Can we get Transition to talk about Plant-based Nutrition?

Farmer's market in Lhasa (Photo: Nathan Freitas)

I’ve been trying to get people in the Transition movement  interested in vegetarianism for some time.  (“Transition” is a group originating in the U. K. dedicated to local planning for a post-carbon future.) However, a recent discussion of plant-based nutrition on the “Transition Culture” blog gave vent to some pretty blatant resistance to plant-based nutrition at the very top of the Transition movement.

In the middle of a back-and-forth discussion about the future of the Transition movement, the “Permavegan” (Jonathan Maxson) politely tried to raise the question of plant based nutrition on what I thought were fairly straightforward scientific grounds.  To put it mildly, a lot of people blasted him unfairly, viciously, and without apology. I know, this kind of “flaming” is not uncommon on the internet, but this was a moderated discussion on a more-or-less “official” Transition blog. A sample:

“There go the true believer trolls, infesting forums with their preachifying.”

“The strident ‘we know what’s best’ of some Permaculturalists and Vegans makes me want to keep Transition very much at arm’s length.”

“You[r] eating habits might play into it, but like a religion, they are irrelevant to the Transition Initiative and movement.”

To be fair, not everyone reacted in this way, but these were not the only such responses, and an unbiased reader couldn’t help getting the impression from this that the Transition movement was not interested in even hearing about plant-based nutrition.  So is the Transition movement hopelessly biased against plant-based diets?

We have not encountered this kind of bias everywhere in Transition.  Transition Denver sponsored a “conscious eating” panel in February 2010, and invited several vegans (including Larry Weiss, my wife Kate, and I) to participate. The event was fairly well received and some people came up afterwards and thanked us for presenting.  In fact, what was most remarkable about this event, in retrospect, was that it was unremarkable.

Many people have the idea that despite diminishing natural resources, declining fossil fuels, and climate change, that we will be able to continue our meat-centered diet, only it will be “green” — we’ll have grass fed beef, backyard chickens, or whatever. Meat consumption at current levels is only possible at all because of industrialized agriculture and factory farming.

Industrialized agriculture is highly destabilizing. Food prices spiked along with oil prices in 2008, and there were food riots all over the globe, from Mexico to Africa to India. Just recently, world food prices have reached a new high, and there are riots in Algeria over the problem. And this doesn’t even touch the myriad health issues involved.

In our local Transition group, at least, intelligent people are capable of handling divergent opinions and discussing the health and environmental issues surrounding plant-based nutrition. To be effective, the leadership of the entire Transition movement needs to take the initiative and begin conversations on this important topic.


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