Dear fellow Millennial,
I’m a scientist, an educator, an advocate, and a consumer. In all of these capacities, I can exert influence over the systems around me, even when other conduits of influence – like the political system – feel blockaded. The system I most desperately want to change is the food system, and I’ll tell you why – and I hope you’ll join me.
Millennials are a caring bunch. We have grave concern for our environment and the diverse ecosystems our planet harbors. We care deeply about humans across the globe, including those beyond our borders who suffer from poverty, starvation, and malnutrition. We care about our own health and wellbeing, and we are equally concerned about public health threats and infectious diseases that traverse the globe with ease. And we exhibit profound concern for non-human sentient beings. Our companion animals are true members of our family, and we recognize in all animals a right to exist and be free from harm, suffering, or exploitation.
These are values that we hold dear. We act on them in so many ways: we use public transportation; we avoid products of child labor; we donate to global health charities; we adopt our pets from shelters; we refuse to support circuses and other forms of coerced animal entertainment. And yet our current food system – most notably our reliance on factory farming – is an affront to all of these values. There is an enormous gap between our ideals and the systems through which our food is produced.
Animal agriculture poses massive, inherent problems for health, the environment, sustainability, and animal welfare. It is among the leading causes of environmental destruction – including deforestation, ocean dead zones from waste runoff, and water and air pollution – and it contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation sector. Furthermore, rearinganimals poses significant public health threats from antibiotic resistance and zoonotic disease epidemics, and consumption of animal products is associated with higher rates of death from all leading chronic diseases in the Western world – a trend that is rapidly emerging in the developing world as well. Finally, consumers are increasingly concerned about the treatment of farmed animals. Undercover investigations have opened our eyes to the cruelty and confinement that are standard practice at the factory farms supplying 99% of our meat, dairy, and eggs.
Despite the massive implications of animal agriculture on all of these global fronts, gains to reduce our reliance on animal agriculture have been modest in the Western world and are outweighed globally by a growing population and an increased demand for animal protein in the developing world. There is simply not enough land on the planet to sustain a population predicted to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050 without a dramatic shift towards more sustainable, less resource-intensive protein sources.
Millennials have the power to reverse this trend. I’m empowered by our collective ability to steer the ship without standing at the helm: we can shift the currents in the seas, and we can shift the wind in the sails. We make decisions about food more frequently than any other product we consume – and thus we can use our food purchasing decisions to exert a tremendous amount of influence in the market. We vote with our dollars to make a statement about sustainability, animal welfare, and the equitable distribution of resources on this planet, even when the ballot box feels like an abyss.
Every food industry leader is watching millennials because we are trendsetters. We act upon our values, and increasingly we are rejecting animal agriculture as we become better informed. Food producers and restaurants are taking note, as are investors, innovators, and educators.
These day-to-day decisions matter a great deal but perhaps most powerfully, young professionals – that’s you, millennials! – can devote the 80,000 hours of your career to a meaningful endeavor to improve the world. Technology provides a tremendous opportunity to steer the ship in the right direction, simply by letting market forces act. If we can develop products that are more sustainable, humane, and healthy than animal products and that compete on taste, price, and convenience, the omnivore’s dilemma disappears. The food choice that’s good for the planet, ourselves, and animals becomes the default choice because consumers don’t have to compromise on any of the attributes that govern our food choices. Animal agriculture is an obsolete, inefficient, and outdated system that is ready for a complete technology-driven overhaul.
This is a pivotal moment for our food system, and I hope you’ll join me in using your time and talents to tip the scales towards a healthier, more sustainable, and more humane food future by rendering animal agriculture obsolete.
Liz Specht, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, the Good Food Institute