Things must be all good in Aotearoa when we can spend a week debating the pros and cons of kids becoming vegetarian because of something they learn at school. Lucky we don't have any serious problems with the health and wellbeing of our kids.
That's been my overriding thought as I've watched the often ridiculous discussion of the new school teaching resource on climate change. What's got people up-in-arms is a small section suggesting eating less meat might be part of the solution.
Politicians' comments on this have been bafflingly Trump-ian.
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National's Paula Bennett said her party might withdraw the resource. NZ First's Shane Jones said, bizarrely, that scientists who study climate change are like "bible-bashing" medieval torturers.
Perhaps the politicians didn't see the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report which said climate change is set to shape the wellbeing of an entire generation of children unless the world limits warming to well below 2C. Perhaps they haven't seen the warnings from psychologists that "eco anxiety" is causing real stress and fear among children around the world as they worry about the future. (Perhaps Jones didn't catch Iwi leaders' warnings that climate change threatens his beloved kaimoana, too).
Industry isn't happy. Federated Farmers has launched a petition. Beef + Lamb New Zealand says the resource lacks context. This is a valid point; the information on meat seems clunkily written and doesn't mention any health benefits meat provides. It's also odd that the vegetarian recipe resource given is an overseas recipe blog, not one of our excellent local, professional websites.
The Ministry of Education says awareness of the environment and our place in it is one part of the New Zealand Curriculum, and nutrition is covered in another. This also strikes me as bizarre.
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Perhaps the ministry hasn't heard the urgent warnings from health experts about the Global Syndemic of obesity, undernutrition and climate change. Obesity and undernutrition are forms of malnutrition, they say, affecting every part of the world as the leading cause of poor health. In the near future, the health effects of climate change will seriously compound these other problems. The health of the people and the health of the planet are inextricably linked, and they should be at school, too.
But the real shame about all this criticism of a tiny part of what looks like a mostly pretty relevant, science-based and useful teaching resource, is that it continues to frame the diet debate as "meat versus vegetables". This is just silly, and obscures any useful discussion about meaningful changes we can and should make, both to our individual diets and to the way we produce food as a nation.
And any debate is utterly meaningless to the many NZ families who live with food poverty; who struggle to get any food on the table. Climate change is only going to make that problem worse. Perhaps industry, politicians and all of us too, should be coming together and discussing how to solve that urgent problem instead.