, this is really powerful and important to consider, I think. Let's talk about let's talk about your book, your most recent publication, because you're also an author of another book, in your most recent publication, though, is vegan voices, which is a collection of essays and I love it, I haven't been able to finish reading it yet. But I'm excited to just keep chipping away at each essay, because they're all unique and powerful. And I love so many of the speakers and authors that you brought into vegan voices. But congratulations, could you tell us a little bit about that book?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Right. So first of all, the book is available through the publisher, which is lantern publishing and media. So if you go to lantern p m.org. It's also on Amazon. And the reason I put the book together is to present just how diverse all of our paths to veganism is. And we know that veganism is no longer just a fringe movement. And part of the reason it's moved so strongly into the mainstream, is that it touches so many aspects of our lives. And I think that accounts for the variety of stories you read in the book. And kind of some overarching themes are that the writers in the book, realize that going plant based it's not just about good health and nutrition, it's about using our resources in the most sustainable way. And of course, compassion to our kindred animals. And the writers in the book represents so many different ways in which we can speak out for the animals and work towards a more sustainable planet. Some of them are health professionals, there are authors, speakers, artists, poets, activists, educators, athletes, filmmakers, vegan entrepreneurs, sanctuary owners, community organizers, vegan chefs, and more. And some of the writers who people will recognize in the book include Ingrid Newkirk, who of course, is the head of PETA, Victoria Moran, who you probably know, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Jean Bauer, who founded Farm Sanctuary, Clifton Roberts, Serena Farb. Thomas way, Jackson and Dr. Will Tuttle those were just a few of the many authors in the book. So I think it's an ideal book for people that want to learn more about veganism. Or maybe they're just very curious. They're saying to themselves, gee, I keep hearing this word vegan. What is it all about? Well, this book is like one place where you can really find out a lot of wonderful information and be inspired as well.

Katie Kurpanek:

I love that. Thank you, again, for compiling this, you just have such an amazing network of people. And I think that comes from a place of you genuinely caring for people. And so bringing all these voices together to then influence and encourage any reader picking this book up on their journey, I think it's, it just hits people wherever they might be coming from. So I love it. I am happy to own it and happy to be talking to you. Let's go ahead then and just dive into like the main part of our conversation, which is tying veganism to our climate, based on all of your research and what you know, and so much of this you touched on in your TEDx talk, but could you talk about would a vegan world heal our climate? Or maybe the inverse of that question is could we reverse climate change and heal our planet without the vegan diet?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Right, those are really terrific questions. And I think part of the challenge of making the connections between diet and climate change is that people don't see the direct connection, they kind of see climate change as something that's kind of out there, they see it happening. But most people feel kind of powerless to do something about it as if Oh, this is something that my government has to take care of, or this is going to eventually get fixed, kind of an attitude of being distance. And I think, you know, we as humans, we tend to focus on what's immediate in our lives, you know, just the day to day activities that we do. And we're also affected by what we see on mainstream media. And if you look at where the focus is, most of the time you hear about co2, you hear about solutions for clean energy, right, like solar, and when how we have to lower fossil fuel use for manufacturing in our cars, you know, you hear about all these things like, you need to get LED light bulbs, electric vehicles, improve your insulation, the energy efficient appliances, do more public transport. Now, all of these things are definitely critical. These are all things that we must do, we must end, or decrease and end our reliance on total fossil fuels. But these don't actually draw down the co2 that's currently in the atmosphere. And there is one gas methane, or as the British pronounce it, methane. A lot of people don't realize the huge extent to which animal agriculture contributes to methane emissions, if it constitutes about animal agriculture constitutes about 45% of methane emissions, every single cow, every day emits about 50 gallons worth of methane, whether it's most of it actually comes from eructation or cow burps. People aren't aware of that. And methane is critical because it is dangerous in a short term, within five years, it has 100 times the glo- global warming potential of co2. So that's why we need to focus so greatly upon animal agriculture, a third of fossil fuel use is used by the animal agriculture industry. So in terms of the solutions, obviously, we need to reduce livestock farming, fishing- we are decimating our oceans. We need to do things that we as individuals have the power to do and the most powerful thing is to move towards a vegan diet, we also need to regenerate our forests. Now in order to feed all of these livestock animals. When you think about it, it really doesn't make sense. massive deforestation is taking place, we're destroying carbon sinks, we're destroying not only forests, but we're depleting our soils, we're destroying our natural resources in order to then kill these billions and billions of animals. And then you tie in all of the other factors, such as ocean dead zones, pollution, resource loss in terms of water, I mean, water takes up close to like a third of, you know, with animal agriculture uses about a third of all of our water uses globally. So there are just all of these ramifications for how animal agriculture is bad for the planet, and we won't be able to reverse climate change until we address that problem. And that's really where the challenge is. Although, for a lot of people, I mean, you've probably run into a fair amount of environmentalists who aren't necessarily vegan. Have you had that experience that they kind of, you know, you can't touch my food choices kind of attitude. Have you noticed that?

Katie Kurpanek:

Oh, yeah, Oh, yes, there's a very, like powerful, cultural and societal. I don't know if peer pressure is the right phrase, that sounds right. Or minimal, but like it is a very powerful influence and the stories that we tell ourselves that make us completely dismiss this part of the climate conversation.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Right. Yeah. And I think that's where we have to see all the positive things that are happening right in terms of the explosion of the plant based food market, that people are becoming more aware that, gee, what I do choose to eat, can make a difference. So I think that's really, the message I tried to get across to people is like, this is one of the most positive things you can do, it's the most powerful thing you can do to help the planet and help the environment.

Katie Kurpanek:

Mm hmm. I love that you bring that up as such a personal factor, because it does feel completely out of our hands most of the time. And I think that, in a lot of senses, that's true. Like, unless we have a huge and global systematic change, we really can't control I mean, even even the personal choices that I make in my life, or encourage others to do where I'm minimizing the excess waste or plastics that I'm bringing into my home, all those different things, they matter, it's definitely better than doing nothing. But it's not going to change the entire problem on its own. And I think that what we eat, it's a very, very personal thing, but it's most powerful thing that we can be considering here. And so okay, you brought up a couple interesting points, like with the cows, burps sample with putting that much methane into the air. I know, some people in my circles have talked about the fact that well, we have cows, anyway, they've always been around, like these animals have always been around. And so wouldn't this have already been happening to the climate? Isn't that just the way things are supposed to be? And my personal answer or thought on that is that? Well, it's a man made problem here. It's a human made problem here to have this many animals. Like, we don't need this excessive amount of animals, the fact that is it over a million animals are killed every hour. Right? Yeah, in the US? Oh, yeah. Yeah, that's for that's for our consumption. But we don't actually need that. And I know in another episode on this podcast, we'll be talking about nutrition and diet and like our own physical health. But really, if we don't need to be consuming these animals, then we definitely don't need to be breeding and raising animals to the extent of, or capacity of killing them a million times per hour like. So anyway, that's my personal thought is that we actually don't need to have this many animals. And so then we would not have that much methane being contributed into the climate. But what are some of your thoughts on on stuff like that?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up. Because people have quite a few misunderstandings about cows. It's not that cows naturally exist, humans breed them into existence for food. And they've done it so much that roughly 60% of all the mammals currently on the Earth consists of livestock, and 70% of all the birds on the planet are poultry, raised for human consumption, we've actually contributed to the loss of half of plant life and a huge proportion of wildlife on the planet. So we've contributed hugely to a loss of biodiversity. So if we can make the shift away from raising animals in these horrible confined conditions, and moving toward plant based foods, that's what's going to make the difference. And talking a little bit about health people also have the misconception misconception that, oh, the cows, they're making milk for us. And they're missing the most basic of points that cows female cows make milk for baby cows, not for baby humans. So it's not surprising at all to see that drinking the milk of another species, the hormones and the chemicals and naturally occurring substances in cow's milk wreaks havoc, understandably, on humans. I'm sure you've heard the the word lactose intolerant. Oh, I'm lactose intolerant. Talking about dairy milk? Well, of course we are. You know, we're not meant to consume cow's milk. So there's a lot of these common myths out there and I'm so glad you're addressing them. And, you know, that's where taking the time to learn about all of these things. It's just so important for everybody that that wants to improve everything about their lives.

