Building a Community of Plant-Rich Eating

This journey started with bringing my family to a more sustainable lifestyle. The effort my family became most excited about was reducing meat in our meals. In only a few months we reduced meat consumption by more than 75%. Now its rare to have a meal that features meat as a main. When we eat meat it is often a garnish.

At the same time how that nutrition is replaced is important. We tried a number of meat substitutes (Impossible burgers, sausage patties and bacon) yet the nutritional value of these is often poor. The Impossible Burger has more sodium, fat and calories per weight than meat. So we quickly moved from that into how to enrich the unprocessed green plant component of our diet. This is has led to more than I could have imagined.

Starting about the same time our church decided it would start a Climate Action Team based on Project Draw-down. This is not a small step because it requires to be approved by the Board of Trustees and requires months of proof of concept first. The CAT has many sub-committees and I proposed a Plant-Rich Diet committee to help parishioners take to less meat in their diet.

In short order the team gained membership and accomplishments. We have ten regular members and the minister (also a vegetarian) was so impressed with our successes at conveying information and getting survey responses that she invited us to develop and lead an entire Sunday service on the topic. I gave one of the testimonials (see below) and we presented the wider church memberships’ position on meat consumption (see below).

Based on the survey findings we are now building a blog to share information about member tested vegetarian recipes and information about using diet to reduce GHG emissions and improve personal health. We are fortunate to have a deep bench of expertise on the team to include an emergency room physician, a public health scientist, an economist, a couple lawyers, engineers and a former head of education for a prominent natural history museum. Together we continue to meet twice a month and plan outreach while providing the church membership what they ask for to reduce meat in their diet. Stay tuned!!

Below you will find (1) Our first video to the congregation (2) The results of our congregation survey and (3) my testimonial during a service.

This is a video our group made to announce our intentions to the church and get a dialogue going.

Survey Results as Shared with the Congregation

My Testimonial at the Sunday Service (Oct 20th, 2019)

Hello everyone, Thanks for being here today. My name is Marc Tkach and I am a member of this church.

I will be speaking on increasing plants in my diet and to effectively drive home my points, I will love to share my story.

Almost a year ago, while pursuing a masters’ program in sustainability, I had to make a personal commitment for the program.

I committed myself and with absolutely no consultation…my family, to a more sustainable and ethical diet.  This seemed like a challenging but possibly a fun decision.

After a self-assessment I realized I ate meat every day…that had to change. So I started with a goal of one meatless day a week. I also committed to eating all the vegetables put on my plate.

My first test came a few days later. I had ordered fish skewers which contained my most hated vegetable, bell peppers. I stayed the course and in front of my family and mom choked down every bite of pepper. I looked up with watery eyes and no one noticed and no one cared.

I saw this meatless day as a way to push myself to be healthier.  My wife January was full of enthusiasm and jumped on it so fast I almost felt that she was the one that made the commitment. 

My sons, Quinn and Nolan, started to ask about vegetables in meal planning and shared they were glad to help make a healthier planet.

Pretty soon we had one meatless day and that built a confidence that vegetarian meals were tasty and easy to put together.  It wasn’t long before more and more meals in the week became meatless.

Now, I am still not a vegetarian and the plan is not really to be one but this commitment has changed my diet and relationship with food for the better.

Almost ten months later when I cook I first think to go meatless.  When I eat out I skim the vegetarian plates and if one works I order it.  I still eat meat but more as a garnish to the main dish.  I think more about the protein in the meal and now I have my favorites like chickpeas, beans, spinach and artichokes.

As for bell peppers, I still do not like them and do not eat them but have found so many more vegetables that I do like.

So, why is this working? Well many of the things I have touched on are examples of choice architecture. That is creating an environment around me where I can make small and easy decisions.  For example, through my masters’ program I made myself subject to peer pressure to follow through on my commitment, I enlisted my family to provide the nudges necessary to think about plant rich meal planning and I set an anchor or goal of one meatless day a week. None of these were difficult or daunting…they were all little changes. It’s these little changes you make today that can go such a long way.

4 thoughts on “Building a Community of Plant-Rich Eating

  1. Marc, what an amazing influencer you are. Did you ever imagine at the beginning of this challenge that from your home – you would take this challenge all the way to your church? I remember watching your elder son – not being super pleased about eating veggies at the start of this journey and now he seems to have embraced meatless food as well…Really impressed to read about your journey – from small steps within the family leading up to changes in your wider network of Church membership…see the magic of persistence and perseverance… Good luck with keeping it up…..

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  2. I’m really glad to hear you’ve found more veggies you like, although sad about bell peppers! And amazing work with your church, I love the infographic to show the survey results in an engaging way and asking them to answer questions at the end of the video (nice nodding in that by Quinn btw!). I think it’s really hard to change how you eat after such a long time, and great to influence your kids now so they eat differently for maybe the rest of their lives, amazing stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing Marc – it is great to hear that you are reaching out to the wider community to share your experiences and to further influence people in a positive manner.

    I think the lesson is that there is always a large community of like-minded enthusiasts out there. Making drastic changes to one’s own personal lifestyle may often feel alienating at first; but you soon realise that there is many people also following in the same foot steps.

    Like

  4. Hi Mark,
    thanks for sharing and congratulations on these developments! I’m impressed to see how you were able to build such a movement and community around your personal challenge. I believe having this community support is crucial in order to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. We just recently had an opposite experience: In our own little quest of cutting down on meat, we tried the beyond meat burgers for the first time at home. When my husband posted a picture on facebook, the reactions we got really surprised me. So many of our friends and family were concerned that we had become radical vegans and suddenly worried about our protein intake (even though they had never shown a particular interest in our nutrition so far..) – just because we cooked one meatless burger.
    So keep up the good work in your community, seems that your church is way ahead of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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