Former U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan in his first foreign appearance since leaving the White House. He addressed the unquestionable connection between animal agriculture and climate change, among other topics
“I think people naturally understand that big smokestacks have pollution in them and they understand air pollution, so they can easily make the connection between energy production and the idea of greenhouse gases,” he said. “People aren’t as familiar with the impact of cows and methane, unless you’re a farmer.”
It looks like the Obamas intend to continue actively discussing the impact food choices have on the planet as they settle into their life as private citizens.
Obama told attendees that societies around the world should find more efficient means of producing protein and explore ways to reduce meat consumption. He also discussed the importance of people being informed about the health benefits of reducing flesh consumption.
He stressed that because the globe is on track to increase meat consumption, the need to change habits will only become more important. Large populations in India, Vietnam, and China are already showing signs of eating more meat and dairy products as their income levels rise.
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t teach you and me to have a smaller steak, for our own health,” Obama said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t make progress in educating the advanced world about the need to reduce, just for dietary reasons, the amount of meat that we consume at any given meal.”
Obama also pointed out that food production is the second-largest contributor to climate change after energy production. At the same time, he said, climate change is creating shrinking agricultural yields and spiking food prices that “in some places are leading to political instability.”
Interviewer and former White House food policy czar Sam Kass noted that while he served as Obama’s personal chef, he’d cooked maybe thousands of steaks for him during his presidency.
“I don’t know about thousands,” Obama responded, smiling. “Maybe hundreds. What is true is I am not a vegetarian. I respect vegetarians, but I am not one of them.”
With climate change, improving people’s health and eliminating childhood obesity being a key focus for Barack and Michelle Obama for years, we can’t help wonder why they aren’t vegan yet.
A global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change, according to the United Nations. If the Obama’s lead by example and adopt a vegan diet, they can inspire a global change that could help lower body mass index and help prevent diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.
Image: (Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo)