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Change Can Be Subtle But Persistent | Notes from Across the Pond

8 July 2024

The United Kingdom had its first election in nearly 5 years…on the 4th of July! In case you haven't heard, the Labour party swept the country, and a “dull” former barrister [lawyer], Sir Keir Starmer is the new Prime Minister. The interesting thing about Starmer is that he had once called for the abolition of the monarchy (clearly, he got over that by the time he was knighted in 2014). Now he seems poised to work with King Charles on issues ranging from immigration to climate change.

Some “fun facts” about Keir Starmer:

  • he has a rescue cat named JoJo [how will this intruder get along with Downing Street resident cat, Larry?] and two teenage children
  • his wife is Jewish and the family celebrates Shabbat on Friday nights; he plans to continue this personal “time out” with family as PM
  • he attended private school on scholarship and was the first in his family to attend university
  • he spent the early part of his career working in criminal justice and human rights
  • he's been active in British politics since the age of 16, when he joined the Labour Party Young Socialists

To me, it sounds like the UK has found a leader who will prioritize the needs of the many over the needs of the wealthy (I sure wish we could find that in the US). I've heard that King Charles is happy to finally have a PM who will promote his environmental ideals (since the King is constitutionally barred from engaging in politics). Labour's "green investment plan" promises £28 billion per year (~$35 billion) - not bad for a country the size of New York State - although this has been put on hold until UK finances improve. 🙁

Still, as I've mentioned previously, many environmental initiatives - particularly in the area of food waste - cost very little or could save money. For example, legalizing utilization of “expired” [past its “best before” date, not unsafe!] food and loosening of restrictions on donating food can help reduce food waste and provide benefits to the needy. Supporting regenerative agriculture reduces the cost of crop destruction that results from less resilient farming methods. Growing nitrogen-fixing legumes as cover crop reduces the need for costly synthetic (petroleum-based) fertilizers. Supporting plant predominant eating in national guidelines (see my article on dietary guideline olympics) broadcasts a sustainable eating message to millions of beneficiaries.

Note, Prime Minister Starmer: the UK did not medal in my last assessment, but I fear I may have overlooked some good guidance. The NHS Eatwell Guide clearly recommends a plant predominant plate, while encouraging more legumes and less meat. If my visit across the pond is any indication, consumer demand has already led businesses to make changes for the planet (including vegan options at many restaurants).

The UK is on a course correction now, and we might see some big changes, but, just like with lifestyle modification, the incremental, sustainable (and here I mean persistent) changes may have the greatest potential for impact. The work of a politician (and it's not an easy job!) is to figure out what is possible within the current culture and decide on a way to change that which doesn't function well.

I think we can agree that the current food system in the US does not function well, being the cause of over a million deaths every year and health issues amongst even more. Politicians, farmers, business owners and consumers (through demand) have the power to change this, but it won't happen overnight. But we can notice the changes, however small, and build upon them. Radical change is often met with resistance. I'm not saying it's never warranted, but we need to keep our goals in mind and make judgements about which approach is most likely to be effective.

Luckily, with sustainable eating, the answer is easy. Delicious food is its own enticement. Eating for planet (and our health) is not a sacrifice; it's a joy! It's not too late to join my first ever Green Bites™ Plant Based Challenge. You don't have to go “whole hog” (or “complete kale”) to do it. I'm guiding you on small changes you can make every day that will improve your life, health and environment. Join me and then report your results on my birthday, July 21…two weeks left to make a change.  Healthy people have more fun!

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