Feature Stories


Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, September 2017


Medical Students Call on UCSF Departments to Go Beef and Lamb-Free

According to The Guardian, “Growing food for the world’s burgeoning population is likely to send greenhouse gas emissions over the threshold of safety, unless more is done to cut meat consumption…”. The World Resources Institute Protein Scorecard shows that small changes, such as switching from beef to poultry or beans, can significantly reduce agricultural resources use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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Four UCSF second-year medical students, Jason Parad, Carolyn Rennels, Briton Lee, and Gabriela Weigel have called upon departments in the School of Medicine to commit to going beef and lamb-free. In addition to their work load as medical students, the team of four students has been inspired to spark UCSF departments to purchase less beef and lamb—both to reduce health impacts associated with red-meat consumption and to address the social injustices related to climate impacts. Rennels and Weigel are 2017-2018 UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) Fellows, focusing on how to encourage activism though education.

The voluntary commitment asks departments to avoid purchasing beef and lamb with departmental funds and to avoid serving beef or lamb at departmental events.

The students began the campaign after some of them enrolled in a climate change Inquiry Immersion elective taught this past January as part of the newly launched Bridges curriculum. “The course really motivated us to view climate change as the biggest social injustice of our time and to act in accordance with our personal and institutional missions,” said Parad.

After enlisting the support of one-third of their medical class, they began sending out the request to departments in April. To-date, the following departments have agreed to the commitment:

  • Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, UCSF School of Medicine
  • Department of Urology, UCSF School of Medicine
  • Department of Ophthalmology, UCSF School of Medicine
  • Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, UCSF School of Medicine
  • Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, UCSF School of Medicine

Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences invited the students to present their campaign at their faculty meeting in June, after which the department reached a unanimous decision to commit. According to Bethanie Brandon, Executive Assistant to the Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, the department has continued to work with their existing caterers and simply stopped ordering beef and lamb.

“It has not been difficult at all,” stressed Brandon. “We sent a letter out to the Department explaining the commitment; all are aware of it, and we have received a lot of enthusiastic support,” she shared.

The Environmental and Social Impacts

Red meat has increasingly come under fire in the public health community for its links to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and mortality. We have written extensively here before about the concerns over antibiotics in meat. But Parad and Rennels say that while eating less red meat has potential health benefits, the real opportunity is to highlight the social justice issues associated with red meat consumption.

NatureThis chart of GHG emissions per gram of protein produced from Nature, illustrates that ruminant meat (including cattle, sheep, and goats) dominates, contributing five times more than pork or poultry, and 250 times more than legumes.

“When people hear about our campaign, they often think about freedom of choice. But our campaign isn’t about the people who are free to make these kinds of decisions—it’s about those who aren’t,” says Parad.

Parad and Rennels emphasized that beef and lamb consumption is an unsustainable practice that disproportionately burdens those who are least well off.  According to The Guardian, “People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change.”

The students note that UCSF is the perfect university to spearhead this campaign given its mission to advance health worldwide and commitment to social justice. “Lots of actions are direct threats to sustainability. But beef consumption is one of the big ones—and so it’s perplexing that UCSF actually funds this practice,” explained Parad.

Next Step:  To Engage Other Professional Students

The next step is to look for other professional students at UCSF who will take the campaign to the departments at their respective schools. The students then plan to spread the campaign to other UCs by networking with the CNI and Global Food Initiative Fellows at other campuses.

“The request is more powerful when it comes from within, especially since the voluntary commitment will be self-policed,” said Rennels.

Here is how to get started in five-simple steps:

  1. Educate and engage fellow students who care about the intersection between climate change, health, and social justice.
  2. Craft a letter to department heads; you can use the model used by the Medical School students HERE.
  3. Ask students to use their name on the letter.
  4. Follow-up with Departments; create a presentation if necessary to educate departments on the issues and commitment.
  5. Create a Webpage that allows you to recognize the departments that have made a commitment.

Learn More

Global Diets Link Environmental Sustainability and Human Health

Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future

Eat Less Meat to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming, Scientists Say

Story:  Green Impact: Strategy + Communications + Engagement