I grew up picky--not a vegetable in sight. Breaded chicken tenders and fries were my go-to meal wherever I went, and as I got older I could not get myself to try new foods. Fast forward until this day, I still struggle to maintain a healthy diet, let alone one that is plant based. However, I decided to sign up for the Plant Futures Symposium this semester to see what being plant based was all about, and needless to say it changed my life. Adopting a plant based diet does more than save animals and look out for the health of slaughterhouse workers, it is superfood for your body and helps the environment. Throughout the two days of the Plant Futures Symposium, there were countless speakers ranging from physicians to entrepreneurs that shared their knowledge and insight around this topic. I learned so much about the plant based food industry, the health benefits of plant based diets, and how businesses are shaping the future of food. After reflecting back on my experience, I have compiled:
1. Prioritize Your Gut Health
On Day 1 of the 2021 Symposium, three doctors--Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, Dr. David Katz, and Dr.
Milton Mills--came together to share their knowledge on how plant based foods promote a
healthier gut. They discussed how fiber is our most prevalent deficiency, with 95% of
Americans being below the recommended amount, and how we can work to fix this problem
by eating more plants. Prioritizing gut health can help improve digestion, strengthen the
immune system, balance hormones, and even improve mood and cognition.
As someone that struggles with their gut health and diet, this panel resonated with me in
many ways. Hearing this information from trusted medical professionals changed my
perspective on diets and the role they play in human health. I’ve since felt inspired to do my
own personal research and discover a diet that fits my body’s needs so that I can feel
healthier and happier than ever before.
2. Food Systems Play a Huge Role in Climate Change
Matthew Hayek, an Assistant Professor at New York University's Department of Environmental Studies, came to speak on Day 1 of the Symposium about how we can help the environment by focusing on improving our food systems. Global food systems contribute around 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 16% of this can be traced back to farmed animals and their resource needs. This illustrates how what we eat is more important than how it’s produced in terms of contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and integrating more plant based foods into our diets can tremendously help the environment. All my life, I was under the impression that if we simply recycled our plastic bottles and tried to eliminate single use items that we could tackle climate change. Mr. Hayek’s talk helped me realize that our global food system is also a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and that adopting plant based diets can make all the difference. Since this talk, I’ve started paying more attention to food systems and determining the canges I can make in my life to contribute to this overall goal of helping the planet.
3. Media Influences Industry Trends
Within the past few years, we have seen an exponential increase in plant based diet adopters, and a significant portion of this growth can be credited to the media. On Day 2 of the Plant Futures Symposium, we were visited by James Wilks and Joseph Pace from The Game Changers Documentary and Elaine Watson, an editor for Food Navigator USA. They discussed how shifting to a plant based diet is becoming more and more popular among consumers. Fast food chains like Burger King are beginning to explore plant based items like burgers, which is helping society become exposed to the realm of foods in this category. It is allowing consumers who were not already vegan or vegetarian to begin thinking about the idea of trying these new foods. It is shifting the conversation and trends within the food space to more plant based focus.
As a student interested in pursuing a career in marketing, it was interesting to learn how much the media has impacted the growth of the plant based food industry. Marketing has the power to broadcast messages across the world and start conversations among consumers, which is why it is so important. We must continue to spread awareness of the array of benefits that come along with adopting plant based diets so we can keep writing this narrative and change the world.
While I’ve only listed 3 key takeaways, I can promise you I learned so much more from the Plant Futures Symposium. I’ve never taken a course that impacted my perspective on life to the extent that this course did, and I truly feel that all students could benefit from this course even if they are not quite ready to consider a plant based lifestyle. It was eye opening to meet professionals within the plant based food industry, listen to their thoughts about where it is heading, and think about how I can apply this information to make changes in my own life.
If I have one piece of advice for everyone reading this, it is to take this course. Seriously, you won’t regret it!