The Assertive Vegetarian

This blog entry was originally written by What’s For Dinner? director Jian Yi on a train ride to Beijing on World Vegetarian Day (October 1) 2014.

What’s For Dinner? and Vegucated have had six successful screenings in Guangzhou. Much gratitude is due to the efforts of our friends at GAFA, Young City, Yi’he Vegetarian Restaurant, the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, the South China Normal University, the South China University of Technology, and the Guangdong Food and Drug Vocational School.

Documentary film director, Jian Yi

Documentary film director, Jian Yi

My arrival in Beijing today coincided with this year’s World Vegetarian Day. Restaurants and snack bars populate the modern, spacious waiting hall of the Guangzhou South train station. And yet not one offers a hot vegetarian breakfast. Every neatly packaged bun sold in the convenience stores contains meat, and the situation is no different at the fast food restaurants. Perhaps you will say that McDonald’s does not traditionally offer vegetarian food? But McDonald’s traditionally does not offer fried Chinese bread sticks either; a fact which does not seem to stop them from being sold at Guangzhou South station.

When I travel, I seek out vegetarian food on trains, at stations, or in restaurants, with a clear insistence on plant-based ingredients, and people often misperceive me as Hui because of this behavior. The reasons behind the misperception are complex because of the long-standing religious, ethnic, and political issues in China. As the most widespread ethnic minority in China, most Hui are Muslim, and their special diet is widely accepted and respected.

To be perceived as Hui for actively seeking vegetarian food tells a sad but important tale about our society, which is that only Hui Muslims are perceived to be serious about diet, to be clear and articulate about their dietary rights, to request the respect of society. Halal food is therefore available across the market and at universities, though the Hui population does not necessarily outnumber vegetarians. Many of us vegetarians tend to acquiesce to the status quo with the utterance, “let things be”. This takes us away from what vegetarianism really means. The utterance, “let things be”, despite the many situations in which it is an apt saying, too often veils our laziness, cowardice, and helplessness. Becoming vegetarian is an active choice to advocate a compassionate lifestyle. Time after time, we have squandered opportunities to influence the market as well as public policy. This is perhaps why our society and market, of which Guangzhou South station is so emblematic, remain so unfriendly to vegetarians in 2014. It is also why the social infrastructure for vegetarians is stagnant and inadequate, despite a burgeoning vegetarian population.

On a personal level, vegetarianism is an innermost choice. On a public level, it is a civic and consumer right. As vegetarians who are also citizens and consumers, we should cultivate our awareness of such rights. I hope that as individuals joined by our dietary commitment, we will not give up. Considering this change will not happen overnight, we must take hold of every opportunity to demand, to negotiate, to articulate with clarity and poise, to request that vendors serve vegetarian food, to request that society respect vegetarianism. The market can be very snobbish: when our voices are raised in large numbers, it will no longer be able to discount us; it will be forced to react. Vegetarians must learn to be like Hui, to be clear and outright about our dietary habits. Only then can we be respected and valued by the government and market of this country.

Every day, every minute, innumerable farm animals endure torture and death; our health, the health of our children, and the health of our planet are relentlessly assaulted by industrial animal agriculture. Vegetarianism is not a panacea to the world’s problems, but it is a choice to live in a way less damaging, and less violent. It is a basis for a responsible and caring life. Nonetheless it is only a basis, and not a final victory. In every moment our environment calls upon our assertiveness, our perseverance, and our optimism.

Vegetarianism is not a passive state of being. It is rather an unending spiritual path, on which every meal is an opportunity to contemplate one’s relationship with food, as well as with the world at large, towards a true appreciation of Life’s core value and meaning.

When we choose to become vegetarian, we enter a covenant with ourselves, with Life, and with nature, a covenant of non-violence and equality. Recently, I compared the commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle to the commitment of marriage. Getting married does not guarantee, “till death do us part”. Marriage is a journey taken in the name of love and growth. It is a path that we tread in each moment of cognizance, perseverance, gratitude, commiseration, and understanding. So it is with the vegetarian life.

There is not one day worth giving up. In every moment, we must do our best. There is no final victory. Every day, every moment, we need to win it.

