Can Changing Just One Meal a Day Make a Difference?
Centenarians in the blue zones typically ate a 90+ percent plant-based diet throughout the course of their lives. They never went on diets or cut out food groups, they simply ate what was available and in season, which was most often greens, beans, and whole grains. Today, Americans have every food imaginable available at their fingertips, whether in season or not. We also consume high quantities of meat and dairy products that would not have been available to many people from the longest-lived places in the world.
So, what would happen if we ate like a centenarian for just one meal a day?
Suzy Amis Cameron, environmental advocate, founder of the OMD Movement, MUSE School CA, and Plant Power Task Force, and author of OMD: The Simple, Plant-Based Program to Save Your Health, Save Your Waistline, and Save the Planet chatted with Blue Zones about easy tips for starting out plant-based, empowering kids in meal-time decisions, the benefits of eating plant-based for one meal a day, and saving the world.
1. OMD stands for One Meal a Day. What impact can changing just one meal per day have?
Suzy Amis Cameron: It’s One Meal a Day for your health and the planet—and it’s about swapping out one meat- and dairy-based meal for a plant-based, climate friendly meal. Eating plant-based cuts your carbon and water “foodprint” in half. Recently, a report from the United Nations presented the urgency of climate change, and OMD provides a very concrete action for people who’re asking, “What can one person do?”
If you eat just one plant-based meal a day for a year, you’ll save almost 200,000 gallons of water (that’s 11,400 showers!) and the pollution equivalent to about 3,000 miles driven in your car (roughly LA to NYC). And, if everyone in the U.S. reduced their meat and dairy intake by just 50 percent, it would be equal to taking 26 million cars off the road.
“One Meal a Day…it’s about swapping out one meat- and dairy-based meal for a plant-based, climate friendly meal.”
2. For people that want to start, what are some easy tips to get going?
Suzy: An easy way to start eating green is with small dietary shifts, such as eating vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes, instead of carbon-intensive foods like beef and lamb, and dairy products. These changes can lower your dietary climate burden instantly. Try almond, soy, or oat milk instead of cow’s milk on your breakfast cereal, or eat a bean and roasted veggie burrito instead of beef burrito. And, it’s not just carrot sticks and celery. I don’t think many people realize all the comfort food you can have—lasagna, cheesy pizza, burgers, burritos. And with the power of changing our food choices, we can begin to influence the marketplace and the food system.
3. You started a school in 2011. What was your inspiration to start that school?
Suzy: The real seed of inspiration for MUSE came from watching our two older children going through school systems that didn’t nurture them and squashed their little spirits. I could not find a school that checked all the boxes for me: respected them as individuals; taught them about respecting themselves, one another, and the planet; and that fed them healthy delicious food. I decide to start my own and pleaded with my sister, who has a background in education, to help me.
Rebecca Amis and I opened MUSE with 11 students in a one-room schoolhouse 13 years ago. We wanted to provide children with rigorous educational experiences that nurtured their passions and celebrated them as individuals on a sustainable campus. We now have more than 220 students aged two to 18. People move from all over the U.S. and Europe to join the school’s strong environmental core.
4. What is the OMD program (at Muse School)?
Suzy: When Rebecca and I realized how devastating animal agriculture was on the environment, we knew we had to shift to a plant-based lunch program for the kids, We brought doctors, athletes, climate scientists, chefs, and authors to MUSE to educate our families about the benefits of eating green before we went 100 percent plant-based at the school in Fall 2015. Still—we lost 50 percent of our families! I get it. That shift was a challenge with so much pressure to be like everyone else. Parents were pushing back and finally our head of school said, “People, it’s only one meal a day.” We’ve since regained and surpassed that enrollment, and now families enthusiastically support it.
We have 150 raised garden beds and the children grow anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the produce they eat every day. They learn how to plant, grow, harvest, and compost. In other words, they learn where their food comes from.
5. How did the kids take to it? What are some of their favorite things to eat?
Suzy: We really include the kids in the OMD program at MUSE. We have food committees and ask children for feedback. We have tweaked the menus to their preferences. They feel empowered. All of our recipes are geared toward kids’ taste buds and providing healthy kid comfort food: veggie burgers, pizzas, burritos. It’s fascinating to see how their palates have opened up. We recently surveyed them for their favorite foods; they chose rice bowls where they can add the veggies they want, and miso soup. No kidding. They are curious eaters, and their taste buds have broadened to welcome new flavors.
6. Tell us a little about what you’re doing in North Carolina. Why North Carolina?
Suzy: We launched our One Meal a Day pilot program in the Triangle area of North Carolina because we feel it is ground zero for climate and food justice—an area impacted by climate change and factory farming, yet with a community passionate about solutions and what they eat. We feel an environmental and social responsibility to work actively with K-12 schools and restaurants to increase access to healthy, plant-based food, being mindful of the social and economic barriers many communities face. Our kick-off event was about a month after Hurricane Florence floods caused the hog-waste lagoons to overflow, polluting waterways. The people are dealing with the effects of climate change and health issues on every level, and we were able to talk with them about OMD and moving the needle on both challenges with one meal a day.
BZ: 3 foods you always have in your kitchen?
Suzy: Hummus, raw veggies, and a big container of hearty minestrone soup—always ready to eat.
BZ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Suzy: Stay away from dairy and meat. I wish I had been plant-based starting at 20-years-old—or two!
BZ: Thing you’re most proud of?
Suzy: Nothing surpasses having children. After that, I’d say inspiring not only my family but so many others in the world to go plant-based. It warms my heart to hear the transformational stories people communicate around their health, making a huge difference for the environment, and having an impact on climate change. Sharing the plant-based story encompasses so much of my life’s work, from MUSE to our family farms to Plant Power Task Force to all the work Jim and I do around plant-based proteins. We’re all in!
BZ: When or where are you happiest?
Suzy: I’m happiest when I have my whole family together, and being out in nature together is an added bonus.
BZ: What is your personal mantra / motto?
Suzy: My personal message is about making the world a better place for all our children to grow up for generations to come. Especially on the tails of the UN climate change report and dire warnings of the recent National Climate Assessment issued by 13 federal agencies, we have to make a stand to do what we can. Eating plant-based is a win-win-win—for your health, the planet, and animals; it is all upside; there is no downside.
“Eating plant-based is a win-win-win—for your health, the planet, and animals; it is all upside; there is no downside.”
Suzy Amis Cameron is an environmental advocate, founder of the OMD Movement, MUSE School CA, and Plant Power Task Force. She’s also the author of OMD: The Simple, Plant-Based Program to Save Your Health, Save Your Waistline, and Save the Planet and a mother of five.