A Look Back at 2019: Top Stories in Climate and Food News

From the youth climate uprising, to Beyond Meat’s IPO to the release of a game-changing documentary, these are the news stories that rocked our world in the past year.
climate and food news
December 30, 2019 Leave your thoughts 4.5 min read

As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to look back on the past year at the stories that cut through the noise. From the plant-based product boom, to the Amazon fires to The Game Changers rocking the documentary world– in many ways this was the year that the climate impacts of big agribusiness and the plant-based movement went mainstream.

Here’s our list of top news stories of 2019:

Youth Speak Climate Truth to Power

From Greta Thunberg being named TIME’s Person of the Year; to The Sunrise Movement, a group of young people organizing against climate change; and the environmental justice organization, Zero Hour, 2019 was the year young people stepped to the front lines of the climate conversation. Can we take a minute to say thank you to these amazing leaders?

Oprah’s 30-Day OMD Challenge

This fall, Oprah Winfrey sat down with OMD founder, Suzy Amis Cameron to talk about her book, The OMD Plan, MUSE school going global and why eating plant-based benefits not just our bodies but also the planet. Oprah was so inspired by the interview that she took up her own 30-day OMD challenge, pledging to eat one plant-based meal a day for a month. She also invited readers to join her and shared advice and recipes to help.

The UN Urged People to Eat Less Meat

In its latest report released in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) once again said efforts to keep greenhouse gas emissions within safe levels will fail without major changes in the way people eat, including adopting a primarily plant-based diet.

Plant-Based Products Took Off

Sales of plant-based foods continued to skyrocket, increasing by 11% since 2018. That’s a much greater rise than the overall food industry, which saw just 2% growth in sales in the same period. Plant-based milks and alternative meats were the biggest sellers, especially as more and more people dip a toe in the water. At the same time, new products like plant-based yogurts, cheeses and ice creams also helped drive the trend.

Amazon Fires: The Earth’s “Lungs” Under Attack

This fall, swaths of the Amazon rainforest went up in smoke, polluting the air, destroying important habitat, displacing Amazonian people and damaging one of the Earth’s most vital resources — the “lungs” of our planet, not to mention one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world. Why? Rising global demand for meat and Bolsanaro’s lax policies fueled the cattle industry to set fires to clear more land for raising livestock and growing feed for global export. Worldwide, animal agriculture the number two contributor of harmful emissions, and also the leading cause of mass extinction. The catastrophe prompted government leaders in Los Angeles and New York to call for a boycott of companies linked to the fires, and leading scientists urged people reduce their meat consumption to prevent further damage.

The Game Changers Catapults Plant-Based Performance

In the new documentary The Game Changers, high-performance athletes and doctors explored how a plant-based diet boosts peak athletic performance. The film sparked conversations, both in the media and at the dinner table, about the advantages of going plant-based, driving a record number of people to search for the term “plant-based” online.

Beyond Meat Went Public

Shares surged by more than 250% after Beyond Meat launched sales of its stock in May, making it one of the most successful IPOs of 2019. While there are numerous plant-based proteins on the market, Beyond Meat was the first to go public. Analysis said the success of the launch suggest investors see plenty of future growth in the alternative meat category.

Schools Got Serious About Student Health

Even as legislators debate policy around school lunch at the state level, many schools and school districts took change into their own hands, including New York City public schools, which banned processed meats in cafeterias.

AB 479: California Leads School Lunch Change

California took a step closer to making school lunch healthier and more environmentally responsible, when the California State Assembly introduced a bill that would significantly expand access to plant-based lunch options for children in K-12 public schools. The bill, which would offer financial incentives to schools that add or increase their plant-based menu options, is now pending before the California Senate.

All Politics is Local

California’s school lunch bill wasn’t the only plant-based legislation happening at the local level. This year saw the rise of leaders like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who has been outspoken about his own plant-based journey and shared resources on healthy eating through his office with his constituents; and other elected officials at the state, city and district level who have supported climate-friendly policies and plant-based initiatives.

… And Ran for President

For the first time, climate-friendly food had a presidential platform in 2019, with candidate Cory Booker speaking out about his plant-based diet, and candidates like Bernie Sanders condemning factory farming

Big Meat and Dairy Pushed Back

Even as sales of plant-based products surged, the animal agriculture industry fought back. Big Dairy continued to push for labeling requirements that would ban producers of plant-based milks, cheeses and other products from using terms like “milk,” “ice cream” and “yogurt.” At the same time, meat producers launched a campaign to brand plant-based meats like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat as unhealthy.

This past year was bittersweet with both some big strides forward and some reminders of how far we have yet to go. But 2020 marks a new decade and a new opportunity to keep the conversation going and for us to make a difference for the planet.

What's Next?

Did you catch our interview with North Carolina changemaker, Naeema Muhammad? She’s a local leader organizing communities to stand up to big agribusiness to protect public health and environmental justice. Read her interview on the blog.

About the Author

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer in Hawaii. Read her work at ilimaloomis.com.

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