Translation by Lucas Tse and Jian Yi (courtesy of IFChina Original Studio)

Lunar New Year of “any ruminant horned animal”? – Celebrating the Year of “Yang”

By Ruiqi Xie

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

February 19th was China’s Lunar New Year’s Eve. In New York City, all of midtown by the Hudson River was lit up by beautiful fireworks put on by the Chinese Embassy. According to the zodiac, this lunar year of 2015 is the year of “Yang.” It is not uncommon for “Yang” to be interpreted as ram, sheep or goat both in China as well as in western media.

Chinese character "Yang"

Chinese character “Yang”

In China, the character pronounced as “Yang” has a general meaning of all Ovis (sheep, goat, ram and other goat-like horned animals). As seen in the Chinese ancient Bronze character to the left, “Yang” looks exactly like the head of a ram. The right image is the modern Chinese character of “Yang,” which appears less like a ram or a goat, but still can be interpreted as an animal with horns.

This Lunar New Year people are questioning, is 2015 the year of the sheep, goat, or ram? Geographically speaking, sheep are more common in Northern China, and goats are more common in the South. Having this in mind, it is likely that the people of northern China believe this new year to be the year of the sheep, but for people in southern China this new year might represent the year of the goat.

Generally, people believe that goats and sheep are animals with submissive, mild, and considerate characteristics. However, since sheep have a more furry, fluffy and chubby appearance, many people in China are in favor of the sheep simply because they believe them to be cuter animals. More specifically, many of the young females in China prefer the sheep when talking about their “Yang” zodiac as they are generally the more favored animal.

This year might be interpreted as the year of the sheep, goat, or ram, but one thing that does not change is the once-a-year family dinner. In Chinese culture, Lunar New Year’s Eve is the most important day of the year, in which the whole family will get together to celebrate and have the most scrumptious family dinner of the year.

In the past when China was not as economically developed as it is now, for many poor families, the New Year’s Eve family dinner was the only meal in which everybody could satiate their appetites. Every family would save their best food for New Year’s Eve, and the ideal best food was meat, since it was rare to be able to afford it any other day of the year. Suffering from the tragic experience of the nationwide famine from 1959 to 1961, many families are eating large amounts of meat in response to prior years of scarcity. Pork and chicken are the most popular meat on the dining table; beef and lamb also appear in most of the family dinners.

On this day, the demand for meat is so high, therefore China’s slaughterhouse workers are extremely busy. For example, workers in the pork industry sometimes have to work nonstop for over 24 hours to ensure that they slaughter a sufficient number of pigs to then send the meat to the market for purchasing.

However, with the growing Buddhist community in China and the introducing of the healthy vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, a growing number of people are starting to try a vegetarian diet, including their traditional New Year’s Eve dinner. For those people who cannot go back to China and have New Year’s Eve dinner with their family like me, we have our own ways of celebrating the Chinese New Year. A friend of mine had a vegan New Year’s Eve dinner with her Buddhist community, and I made vegan dumplings at my apartment.

It is not too late to say Happy Lunar New Year, in celebration of the year of “Yang”!

Photo courtesy of Suyun Wu

Crossing the Equator: What’s For Christmas Dinner?

By Wanqing Zhou

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

No matter where we are, there is one thing in common for the end of year holidays, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or another festival: food. Special dishes. Holiday meals. Gathering around a table. It’s time to be merry and stay happy, to try and forget about sorrow and anger, and often, to give up asking too many questions—questions that may lead to the truth, and the truth can be inconvenient.

On November 28 and 29, 2014, Brighter Green’s Mia MacDonald and Wanqing Zhou joined environmental and rights advocates at the International Strategy Meeting on Impacts of Unsustainable Livestock and Feed Production and Threats to Community Conservation in Paraguay. The meeting and field trips were organized by the Global Forest Coalition, an international non-profit network of organizations based in Paraguay and the Netherlands.

"Agrochemicals violate human rights - a tribute to Silviono Talavera."

“Agrochemicals violate human rights: A tribute to Silvino Talavera.”

