Preview – Watts & PBT

Grassroots activist takes climate fight across the US

Melaina Watts, the US Plant Based Treaty representative, is a powerhouse when it comes to initiating ground-breaking actions for community impact. With an impressive background as a seasoned vegan activist, she possesses the exact qualities required for a burgeoning awareness initiative, one that is steadily gaining traction but is still to establish a significant stronghold.

The Plant Based Treaty effort was launched at COP 26 in 2021. Its key intent is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture and unite communities worldwide in a common fight against climate change. It also encourages carbon labelling on menus and transitioning to plant-based meals.

Following a suggestion from a friend involved with SAFE (the animal activist organisation), Melaina started doing different events for World Vegan Month last November. She quickly realised there was another way to open up a critical conversation.

“We did several different actions every weekend of that month from going to Veg Fest to talking to people, going to a march, and I found that the conversations I was having through the Plant Based Treaty were very productive and very well received,” she said.

“I’m a vegan activist all day long, and I found that my conversations were different from using the word vegan to the word plant-based as well as their approach, which are more environmentally friendly initiatives and working on institutional change. It was a really great segway into getting people to open up about animal agriculture.”

A lobbying effort

Plant Based Treaty work is more about lobbying, and Malaina regularly travels around the country explaining its purpose and the benefits of adopting the various stands it takes.

“On this last tour (in February), we got eight people together to go to their local councils, present the Plant Based Treaty as a call to action, and seek their endorsement to address the climate issues happening within their communities.

“We were approached by the (Latchwood ???) County climate protection director. He wants to work with us and possibly put the Plant Based Treaty on their agenda.”

Other initiatives were carried out in Colorado and Portland: “We’ve also built teams across the country that are going to their councillors, talking to their committees and asking for the Plant Based Treaty to be a call to action as well.”

One of the challenges in developing collective action on climate change is that people often feel powerless. They can see the issue as a national or international conversation only. Melaina disagrees.

“I think everyone, as an individual, has the capacity to help with climate change and working with Plant Based Treaty shows you that you can. We get endorsements from individuals to visit organisations like colleges, universities and prisons to encourage the collective community to push for an endorsement by their cities.

Many ways to help

“And I think everyone has the opportunity to make change, whether it’s through their diet or through action. We can do many things with the Plant Based Treaty depending on whether you are an introvert or extrovert and whether you want to sit behind your computer or get out on the street and do things.

“The team I work with holds monthly meetings, and we all work very closely together to help everybody with whatever projects they’re trying to do. There’s something for everybody, and everybody can do something to make a difference.”

Melaina is based in Sarasota, Florida. In the following sound segment, she covers the progress made with the Treaty to date and reviews some of the climate change statistics as they affect her area.

Perhaps one of the most notable attributes of the Plant Based Treaty campaign at this point is that there isn’t a hardline focus to encourage people to go fully vegan or fully plant-based. The target is to develop initiatives, Melaina says.

“In my role, I have also been going to city council meetings. In the States, we get an opportunity to have about three minutes before our commissioners, and we can bring up any issues we would like to, so we’ve been making a call to action.

“We’ve got people in Ohio doing it, people in North Carolina doing it, people in Miami doing it, so we’re building all around the globe. We are getting traction. We’re getting the commissioner’s offices to call, and they’re inviting us in to work on their climate action plans.

“It’s been really exciting to be invited to do these things. I recently spoke in Orlando, Florida, and they invited us in to work on their climate action plan. So, they are open and receptive to what we’re talking about and see the need for it.”

Melaina Watts is very much a grassroots worker and believes deeply in the power of grassroots action to change things at a much higher level. When pressed, she was reluctant to discuss US national politics but she did have this to say about Mr Trump.

Many of those involved with the Plant Based Treaty see senior schools and college campuses as ideal nurturing grounds for action because they are places where students are starting to make independent decisions about their future and have begun to develop ideas on who they will vote for.

For Melaina, the truly encouraging outcome so far has been the extent to which so many cities have opened their doors to the message.

“We’re trying to model ourselves after Eric Adams (Mayor of New York City), and while he has not endorsed the treaty yet, he wholeheartedly supports it. He’s gotten eleven of his hospitals to be plant-based by default, which is incredible.

“I work with the hospital system, and the doctors I work with are saying that they should be sued for malpractice for not suggesting plant-based food in hospitals. They’re literally taking people who are having strokes, heart attacks and all kinds of stuff and handing them animal-based products, after which, in turn, is keeping them sick and unhealthy.

“I don’t think this is a big ask. I think the cities that are taking action, the 26 of them, are doing really great things for their communities. If every city took action and did at least half of what these people are doing, then we’d definitely be on a better track right now.”