Katie Kurpanek:

Absolutely. There are I mean, that point on lactose intolerance was the starting factor of my journey because I had just grown up with what I thought was just lactose intolerance. And I mean, really, like, I was so sick from it. And I felt so terrible. And so I would avoid most dairy in my life already, just because I thought that like I needed to like it was a personal problem. But then, of course, when I started researching it more and looking into this more, and I was like, you know, let's just do like an experiment for a couple of weeks, I'll cut out all dairy, and just see what happens. And then I was like, Well, it's actually not that hard for me to also cut out meat like, because the more I was researching the animal agriculture, and not necessarily from an environmental perspective, but I was curious to see like, Does my body even need any of this. So I cut it all out for like, two weeks. And within 10 days of those two weeks, wow, I had issues that I didn't even know that I had, because they went away. And then I was like, oh, wait a minute, like, I'm not, I'm not dealing with this, like bloating that I didn't even realize I had and like, you know, joint pain and stuff like that it was gone. And I had more energy. So that I mean, that could be a topic for a whole other day. And there is an episode that will come out with, you know, diet and nutrition and impacts on the body. But yeah, bringing it back to this conversation, I think there are just so many common misunderstandings out there. And it makes sense because animal agriculture, a lot of it being funded through our government, these things are very closely related. And it is a giant business, it's a giant industry. So of course, there's going to be a lot of work done to make sure that we don't know, or we don't see a lot of what happens behind the scenes, a lot of the environmental impacts or the animal impacts and atrocities So, but what about I know, I've had a friend recently talking about how animal agriculture is so much more than what we eat. Because then, you know, a lot of what is left from animals is used for the fashion industry, or it's used for furniture making or even, you know, gelatin going into, like medicines and things like that. So but she was talking about how like, this is a very important industry that we can't just cut out altogether, just for the sake of having a vegan diet, because she said, we're going to then be missing all of these other things in our lives. And I just, I wonder if that is even necessary as well. Or if we could do we have the innovation, I guess, in our technology and in our way of thinking to replace these animal products, with whatever it is that we need in our you know, our life, our fashion, our furniture, whatever it is.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Absolutely, I mean, you're seeing this huge movement. Now I don't know if you've seen some of these amazing products, leather substitutes, using mushrooms of all things, using hemp. Using all plant based products and shampoos, you have whole industries, like even in cosmetics, you have companies that have totally cruelty free products. Cars are doing more and more vegan cars without using leather. Gosh, there's just so many different avenues that people are taking in terms of technology. And I think it's important to realize that the reason you see all these animal parts and various things, whether in the you know, the plastic bags of produce that use animal fat, or shampoos or cars or whatever, it's all about profit, it's like let's use as much of the animal as we can, you know, it's all comes down to seeing these creatures as objects as units of, you know, to use for consumer good, you know, to to maximize the financial profit, the animals are just units of production. So instead, we need to look at all the ways that again, this whole idea of human innovation and technology, it's not difficult at all for any of those things you mentioned about to find plant based counterpoints. And another thing I want to bring up which response to something you were saying about how for the industries, it's big business, you see this in advertising all the time. And that's where consumers really need to educate themselves. One of the most common things you see nowadays, you know, if you were to go in the meat section of the store, grass fed beef, you know, right away that's meant to elicit these thoughts in the consumer that Oh, this is natural. The cows are spending all their lives, you know, out in the metals, and it's beautiful and peaceful. And while it's true that they do spend their lives out in the fields, if they're grass fed, they are sent to slaughter at a later time than other cows. But it's not eco friendly. In fact, I mean, just imagine if all of the livestock industry decided to go towards this grass fed idea, you would actually need 30% more land, you would need 35% More water, you know, because you'd be taking care of the grass as well as the cows. And grass fed beef results in something like 500 times more greenhouse gas emissions, because the cows are living longer, they are emitting much more in terms of methane. So that's one of those marketing things where people are misled, and they think that it's a healthier choice, and a more environmentally friendly choice, when in fact, it isn't.

Katie Kurpanek:

Okay, so I'm gonna sit with that for a minute and unpack that more, because I want to make sure I really understand what you're saying, and that our listeners do, because I think that is a really important point, if so many people even in my own circles are talking about how they are definitely against animal factory farms, and like, you know, big animal agriculture and all of that, but they are totally in support of the small farms. Yeah, more local farms, and supporting that business. Because of course, like, this is also like your local community business. I totally understand all those actions. Sure. But like you're saying, if we actually wanted to get rid of all the animal factory farms that most of us probably hate, like, the more we learn about how they're operating, it's terrible. So if we want to get rid of all of that, but then we are still trying to maintain the same level of animal consumption Right, then that's not possible.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

No, that's not possible.

