Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

How Taking Care of Yourself Could Save the Planet

by CRARS staff member Sheryl Karas MA

farmer's market

Could what you already want to do for your own health and well-being, sense of community, and life purpose be good for the planet?  

Eve Turow-PaulProbably so, says author and global thought leader Eve Turow-Paul. She is the Executive Director of the Food for Climate League(opens in new window) and has been researching and reporting on the intersection of food culture, the Digital Age, and well-being in multiple books and speaking engagements, including one done virtually and recorded at Chico State(opens in new window) in September of 2020. Her latest book is Hungry: Avocado Toast, Instagram Influencers, and Our Search for Connection and Meaning(opens in new window). Her insights into the psychological factors driving food trends prevalent among younger adults throws a spotlight on both extreme challenges in terms of mental and emotional well-being and very positive shifts in coping behavior around climate change and climate resiliency (including regenerative agriculture).

Because Millennials and Gen Z-ers represent 51% of the global population, most of Turow-Paul’s work was centered on these young adult groups because they will have the strongest impact on our future. But what she discovered was that her observations were not limited to these groups. Because the Covid-19 pandemic has been keeping more people home and more tethered to technology than they were before, wide swaths of the population across generations are reporting similar thoughts, feelings, and changes in behavior. Some of those trends include: 

  • Not wanting to spend extra money on anything unless it is filling a basic need.
  • Less face-to-face community.
  • A passion for food and sharing about that on social media. 

Anyone who spends time on social media knows this is not big news; but Turow-Paul says that when she and the researchers at Datassential(opens in new window) used surveys to dive deeper into these behaviors, they found a global culture hungry for control and safety, community, and sense of purpose. 

Impact of Technology and Socio-economic Challenges 

 A lot has been written about 24/7 news, social media, and email correlating with high rates of stress, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, and isolation. Multiple studies (for example, this one(opens in new window)) and articles discuss how a steady diet of online life seems to lead to loneliness, burnout, jealousy, and doubting one’s self-worth, especially among young people. At least one study has shown a causal relationship(opens in new window).  But even though Millennials and Gen Zers have the highest rates of anxiety, stress and depression on record(opens in new window), it would be a mistake to assume that this is due to technology use alone. Millennials report that dissatisfaction with their jobs, longer work hours, and wages that have not kept up with inflation has been leading to high rates of financial stress and burn-out. Furthermore, institutionalized racism exacerbates the stress in people’s lives tremendously. According to a study reported in the American Academy of Pediatrics(opens in new window), suicide attempt rates for Black youths increased by 73% from 1991 to 2017.  

During the first year of the pandemic, we saw massive cross-racial Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd; but since then, Millennial and Gen Z activism for progressive causes has mostly faded away from social media. We do, however, continue to see a surprising number of posts about food, teaching and learning how to garden and cook, information about local and heritage foods, and food-based health and healing. What’s going on? 

Young people report great levels of despair about the larger socioeconomic system working for them. For many young people, the idea of living in an era of late-stage capitalism(opens in new window) is almost seen as a verifiable truth. Members of older generations facing similar economic stresses are increasingly joining them in this assessment. And while the Biden administration has recently announced some action on climate change(opens in new window), we see Congress doing very little about it. Yet, according to a Pew Research Center report(opens in new window) released in September 2021, 80% of people around the world would be willing to make changes in how they live or work to reduce the effects of climate change. Most people outside of the U.S. also express the opinion that their governments are not doing enough. This general sense of anxiety about an uncertain future has turned the public’s attention to how to take care of themselves, their families, and community groups without necessarily expecting the desired outside assistance.  

What This Means for Regenerative Agriculture 

This is a dismal report on the mindset of younger generations but the shift to personal and small-scale local actions has a positive potential impact. So far, the vast majority of regenerative farmers and ranchers are relatively small operations providing food mostly for their local communities. Eve Turow-Paul reports that 89% of the people in her surveys want local foods and are willing to devote more of their hard-won dollars to cultivate and support growers who focus on their regional foodsheds. Because of pandemic-related supply chain shortages, sustainability in the food system is now of great concern and finding ways to create more climate resiliency for their local communities is a high priority. While this group of people is certainly inspired by Greta Thunberg and the fight to stop climate change, the intent is really more about how to survive in a climate that is already changing. And, more than that, it’s how to do so with an eye to the bottom line and staying healthy. Farmers who market directly to those concerns have been able to survive pandemic-related crises. Several of our mentor-farmers(opens in new window) report higher direct sales than ever before and that it’s helping their businesses thrive.

And that’s great for the planet as well. Regenerative farming practices reduce greenhouse gasses, restore soil resiliency, increase the sustainability of farms and ranches, and address food and water insecurity. Learn more(opens in new window)