Just six miles from the conference site, across the Asunción airport, Elvio Sosa is the “Chief” of 23 MbyáGuaraní families. Five years ago, soybean farmers occupied Elvio and his indigenous community’s territory in Caaguazú Department in east Paraguay (the name Caaguazú means “big forest”) and burned their houses. People fled in different directions, with some families arriving at Zárate Isla, a place where no one came to chase them away.

They settled down with other Mbyá people from other parts of the country, built huts under the tree shades, kept chickens and ducks, and some also began to grow food around their huts. The children don’t go to school because families cannot afford school supplies and required uniforms. Only temporary jobs are open to them, while most of the time, they go to the streets and try to find “luck”—this Christmas season they are probably selling Mbocaya flowers to drivers on the road.

From Asunción heading east, the tropical forest landscape gradually turns into uniform soybean monocultures that run through Canindeyú, Caaguazú, Caazapá, Alto Paraná, and Itapúa. As the raw material for livestock feed, cooking oil, and various food additives, acres and acres of genetically modified (GM) pesticide-resistant soybean cover the red soil, turning natural forests into deserts of dark green or arid brown. Small pockets of woods leave people to imagine the lost habitats of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities.

Huge metal silos shine under the sun. Billboards for pesticides, fertilizers, seeds and farm machinery stand along the repeatedly-mended, two-way, single-lane highway. Ruts left by heavy trucks tell the story of prosperous agribusiness in silence—one cannot hear insects or birds in these fields, nor farmers calling to each other—and two or three people are enough to manage all the work with the help of modern technologies.

According to communities living near the soy fields, four or five people are enough to manage all the work in 50,000 to 70,000 acres of soybean monoculture with the help of modern technologies. Pesticides, sometimes sprayed by small planes, are applied to the soy, ten times per rotation, three rotations a year, without any notice to surrounding communities. Cases of skin disease, malformation, stillbirths, and cancer have increased dramatically in these communities. School kids play by a wall of eucalyptus trees, planted along the edge of soy fields, with the hope that the trees shield some of the fumigation. In 2003, 11-year-old Silvino Talavera died in front of his mother’s eyes after being directly exposed to pesticide spraying in the soy fields near his home in Itapúa.

For campesinos (small-scale peasant farmers) in Paraguay, who try to preserve traditional varieties of crops and practice agroforestry, life is getting harder. The soybean fields are encroaching, withering the peasants’ vegetables and fruit trees as agrochemicals fill the air. Standing by rolls of stakes, peasant farmer Geronimo Arevalos told us how he had to replant his tomatoes because the fumigation just killed his last batch. As an activist for small farmers’ rights, he was featured in the award-winning documentary Raising Resistance, and proudly displayed the Golden Butterfly trophy from the Movies That Matter Film Festival.

Moving up the supply chain, victims of industrial agriculture are affected in different ways, and not all of them are heard like Geronimo. Some soybeans are transported to Capiatá near Asunción, where industrial livestock farms and slaughterhouses are located. Pechugon (pechugón means “big breasts”), the chicken meat brand created by processing company Avícola La Blanca, has a facility in Capiatá that produces poultry feed and slaughters chickens.

Facilities like this usually take advantage of rainy days to discharge wastewater, which run into streams and enter the Ypacaraí Lake. Pechugon has dug five wastewater treatment pools near Fidel Goncalvez’s community. Houses close to the leaky water pipes are frequently inundated with semi-treated wastewater, including a mixture of blood, animal waste, and toxic chemicals like bleach. The smell is constantly awful, those living around the plant say, and one of the company’s responses was to provide households with window screens. Still, the screens cannot keep these insects from occupying dinner tables.

The stories can go on and on and on. And yet, what’s happening in Paraguay is just a snapshot of the impacts of the global system of industrial livestock production. In other words, industrial livestock production is connected to everyone.

Industrial livestock production technologies and business models were invented in industrial countries such as the U.S. and promoted worldwide; consumers in China and Europe have reached out to the U.S. and Latin America for larger amounts of livestock and feed products. Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Paraguay, are becoming dispossessed—their natural resources have become meat and animal feed that is shipped to consumer countries; the profits go into the pockets of multinational agribusinesses; indigenous people and small farmers have lost their livelihoods; and a large part of the unique ecosystems and their biodiversity are gone, forever.