Katie Kurpanek:

Yeah, mathematically even, we can't have enough space on the earth. In order to do that. Already with what we're doing, we're taking up almost half of our Earth's land, right.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

And that's that's part of the whole system, is to cram as many animals as you can into these windowless sheds. And again, it comes down to units of production efficiency, it has nothing to do with taking care of the animals, it's about how can we produce as much animal flesh as possible. And you even see that whole attitude when you educate yourself about slaughterhouse workers and what they go through the demand to increase the assembly line you have in a typical meatpacking plant. Specific workers have very specific duties that they do. And it's all programmed in such a way to be as efficient as possible. And this is a whole other topic talking about how workers are exploited the slaughterhouse workers are also a victim of the whole system of animal agriculture. So unfortunately, the whole premise and priority of the industry is about making profits, and not to consider the welfare of workers of people who consume these products, and the devastating environmental impact.

Katie Kurpanek:

Thank you for bringing that up. That's something that I'm going to talk about in another episode as well. But I think that it just going back to the beginning of our conversation, there are so many different facets of why choosing a vegan diet or lifestyle is going to be important to somebody because it's you know, they're like even this social justice piece. It's just it touches on all of them. And thinking along the lines of social justice, there is the slaughterhouse worker exploitation. On the flip side of that I have people in my community who talk about their concern for their livelihoods, if they are directly connected to animal agriculture, whether it's in like the big industry or just working on like a local ranch or whatever, if you are somebody who makes your livelihood this way, and perhaps you have years and years generations worth of family tradition in history, making your livelihood this way, I understand that that is a deeply rooted and deeply personal thing to be told your whole livelihood and way of living is, you know, terrible for the climate or whoever it's like I can empathize with where they're coming from and how awful that must be to hear it. But I guess the question I'm trying to pull out of all of this is, what do you say to people who are understandably concerned about this? And what are they going to do? You know, if this global trend towards a plant based diet continues at the rate that it's going, we're going to be losing a lot of those jobs. So is there a hopeful outlook on this? Like, is there a realistic hopeful outlook on this in your opinion?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Yes. I understand and empathize with those farmers that yes, they want to continue in the tradition of how they've been forming over these many years. But also to see how the shifting landscape of food choices is really impacting everything about the ways that we're now making food. And isn't it amazing and just the past five years, how the plant based food market and awareness of veganism has grown, and I look at consumers. They are a definite driving force behind this. Currently, anywhere from 30 to 40% of American consumers now prefer plant based milks, you only need to go into any regular grocery store and how many different kinds of plant based milks are there? Since 2003, the US has lost more than half of dairy operations and we currently have only around 32,000. So what is happening is we are seeing growing numbers of farmers and companies making a transition away from meat and dairy production towards plant based and I want to give some really concrete examples. In New York City, Brooklyn, I believe there was a very well known company known as Elmhurst dairy. And if you go to their website, it says, or they they tout themselves as the dairy that gave up dairy. The company was founded in 1925. So it has a very long history, but their business of dairy milks was declining so much, that in 2016, they made the decision to make this shift and now they have several brands of plant based milks that are doing really well old almond cashew while not who knows what other ones. So a lot of these companies are actually making the shift. And you have organizations like Mercy for Animals and Miyokos Creamery. Do you use Miyokos products? I don't they out there in Denver?

Katie Kurpanek:

I don't know. I haven't heard of them

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Okay, amazing plant based cheeses and yogurts. And you know, anything you can think of. Those are two examples of companies that are putting concrete programs together to shift farmers away from raising animals to growing crops. And one of the programs is actually called transFARMation, which is a fantastic word. What Miyoko is doing is she lives out in the Bay Area in California. And she's she's out her sanctuary and home around this beautiful Oh, it's just a gorgeous rolling landscape and everything. She is contacting local farmers helping them to make the switch to grow plant based products that could be more pea and oats and soybeans that then she uses in her products. So we're seeing more and more of these partnerships between entrepreneurs, and farmers and investors to make this a real thing. And this is such a benefit to these four former meat, former meat farmers, because they're more in the driver's seat. They're making the decisions about how they want to run their business. They're no longer victims of the huge corporate meat conglomerates that make the decisions for them and take most of the product, the profits. So this is the direction in which things are moving. I'm sure a lot of our readers, the listeners to your program are familiar with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Those are very popular plant based products right now. And farmers more and more are sustaining these wonderful products and moving the idea of plant based protein into a real thing. And it's happening on an international scale as well. There's a conglomerate of companies in California called protein industries, Canada, which has assembled all of these companies, with the aim of becoming the top protein industry country, in the world. You have Denmark, where other political parties came behind in initiative to promote the plant based industry, you have an organization called Compassion in World farming, that has put forth a proposal urging global leaders that they need to move in the direction of plant based industry. So I think we're really seeing things move in a very positive direction. And of course, you've probably seen some of the many documentaries out there. Have you seen the one called 73 cows? I know that that one one yet. But this is a story out of the UK about former cattle owners and the path they took to become organic vegan farmers. So again, this is this is the idea of, of how innovation and looking forward can really become key ingredients and how we refashion our thoughts about about food choices. And I think it's really, really exciting.

