Welcome to Plant-Based University!
Changing course content: a matter of literal survival
Long before COVID-19, there was a dire need for humankind to change its ways. Forget about rapidly shifting labour-market demand and acute supply chain problems — or geopolitics. Oceans are heating and rising, and wildfires are no longer events but “seasons” in some parts of the world. Carbon emissions caused by both factory farming and industrialization are a global catastrophe.
As a higher education lawyer, writer, committed vegan and, most importantly, father of three children (ages 14, 11 and 11), I am invested in change. I became vegan only recently, while living in Northern California. My wife Jennifer Friedman, a prominent animal welfare lawyer (and my veritable hero), had prosecuted animal abuse cases for many years, and my children became vegan following her lead.
So, did I really have a choice? Gone forever would be the flanken and kishka and gefilte fish that accompanied a Reform Judaism dinner table on select Jewish holy days. What would this mean for our ability to integrate with others in our community?
Also off the menu was the Parmigiano Reggiano that I would quietly hoard in my wine cellar. It would be some time before I would discover nutritional yeast as a substitute. Could I really live in Sonoma as a vegan? Yes. And blissfully.
What a beautiful choice it has been in the end. My lifestyle change was great for me, and it’s great for the blue planet. I started running half marathons at 50, and my doctor exclaimed, “Whatever you are doing, keep doing it.” It’s easy when your motivation is your 39-year-old wife and young children.
MUSE: a school ahead of its time
After adopting a plant-based diet, I started to wonder about the kind of world my children would grow up in. They proudly tell their peers that by adopting a vegan lifestyle, they save hundreds of animals each year and dramatically reduce methane emissions caused by factory farming. With that in mind, I had to visit MUSE.
High up in the Santa Monica mountains in Calabasas, Calif. lies a stunning campus combining pedagogical rigour and social-emotional learning. It is not surprising to me that MUSE Global School was founded by Suzy Amis Cameron, author of The OMD Plan (One Meal a Day for the Planet), a prescription for changing the mindsets of people globally. Amis Cameron is also the wife of filmmaker James Cameron.
Last week, MUSE’s Head of School, Suzanne McClure, was gracious enough to give me a campus tour. The school is predicated on a five-pillar approach:
- Academics: MUSE Is committed to strong pedagogy, and its graduates have fared extremely well in standardized testing and college placements;
- Passion-based learning: Students are encouraged to develop their interests and passions to learn at a deep and meaningful level;
- Self-efficacy: Self-belief is taught as an essential ingredient to success;
- Communication: Students are taught to communicate effectively and resolve conflict;
- Sustainability: Sustainability practices are studied on a grade-specific level.
MUSE appears to be the only plant-based school of its kind in the U.S. — or anywhere — offering both in-person and a global online program. While my children have received excellent schooling in both California and in Canada, I often wished they could attend a school where they did not feel marginalized as kids who have committed to a plant-based lifestyle.
Parents, educators and students who understand a plant-based lifestyle are still among the slim minority. By contrast, MUSE has a dedicated vegan chef on campus. Finally, a school that understands tofu and vegan cheese (thank you Miyoko Schinner, and others out there who refuse to take a metaphorical back-seat in the olfactory war of taste buds).
Fast forward into 2022
I could not spend more than a fleeting moment covering MUSE school in a short blog article. However, we should expect a proliferation of plant-based education offerings within the next 10 years.
It took escaping a wildfire in Sonoma County for me to experience an awakening and, more specifically, to draw a connection between the wildfire and the need for plant-based living. Prior to escaping a burning neighbourhood at midnight on Oct. 8, 2017, with my wife, three kids and our dog Leo, I would never have drawn this connection. So, why should you? COVID-19 may be your own enlightenment about the need for change.
COVID-19 was not the precursor to change and opportunity in the education sector, but it sure has been a great accelerator of change. Hopefully, you were already thinking about electric cars, increasing the plant-based component of your diet and global warming, prior to COVID19. Schools such as MUSE have been imparting this mindset on kids from a tender age.
As students and academic institutions everywhere struggle with COVID-19 and safe program delivery protocols, expect program content to shift radically over the next five to 10 years. That spells opportunity for educators and for our children to transform the world and practice restoration.
We will absolutely need to train health-care workers to address longevity (people are living longer), an aging workforce and the rising cost of health care. We will need to train pilots and truck drivers at a furious pace. And, hopefully, those trucks and planes will be powered by renewable energy.
Radical shift signals opportunity
I’ll end on an optimistic note: Where there is tragedy, there is often accompanying opportunity. The training of drone operators to survey vegetation, fight wildfires and identify shark migrations proximate to populated tourist shorelines will become increasingly needed. Replacing fossil fuel-based energy with renewable energy expertise requires a shift in training.
Is the world ready for such a radical shift? Are JK-to-12 stream schools and universities prepared for such a radical shift in demand for training?
There was no way that human beings could replicate the taste of a hamburger in a veggie burger. Until they did: Enter Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Nor could the olfactory experience of a plant-based creamer ever compare to cream. Then came Oatly (sorry to the many other great vegan food innovators, I’m biased and love the products I’ve plugged in this blog).
When people think of a plant-based lifestyle, maybe they are narrowly thinking of something that is diet-specific. But it is so much more zen, and so much more significant than food (though I jokingly tell my family that I may have invented the vishka, a much more upscale and vegan version of the kishka. It’s true, come over and try it!). Well over a decade ago I saw my wife transform from fashion model to model citizen, an animal advocate who abandoned all of her leather clothing and anything made with animal products – much of it from top designers.
One thing I learned along the road to a plant-based lifestyle, is that you win people over with love, not judgement. To those taking baby steps to make the world a better place, I salute you. We have to win hearts before we can win minds.
This all starts with a mindset. MUSE got it right years ago. Perhaps, in this sense, the iconic James Cameron has been eclipsed by his visionary wife, who has changed the world in titanic proportions.