The truth about the global food system is inconvenient, and not only at Christmas. But Christmas, and the overall end-of-year holiday season, may be a good time—as good as any in fact—to learn more about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s shaping and reshaping the world (as in Paraguay), one purchase, one meal, one technology, one forest lost or one community displaced, one bite at a time.

Photo courtesy of Wanqing Zhou

Mia MacDonald Talks Brighter Green on Our Hen House TV

By Caroline Wimberly

Mia MacDonald (far right) and Josphat Ngonyo (far left) filming Our Hen House TV

Mia MacDonald (far right) and Josphat Ngonyo (far left) filming Our Hen House TV

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

Mia MacDonald was recently on the season 2 premiere of Our Hen House TV. The 23rd episode featured Mia, along with well-known animal activists Josphat Ngonyo (founder and executive director of The Africa Network for Animal Welfare) and Gene Baur (president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary).

The show is co-produced with Brooklyn Independent Media, ventures into the under-explored world of animals rights with a sense of humor, a passionate heart, and more than a few opinions on the state of animal rights. The show is an extension of the popular podcast under the same name.

In addition to online viewing, the Our Hen House TV Show airs throughout NYC on cable the first and third Monday of each month, with repeat showings on Wednesdays and Fridays—all from 7:00-8:00 PM (as well as 1:00 AM).

Here are the channels that carry Brooklyn Independent Media (in NYC):

Time Warner Cable — Ch. 756 (Brooklyn only)
Verizon — Ch. 46 (all five boroughs)
Cablevision — Ch. 70 coming soon (Brooklyn only)

Check out the episode here:

OHH Episode 23 from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.

Photo still and video courtesy of Our Hen House/Brooklyn Independent Media

The Hummingbird and the Climate Summit

By Mia MacDonald

Hummingbird

The humble symbol of climate activism, a hummingbird.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 23, 2014.

Co-authored by Wanjira Mathai, director of the wPOWER Project at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace & Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi and Chair, Green Belt Movement

Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, was fond of recounting a children’s story she’d been told on a visit to Japan. A huge fire breaks out in the forest, runs the tale. The animals are transfixed and overwhelmed by the conflagration. All of them but a hummingbird, who resolves to do something. She flies to the nearest stream, dips her beak into it, and drops a bead of water onto the flames. The elephant, the lion, the giraffe, and the other animals laugh at her, as she flies back and forth over and over again. “You’re just a tiny hummingbird,” they jeer. “What difference do you think you can make?” The hummingbird replies: “I’m doing the best I can.”

For many who heard Wangari tell the story, the message of maximizing our abilities and passions for the greater good rather than descending into cynicism or despair was galvanizing. Wangari embraced this interpretation wholeheartedly. Yet it’s clear that a more challenging, even provocative message lies within it. That message has more relevance than ever as hundreds of thousands of people, us among them, marched Sunday in the streets of New York demanding their leaders take urgent action to address climate change, and as heads of government, industry, and civil society gather at the United Nations for an unprecedented global-warming summit.

Through her work with the Green Belt Movement (GBM), the organization she founded in 1977 that has planted more than 50 million trees throughout Kenya, Wangari understood in her bones the commitment of the hummingbird. In her case, the bird represented the grassroots women’s networks who nurtured the seedlings, tended the trees after they’d been transplanted, and reforested their own land and then critical watersheds—largely unsung and underfunded.

This work continues today, with GBM groups growing and planting four million new trees in Kenya each year. GBM is also a partner in the wPOWER initiative, launched in 2013 by the U.S. State Department. The initiative is empowering women in seven countries in Africa and Asia to play major roles in the renewable energy value chain by producing, using, and marketing more efficient cookstoves and solar lighting products. The aim is to enable communities (rural and urban) to preserve more trees, burn less kerosene, and reduce poisonous fumes inside their homes (from cooking and heating).

In so doing, fewer greenhouse gases are released, forests are protected, and indoor air quality is improved, along with health. Women earn their own income and as a result, they and their children have more opportunities to learn and thrive. The wPOWER “Hub” is housed at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi.