Katie Kurpanek:

Thank you for sharing all of that I had forgotten about that dairy. I had heard about that some years ago. And I thought, wow, how genius is this like to still create just a new kind of dairy, like they're still doing their jobs, and even probably providing more jobs with the amount of different crops that they're growing. But it doesn't involve any form of slaughter. It doesn't involve anything that is traumatizing to their employees, and also growing all of these crops. You know, I think I've heard people say, Well, if we're just switching out animal products or plant based products, it still is going to have a manufacturing carbon footprint, which is true, everything in our world does. But the carbon footprint of plant based diets, like all these crops that are grown is significantly smaller. And it takes a small fraction of the amount of land and water use alone

Dr. Joanne Kong:

right, it's something like with fossil fuel use, it takes 11 times more fossil fuels to produce a pound of animal product than a pound of plant. And like you were talking about. Meat production uses about 16 times more land and plant based foods simply because not only room for the animals, but the room to grow the crops to feed to the animals 90% of soy grown in the world goes towards animal feed. So you're right. When you look at just the massive inefficiency of this system, it really doesn't make sense. Yeah, so if we didn't raise animals, we actually wouldn't need to grow as many plants, you know, so it's just a win win all around.

Katie Kurpanek:

Oh, yeah, it would not only really reverse climate change dramatically and quickly, much quicker than waiting on all of our fossil fuel reliant energy systems to switch to cleaner energy, this would be a much faster transformation, it also would give us a chance to replenish our forests and our lands that have been depleted, like you said earlier. And it I genuinely think that this would become a huge proponent into ending world hunger because of so much of I mean, 70% of the grain that is grown, I am pretty sure globally is the statistic that goes to feeding animals so that we can kill them and then eat them. And if we don't need to be killing them and eating all of that grain could be going to feed people who are actually exacerbating around the world. So exactly right. It just the every angle that you look at it, I just think that there's no doubt about the fact that there are countless positive impacts here. And it's going to be hard. It I mean, this is going to be hard. Any kind of change is going to take a serious amount of adjustment time. But it doesn't mean that we should shy away from that I think that we are capable human beings who can come up with new technologies and solutions and ideas. I think this conversation gives me so much hope and I wonder bringing it in for a landing. Could you offer our listeners one, two or three actionable steps that they could just take as soon as today? Like if they're excited about this episode, they're feeling motivated and inspired like I am, you know, what could they do to deepen their understanding of veganism and then its connection to healing our planet?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Right. So kind of looking at my own experience. I'm a college educator. So for me, it's all about learning. So my first piece of advice is to learn as much as you can. We're in the internet age and the resources out there are amazing to learn about food where our food comes from about agriculture, watch documentaries, such as Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, there is one that I appeared in last fall called Eating Our Way to Extinction, which talks about the negative impacts of animal agriculture. There are a couple books, not my book, but two other books that I find to be super valuable that people can look at. One is Glenn Mercer's Food is Climate. And it's a thin book. And it's amazing because in less than 60 pages, it really summarizes why we need to move to plant based eating. The second half of the book has all these wonderful recipes from Chef AJ and others. So that this is a super super book to get. It's like only $9 or something. And it's a it's a quick read. And then the other book I recommend to people is by Nil Zacharias, and it's called Eat for the Planet. Have you seen this book, I have not seen that. It's really great because it has a lot of different categories, but wonderful visuals that are easy to, to, to digest and learn on. And it's just super helpful to look at all the facts behind connections between what we eat and the environment. And of course, the most concrete action you can take today is go plant based. Nowadays, I really rarely buy cookbooks, because all you need to do is go online. Like say you love macaroni and cheese, type into Google veganize, mac and cheese or vegan ice chili, hot dogs or vegan version of meatloaf and start by creating a vegan meal for tonight's dinner. And you can take it at whatever speed you want. Like I keep a notebook of favorite recipes, and do a lot of exploration. And before you know it, you've got a whole arsenal of fantastic vegan meals that you can put together. And the more that you shift with your diet, not only do you see that it impacts your physical health, it actually does something in terms of your awareness. Like I don't know, if you went through the same thing, just feeling more open, more connected, more grounded, feeling more at peace with yourself, just feeling more kindness. Did you experience any of that those emotional spiritual benefits?

