Healthy Planet, Healthy Lives

December 28, 2023
Chris Christensen in a blue jacket, outdoors.

A story by Bebe Raupe on Christ Christensen. This article is also featured in the January 1, 2024, issue of The Ripple.

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Food is life.

Unfortunately, the typical American diet—rife with preservatives, fats, sugar, and salt, but not enough fiber and often too much animal proteins—emphasizes convenience and corporate profits over optimal human health, says Chris Christensen, who volunteers tirelessly to educate people about the benefits of plant-based nutrition.

A founding member of Plant-Based Healthy Cincinnati (PBHC), Chris has promoted the benefits of meat-free living for over a decade, organizing classes and events throughout Greater Cincinnati. Through this outreach, as well as PBHC’s Facebook page, she has helped bring the group’s membership to nearly 1,000.

“One of the most impactful things anyone can do to protect their health and the environment is to eat less meat, eggs, and dairy,” she says.

According to research published in Nature Food, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 60% of the greenhouse gas resulting from food production; globally, animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers estimate that if every American ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would have the same yearly environmental impact as taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

In addition to shrinking your environmental footprint, adopting a plant-based diet yields many positive health impacts, says Chris, like reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. She has seen the positive health impacts with her own eyes: her father adopted a plant-based diet after a cancer diagnosis and experienced a dramatic turnaround in his health.

Making this menu shift can be challenging, says Chris, a certified wellness nutrition educator, who works to help people transition to a plant-based diet. “It can be daunting to change your eating habits, especially when your palate is used to a meat and animal-product based diet,” she says.

For most people, transitioning to a whole food plant-based lifestyle, the behavioral change can come “one taste at a time,” she says, although some make the change quickly.

Chris says the social support that comes from meeting and eating with like-minded people is a great way to foster change. Recently she has been participating in meatless potlucks at the Cincinnati Nature Center where people share information and recipes over a plant-based meal. The next one is January 18, 2024.

At these get-togethers, as well as PBHC meetings and events, Chris teaches food diversity. “We eat so much more than salads,” she says. “With this diet, the majority of calories come from nutrient-dense foods rich in carbohydrates and low in fats— fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, legumes, tubers.

“The goal is to get the bulk of your daily calories from foods that are not animal-based, processed or packaged,” she says.

Soon Chris’s outreach will be even greater when PBCH launches a website with educational tools and event listings.

On February 24, Chris will lead a book discussion at the Nature Center for anyone interested in Food is Climate by Glen Merzer, which explores the relationship between humans eating animals, climate change, and how adopting a plant-based diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For those wishing to try a plant-based dish, one of Chris’s go-to recipes is versatile dip/sauce Cashew Queso via Life is NOYOKE.

Food is Climate by Glen Merzer

Book Discussion Group: Food is Climate

Saturday, February 24, 10 am-12 pm - Click here to register!

Do you want to eat better for your health and for the environment?  Cincinnati Nature Center member and Certified Wellness Nutrition Educator Chris Christensen recommends the book Food is Climate by Glen Merzer.  She invites you to join her to discuss your thoughts on the book. Pick up the book here and read it before attending the discussion. Free for members; non-members $10 (includes daily admission).