The women entrepreneurs of wPOWER, as with the women tree-planters of the GBM networks and millions of others like them, know all too well the consequences of very non-metaphorical forest fires: drought, desertification, hunger, and water and fuel-wood scarcity. They are feeling the “heat” of climate change right now. This heat wasn’t of their own making, yet they are suffering disproportionately from it.

We may interpret the hummingbird story as a message for us to reduce, reuse, recycle; to cut down on our car travel, switch to green energy for our homes, or eat less meat and more vegetables as our contribution to dousing the planetary fire. These are all valid responses to the realities of global warming. But they won’t be enough. Beyond extolling personal virtue and effort, the story of the hummingbird also suggests that the single bird’s actions are futile without the assistance of the larger animals—such as the elephant, who could of course carry much more water—or the concerted effort of all the animals to do something.

But even then, whatever the animals do will likely only hold back the fire’s range or reduce its ferocity, not douse it entirely. Similarly, climate change will not be mitigated, let alone stopped or reversed, unless all the countries of the world become serious about systemic, total, and orchestrated reorientations of their economies and societies’ ways of living on the Earth. The historic emitters must take the lead, but the new “climate powers”—the large current greenhouse-gas producers—need to join them.

In this, we recognize one of Wangari’s other messages about why we are despoiling our environment and entrenching poverty: a lack of good governance. For the thirty years that she was urging us to plant trees to stop soil erosion, retain water, and store carbon, Wangari was also insisting on the necessity of accountable political structures, which used resources (whether capital, natural, or human) equitably and responsibly.

That need for good governance isn’t confined to Africa or the global South. As Wangari insisted, corruption, greed, and faith in short-term pay-offs knew no boundaries, weren’t confined to certain industries or multinational corporations, and affected every stratum of society. Indeed, she reminded us often: political leadership and good policy matter, enormously. Of course this is the case with climate change as well.

The hummingbird challenges us to organize, to hold our political leaders and global industries accountable and demand that they, and we, accept the potential difficulties, even sacrifices, that we’ll have to make to transition from a fossil fuel-based and extractive global system to one that’s organized around genuine sustainability and responsibility.

The hummingbird challenges us to extinguish the fire that’s been created in our own patch of forest—the Earth itself—no matter the perceived futility of the action or the passivity of those standing by who could do more through collective will, but choose only to stand and watch.

Photo courtesy of coltfan909/Flickr

The Farm Sanctuary Movement Reaches Asia

Tied up Indian dairy cows

Tied up Indian dairy cows

By Jessika Ava

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

As social awareness increases over dietary choices, industrial farming methods, and animal welfare, more individuals are choosing a vegan lifestyle while simultaneously the farm sanctuary movement is becoming a global phenomenon. Farm sanctuaries provide a retirement home for animals removed from the agricultural industry, and often build community awareness regarding animal behavior, healthy eating habits, and the environmental impacts of our diets. In India, two such farmed animal sanctuaries are changing the country for both animals and people, by creating safe homes, building vegan communities, and implementing humane education efforts.

The VSCPA Kindness Farm located in Andhra Pradesh, South India recently opened in 2012 and continues to be a work in progress. Located in in the pristine jungle miles away from the polluted city, this sanctuary offers a peaceful retreat for rescued animals, visitors, and employees. Behind the Kindness Farm gates live hundreds of animals rescued from India’s traditional, small-scale farming industry: cows and buffalos rescued from illegal slaughter, emus left abandoned on the streets, chickens and ducks removed from trading markets, as well as street dogs and feral cats. In addition to helping animals, the sanctuary provides stable employment and livelihoods to local villagers, and the thousands of organic fruit trees and vegetables that line the landscaped grounds provide nutritious food to both employees and the animals. A biogas plant, fueled by the bovines’ manure and urine, provides electricity throughout the self-sustaining shelter, while the manure provides a natural fertilizer for the fodder fields.

Animal Aid Unlimited located in Rajasthan, West India was founded by three American ex-patriots who were so moved by the plight of India’s animals that they devoted their lives to creating a rescued animal sanctuary. The free-range, open ground shelter is home to animals saved from the farming and labor industries, including cows and buffalo saved from the dairy and slaughter industries, former working donkeys, other farmed animals, and feral street dogs who can no longer compete on the streets. The sanctuary provides regular shelter tours, educating local and international visitors on the impacts of diets and empowering individuals to make healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable lifestyle choices. The NGO also provides humane education courses at local schools, teaching children about animal protection, human rights, environmental stewardship, and local cultural issues, while “instilling… the capacity to live with compassion, integrity, and wisdom.”

