ANN ARBOR, MI — A2Zero Climate Action Plan is urging Ann Arbor residents to eat more plant-based meals to help the city go carbon neutral by 2030.
As part of the effort, the city held a virtual Sustainability Forum on Jan. 28 to showcase organizations promoting a plant-based diet. Some of the panelists came from Better Food Foundation, Project Grow and Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels. The forum was led by Zach Smith, community engagement specialist for sustainable development.
The Better Foundation’s program, called DefaultVeg, was formally introduced in Feb. 2020. It strives to refocus the current status quo from meat products to plant-based products. The food service provides plant-based meals by default, and instead gives their customers a choice to add meat or dairy upon request. By making plant-based options the default on a menu, it may nudge consumers towards a healthier option.
“DefaultVeg preserves choice, no one is forced to have one diet or another. There’s always the choice to have the option that you want,” said Trevor Leonard, program associate for Better Food Foundation.
Leonard spoke about a Harvard School of Public Health study that revealed the percentage of people who ate meat dropped 43 percent when an experimental group had their default meal changed from meat to vegetarian. The studies on their website also show that serving 1,000 plant-based meals can save 1,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to a car driving from Chicago to Paris, France.
Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels (AAMOW) is also trying get residents to eat less meat. They are working on minimizing food waste by scheduling what days their clients want food, and try to offer seasonal specials by including food from local farms. One of their vendors participates in the Farm to Freeze program that freezes produce at the peak of ripeness, making healthy produce such as broccoli, cherries and blueberries accessible all year round.
As a result of their efforts, 94 percent of their clients say that they eat healthier and 97 percent say that AAMOW has helped them stay home, Director of Meals on Wheels Courtney Vanderlaan said, which has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the longest running community garden in the United States, Ann Arbor’s Project Grow has provided space and education for residents who are interested in growing their own organic vegetables since first starting back in 1972.
Project Grow farmers donated about 3,410 pounds of food to Food Gathers, an organization that works to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in the community, according to Joseph Schutte, Project Grow board member.
“Having good, organic, fresh vegetables is not cheap,” Schutte said. “You can get it from the Farmers Market, it’s not cheap, but growing it yourself, you know exactly where it came from.”
A University of Michigan study conducted by the Center for Sustainable Systems revealed that eliminating the transport of food for one year could save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles. The study also shows that shifting to having one vegetarian meal a 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 from a garden could help lower someone’s carbon footprint.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, limiting food waste can reduce the amount of methane released from landfills when these organic materials decompose. Eliminating food waste can contribute to at least 5 percent of the total greenhouse gas emission reduction.
The next Ann Arbor Sustainability Forum will be held on Feb. 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. on Urban Forestry & Green Infrastructure. Registration beforehand is required.
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