Arnesen's activism leads her to share "food for thought" in public setting

"When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible," Howard Schultz once said. Elke Arnesen’s first public discussion on climate change sought to bring out the passion in every person present that night.

Elke Arnesen at her presentation entitled "Food for Thought"
Last Saturday, Arnesen hosted a public discussion on climate change and diet at a church in Lancaster. Members of the 76th chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, of which she has been a member for over a year, were present including its founder Jerry Lee Miller as well as many of her friends and teachers.

Arnesen certainly knows her subject. She surrounds herself with nature whenever possible, taking frequent hikes. She spearheads the Environmental Club at the high school where she tackles controversial topics like the detrimental effects of fracking. She even led a nature walk late at night during the L-S Mini-THON. After attending so many CCL meetings and putting so much work into the cause, it was only natural (forgive the pun) that she host her own public forum.

The meeting place, nestled in a side alley in Lancaster City, felt warm and friendly. People introduced themselves to complete strangers and struck up conversations. Because all were there for the same reason, boundaries faded away. Most of the crowd was composed of around 15 L-S students there to support Arnesen’s cause, including Sam and Cass Ingram, Steven Greenwood, Alina Rutherford, and Celia Yost, and Mrs. Shockey also came to hear about the issues. Even L-S graduates came back to hear Arnesen speak. Sticking with the eco-friendly theme, attendees had to bring their own plates and mugs for refreshments. Arnesen prepared vegan chocolate zucchini muffins, which definitely pleased the audience, and others brought organic snacks to the table as well. The first half hour, 6:30-7:00, went towards informal socialization and discussion while she prepared for her presentation. Pamphlets detailing carbon fee and dividend had been passed out as a tidbit of extra information. Ways to get involved in CCL were discussed, including writing letters to the editor for the newspaper and attending events in the area with guest speakers.
Jerry Lee Miller, founder of the
local CCL chapter

Then, Arnesen takes the stage. She commands the whole room’s attention, and any sign of nervousness disappears. She opens up her PowerPoint, adorned with her own adorable environmental drawings. But the subject of her presentation is not adorable. It's shocking. She opens the discussion with a piece on the greenhouse effect and gas emissions. The earth needs the greenhouse effect. Period. Without it, the world would be tens of degrees colder, which would eliminate certain species and habitats, but that is only when it is in balance. The modern greenhouse effect is far from balanced. Transportation does affect the increased amount of gas emissions, but the number pales in comparison to the effect of animal agriculture. One could bike to work every day, but it would not make a significant difference without a concurrent dietary change.

With climate change comes reduction of important resources, including water. Arnesen also discussed animal agriculture’s negative effect on our land and oceans. Facts like these really put life into perspective. Many do not think about what we put into our bodies and its effect on the world, her presentation made people more aware of their diet.
Hannah Hess, Cassidy Ingram, and Emma Bender were among the students
to attend and hear Elke's message
Many of the L-S students in attendance wanted to know the what they could do to help. Arnesen adheres to vegan lifestyle and recommends it as the optimal eco-friendly diet. Of course, she knows that not all families can practice veganism, so she simply suggests that people cut back on animal products: eat meat only three times a week or substitute almond milk for dairy. Even the smallest of changes can make a difference.

As the presentation comes to an end, Arnesen addresses the audience. We cannot just do nothing after hearing these facts. This problem will not go away by itself. We have the capability to turn the environment’s situation around, but it is up to us, she implores.

The end of the speech is met with thunderous applause, and everyone approaches her for a big hug after the discussion. Most students there practice a diet involving meat, and some believe that meat is a necessary element of diet, but others, such as Hannah Hess, share Arnesen’s vegan lifestyle. No matter what diet students practiced, though, a lot of them continued to discuss the presentation after its formal end. 

Tyler Thomas talked for a number of minutes to one of the CCL members, learning more about the cause. Evan Portrey also made a point of telling the chapter leader how much he enjoyed hearing Arnesen speak and learning about these issues. 

Jaclyn Kuro even said, “I strive to be an Elke Arnesen,” demonstrating her effect on the room. They respect her, love her, and admire her determination. And Arnesen herself cannot stop smiling. Just getting the knowledge out there means a lot to her, and hopefully, her message stays with that crowd for years to come.

Arnesen's advice to students is remarkably simple: “Think. Just think. Listen to the information, look for information, educate yourself, and just think.”

Additional student comments:

Jaclyn Kuro: “Last night was truly remarkable. It opened my eyes to see that there are very important issues to be worrying about in this world. I definitely have thought twice about what I eat and hope to shoot for a healthier, almost vegan based diet.”

Alyssa Cunningham: “I loved hearing Elke speak! It was very evident that she is passionate about the environment.”

Evan Portrey: “Before the presentation, I had little to no knowledge of practically any dietary lifestyles or the impacts they had on the environment. I thought Elke did a great job of informing us not just about the veganism lifestyle but the toll the animal agricultural industry is having on our planet... I greatly appreciated the way in which Elke went about telling us of the vegan lifestyle. Instead of trying to push us to just stop eating meat as a whole, she encouraged us to start by changing smaller things like drinking soy milk instead of dairy.  I actually stopped on the way home from the meeting and bought a carton of soy milk which I used for my cereal this morning. I really did feel moved by her presentation and plan to adjust my diet after hearing her speak!”

Celia Yost: “First of all, I love how passionate Elke is about these topics. It made her speech very moving and powerful. It certainly made me think about my diet! I never knew how eating a vegan diet could affect the environment so much. I have only ever thought about the personal health aspect. There seems to be many indications that a vegan diet is the best option. Elke was fantastic!”

--Lillian Murr, School News Editor; Photos by Jacky Kirchner, Features Editor

Edited: BP

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