As more individuals are becoming aware of the environmental, animal welfare, and social consequences of a meat and dairy based diet, the farm sanctuary movement seems to be growing alongside this trend. In countries across the world, sanctuaries are filling the crucial niche of providing lifelong, safe retirement homes for animals who have found their way out of the agricultural industry, while also creating public awareness for the innate needs of farmed animals and empowering individuals to make more informed, ethical lifestyle decisions.

Photo courtesy of Jessika Ava

Activism in China: Q&A with Associate Wanqing Zhou

By Alessandra Seiter

Outside of the film's premiere at Vegan Hut in Beijing

Outside of the film’s premiere at Vegan Hut in Beijing

This blog originally appeared on the Our Hen House website on July 23, 2014.

Today, I’m excited to tell you about a screening tour across China of the 30-minute documentary WHAT’S FOR DINNER? Providing a unique look into the rapid growth of industrialized animal agriculture in China, the film follows various people in Chinese society—from a retired pig farm worker to a vegan restaurant owner—and examines the impacts of the country’s huge shift in food production and consumption on sustainability, public health, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? is a production of Brighter Green, a public policy “action tank” on environment, animals, and sustainability, for which I’ve been fortunate enough to work this summer, in addition to my internship with Our Hen House. You may remember Brighter Green’s important work from OHH’s interview with Jessika Ava on Episode 216 of the podcast, or from Jessika’s collaborative feature with Brighter Green Executive Director Mia MacDonald on the expansion of industrialized dairy production in Asia, based on Brighter Green’s latest policy paper, “Beyond the Pail: The Emergence of Industrialized Dairy Systems in Asia.”

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? has already been shown at film festivals, conferences, and on campuses across the U.S., and in Europe, India, and Korea, but had not yet screened in China until this summer. When Brighter Green Associate Wanqing Zhou’s paper, “The Triangle: Factory Farming in the U.S, China and Brazil” was accepted for presentation at the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Production and Consumption in Shanghai this past June, the organization saw an ideal opportunity to release the newly completed Chinese-subtitled version of WHAT’S FOR DINNER? throughout China.

Recently, I caught up with Wanqing, the main organizer and host of the screenings:
***
Alessandra Seiter for Our Hen House (OHH): Can you explain what you’ve been doing this summer in China with WHAT’S FOR DINNER? Give us a “day in the life” of your work with the screenings.
Wanqing Zhou (WZ): I am bringing WHAT’S FOR DINNER? to different cities in China and discussing the topics of meat consumption and production, and the relationship between diet, the environment, people’s health, and food security. Jian Yi, the film’s director and Xie Zheng, the founder of the organization Don’t Eat Friends, sometimes help me host the screenings. So far, we’ve hosted twelve screenings in six cities.

A typical day during the screening tour involves taking an early morning train with Jian Yi to the next city on our schedule and having lunch with the local organizers with whom we’re collaborating. The screenings take place in the afternoon and usually last for two-and-a-half hours. We screen both WHAT’S FOR DINNER? and Vegucated, then host a panel discussion.

OHH: Why did you want to bring WHAT’S FOR DINNER? to China?
WZ: The issues discussed in WHAT’S FOR DINNER? are very relevant to China. Without the public becoming aware of them, nothing in the country can be changed. People in China are just starting to be exposed to information regarding meat consumption, pollution, climate change, and health. However, the information tends to be quite general, and there is not yet a local documentary film that illustrates the problems. I think it’s very important the Chinese people see reflections and reevaluations of animal agriculture that come from within the society, as shown in WHAT’S FOR DINNER?.