Katie Kurpanek:

I absolutely did. And I also talked about this in my interview with Dr. Sailesh Rao, because he was sharing his similar experience, but it seems to be a common theme. Amongst Yeah, again. But yeah, it has been by far one of the best decisions I've ever made for my life and my overall well being as a person. So at an emotional and spiritual level level even it was like just, I feel so much more connected to, I think who I'm supposed to be at my core, and how I am meant to live and interact with the nature around me. Yeah.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

And in terms of of another action step that people can take is to join with others. There are so many meetup groups for vegans and vegetarians. There's conferences online, Dr. Rao, as you know, directs climate healers and he has a vegan world convergence, which is like a two day conference and I think he holds it twice a year. Is that right? I think it's an enormous resource because you have all these speakers talking about all these aspects of why going vegan is so beneficial for the planet. There's the Northern American Vegan Society Summerfest, which hasn't happened for the past couple years, but hopefully it will happen in 2023. So there are all these opportunities that people should take advantage of where you actually meet with people in person. Toss out questions, get discussions going learn from other people, I think that's so important. In fact, I don't really see myself as, as an expert in all of this. For me, it's all about learning. And in my public presentations, I often try to end with a free discussion, because we all can learn from each other, and help each other. And it's really a joint effort. So, yeah, there's a lot that you can do. Another thing you can do is support your local farmers market, there are more and more urban gardens out there, do more work with growing your own food, you know, whether it's container gardening, or raising your vegetables and applaud and a sunny part of your yard, there were just a lot of exciting action steps that people can take. Mm hmm.

Katie Kurpanek:

Absolutely. And again, that community piece, I mean, there's so many options now for community gardening, even in the most urban settings, right. And, you know, it's a great way to meet people who already have a common interest with you. And I mean, that my whole influence to become vegan came from a small group of friends and learning with them. And like, Okay, I should try this out, like, you know, start learning about how this might impact my health and then experiencing that in my own physical body that changes. And it all just goes from there. But yeah, people community is exactly where like, these really powerful changes can occur. So

Dr. Joanne Kong:

yeah, and I love how you brought up the thing of not shaming, it's about learning where other people are coming from, and getting an interactive discussion going. It's not me, the expert telling someone else what to do. It's that joining and that communication, because everybody comes from a different place. But I think in the end, we all want to do better for ourselves. We want to take care of ourselves and our families, and just create a better life and better sense of kindness to the planet. So it's also positive and nourishing and uplifting to be involved in all of this.

Katie Kurpanek:

Yes, I totally agree. And this conversation has just been so life giving to me, I know that it will be to all of our listeners as well. And thank you for your time. I'm curious with, you know, the next couple minutes, where could people follow up with you and your work, or any other resources you might want to point them towards?

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Right Um, they could go to my website, should I type it in the chat? Perhaps it's vegans make a difference.com. Let me go ahead and type it in here. And I mentioned that my book is published by lantern publishing and media and they are a fant- fantastic company, not only books about veganism, but social justice and humane education, animal rights intersectionality of different segments of our population. It's a fantastic company. And I really urge people to to search them out. Let me go ahead. Well,

Katie Kurpanek:

and if it's easier to I can also- Oh, there you've got it in there. Yeah, cuz I can search that. And then I'll be sure to put all of these references into the episode description as well. So people will have those links. Good.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Perfect. Fantastic. Thank you so much, Katie. It's been great chatting with you. And thank you for putting this podcast series together. I hope we'll do more work together in the future.

Katie Kurpanek:

Thank you. I hope so too. Thank you for all your time and support along the way. I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Dr. Joanne Kong:

Thank you.

Katie Kurpanek:

I hope you enjoyed today's episode, and if you did, I would love it if you would share it with a friend. Spread the word over your social media or simply leave a review wherever you subscribe to this podcast to help others find it as well. Thank you so much for being here. I'll catch you next time.

Intro to Episode
Intro to Dr. Joanne Kong
Welcome, Dr. Joanne! Tell us about yourself...
Tell us about your new book, Vegan Voices!
Do you think a vegan world would heal our climate? Do you think we can reverse climate change without it?
Misconceptions about livestock and loss of biodiversity
What about all the industries relying on animals for more than food?
Factory Farms vs. Small/Local/Organic Farms
What about all the laborers' lives dependent on animal agriculture?
What are 1-3 actionable steps we can take to deepen our understanding of the connection between a vegan diet and healing our planet?
Final Resources and Thank You!