OHH: What people and organizations have you collaborated with?
WZ: We have collaborated with local and international environmental groups, media and communication companies, local community governments, vegetarian associations and restaurants, and business clubs. The most prominent among these groups include the Zhejiang Vegetarian Food Association (ZVFA), the Shanghai branch of Green Drinks, Climate Wire journalists, the Shanghai Academy of Natural Resources, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

OHH: How have attendees responded to the film?
WZ: The attendees come from all educational and cultural backgrounds—from illiterate villagers to graduates from top universities, both Chinese and foreign-born. They’re attracted to the screenings by different facets of the topic, including health and nutrition, food safety, the environment, business opportunities, and more.

People have spoken highly of WHAT’S FOR DINNER?, saying that it’s mild yet alerting, resonates with their daily life, and inspires change.

The attendees have been most interested in the discussion of health; they’ve asked if eating less or no meat will provide adequate nutrition, as well as how to differentiate between genetically modified and organic foods. Some attendees have expressed interest in or concern for the environment and food security, but individual health has been the major topic at most screening events.

OHH: What is the general attitude toward veganism in China?
WZ: Among the younger generation, more people are aware of the positive effects of being vegetarian or vegan. The abstention from eating animals used to have religious connections, such as to Buddhism, but that connection is becoming weaker these days, especially as health and environmental concerns appear.

Most meat-eaters in China over the age of 40 see not eating meat as “nutritionally deficient” and/or “extreme.” They might call a vegetarian or vegan person “unfortunate, but mentally strong,” because they would view such an individual as struggling economically, since they’re not able to enjoy the “most delicious foods.” However, only a very small portion of vegetarian or vegan people in China are in an economically difficult situation, so most vegetarians or vegans actively choose such a diet.

Most vegetarians or vegans in China view their diet as a personal choice, rather than as part of a value system. They all do it for different reasons, and they don’t want to label themselves.

OHH: Do you and Brighter Green have any plans for advocacy in China beyond the screenings this summer?
WZ: Right now, Brighter Green is encouraging Chinese civil society and journalists to participate in fact-finding tours with sites in Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, organized by our partner, Global Forest Coalition. The tours will focus upon the environmental and social impacts of the production of feed for farmed animals (e.g., soy monoculture). We hope that Chinese participants will bring home what they have witnessed on a tour and provide the seeds of change. Several Chinese individuals and groups have already expressed interest in participating.

OHH: You recently presented your paper, “The Triangle: Factory Farming in the U.S., China and Brazil” at the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Production and Consumption (congratulations, by the way!). Could you briefly explain your paper?
WZ: In short, I tried to use “The Triangle” to illustrate the relationship between the world’s three largest meat and feed producers and consumers.

The U.S. has exported the industrialized, intensive animal production pattern of factory farming to countries including Brazil and China, along with its meat-centered “ideal” diet and fast-food culture. China is now the destination of huge amounts of animal products and feed grains. This puts pressure on the world’s largest producers of such products, including the U.S. and Brazil. Brazil is especially important because large areas of rainforests and savannahs are being cleared to grow crops in order to meet growing demand for meat and feed. The Amazon rainforest is not only home to a vibrant ecosystem, but is also of great global importance as a carbon sink, a storage unit of sorts for biodiversity and biomass, a resource provider, and a climate regulator.

The appearance, adoption, and expansion of factory farming practices in these three countries represent the relationship between humans, our food, and the environment—one in which we have believed for the past 50 years or more. This relationship considers humans as the dominators and controllers of all natural resources, and believes that all species and environments—to be of value—should serve humans.

To respond to the expansion of the poorly-regulated factory farming system and the trend of growing animal consumption, we need the majority of the people—especially those who live in cities, in the case of China—to be aware that the over-consumption and over-production of animal products is not adaptive to the environment. Individuals, businesses, and social groups need to act first and lay the foundation for change, and policy will catch up with them.

OHH: What inspired you to get involved with Brighter Green?
WZ: I first got to know Mia MacDonald—the Executive Director of Brighter Green—and her organization during a screening event of WHAT’S FOR DINNER? and Vegucated in New York City. I had been interested in the food-climate nexus for some time and thought Brighter Green’s work was very relevant. I also thought that more people, especially in China, should hear about the issues on which Brighter Green focuses, but I never thought I could be the one to bring WHAT’S FOR DINNER? back home! It’s been a great experience and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Follow Wanqing’s screening adventure and learn more about the film on its official website!

Photo courtesy of Wanqing Zhou