2019
March
29
Friday

The International Baccalaureate is an educational program originally designed to provide college prep for young people whose parents worked in diplomacy and multilateral organizations. Over decades it’s grown into a network of some 5,000 schools in 153 countries. They offer learning meant to develop students who care about working toward a peaceful world via intercultural understanding and personal respect. (My youngest son is a proud earner of an IB high school diploma.)

Given this, it’s surprising that IB students in the Washington area are having their own #MeToo moment. But perhaps the way they’ve tried to handle it shouldn’t be.

Eighteen girls in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School IB program in Maryland learned that male fellow IB students had ranked them based on looks, with numbers down to hundredths of a point, according The Washington Post. The girls felt violated. These were boys they thought were friends.

Long story short, they pushed the administration to hold list creators accountable. The school organized a meeting of all IB students during which girls stood up and recounted their feelings about the list – and their many other experiences with harassment and objectification.

The boy who primarily created the list stood up and apologized. He said it wasn’t meant to circulate. He said when you have a culture where talking about how women look is normal, making a list didn’t seem like a terrible thing to do.

One of the girls said it wasn’t the boy who was the outlier in this situation. The outliers were those who spoke up. “That culture needs to change,” she said.

Now to our stories, which deal with the possibilities of small-bite progress on health care, the electoral effect of corruption in Ukraine, and how eating vegan became a billion-dollar business.

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1. What Trump’s decision on the Golan could mean, from Crimea to Kashmir

Does international law matter? President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was both lauded and panned politically. But the question of legal precedent is a deeper one.

Peter
Ammar Awad/Reuters
The Druse village of Ein Qiniyye in the northern Golan Heights, March 26, which Israel captured in 1967 from Syria. President Donald Trump this week signed a declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

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In 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. On Monday, to a predictable mix of political praise and criticism, President Donald Trump signed a declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau. The move reverberated as a precedent-setting departure from long-established U.S. policy as the leader of a postwar international order.

“If the liberal hegemon says … we’re going to disregard the rule of law that we have led and protected since World War II, it sanctions others to do the same,” says Edward Goldberg, an assistant professor at New York University. “The Golan Heights may seem like a little thing,” he adds, “but we may look back on this as one of the historical straws that can break the camel’s back.”

Said William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Russia: “International law gets pilloried sometimes … but an important principle is that territorial questions like this have to be solved peacefully through negotiations.… This kind of decision is going to get used by the Vladimir Putins of the world to say ‘What’s wrong with the annexation of Crimea?’”

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What Trump’s decision on the Golan could mean, from Crimea to Kashmir

When President Donald Trump reversed 50 years of U.S. policy Monday to proclaim U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights – strategic territory seized from Syria in the 1967 war and occupied by Israel ever since – the move was both hailed and condemned.

Some of Israel’s most ardent supporters cheered the move, citing Iran’s presence in Syria and the security risks that poses. But critics said it dimmed the prospects of getting Arabs on board the long-awaited Middle East peace plan Mr. Trump could unveil in the coming weeks.

Still others labeled it a purely political gesture with no international validity, designed to boost the fortunes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a tough election April 9.

But at a deeper level, the move shook U.S. allies, seasoned American diplomats, and experts in international relations who see in Mr. Trump’s action further erosion in the U.S.-led international order that has been at the foundation of postwar global stability.

“If the liberal hegemon says we’re no longer going to use our moral power to prevent some things from happening, and in fact we’re going to disregard the rule of law that we have led and protected since World War II, it sanctions others to do the same,” says Edward Goldberg, an assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

“The Golan Heights may seem like a little thing,” he adds, “but we may look back on this as one of the historical straws that can break the camel’s back.”

Question of precedent

Indeed, what worries some most is the example the action sets.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to a decision with a number of downsides is the “question of precedent,” William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state, said this week. The former U.S. ambassador to Russia was speaking at a Washington event where he discussed his new diplomatic memoir, “The Back Channel.”

“International law gets pilloried sometimes … but an important principle is that territorial questions like this have to be solved peacefully through negotiations,” Ambassador Burns said. “This kind of decision is going to get used by the Vladimir Putins of the world to say ‘What’s wrong with the annexation of Crimea if the Israelis’ unilateral annexation of the Golan can be recognized?’”

Ammar Awad/Reuters
A vineyard in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 26, 2019.

If it’s OK for Israel to annex the Golan Heights, many experts say, what’s to stop China from one day seizing Taiwan, which it considers its territory, or Pakistan from seizing the disputed Kashmir region, which recently was the focus of renewed tensions between Pakistan and India?

Those examples are hypotheticals. But to get a good idea of just how starkly Mr. Trump’s Golan decision contrasts with traditional postwar American action, some say, it’s enough to look back to President George H.W. Bush’s decision to wage war to reverse Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990.  

The U.S.-led Gulf War had the legal backing of numerous United Nations resolutions and a coalition of more than 35 countries, all supporting the notion that the seizure of territory through conflict could not be allowed to stand. Otherwise, the kind of territorial occupations in both Europe and Asia that led to World War II could be unleashed. (Of particular concern to the U.S. was Mr. Hussein’s publicly stated intention to move on to invade Saudi Arabia as well.)

Mr. Burns, who was serving as a diplomat during the Gulf War, says the George H.W. Bush administration was keenly aware of the potential consequences of allowing Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait to stand – not least for Europe, where the Soviet Union had recently crumbled.

In Europe, alarm

Europeans, who know all too well the devastation that in past centuries has resulted from unilateral land grabs and border redrawing, were quick to declare Mr. Trump’s action unacceptable.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement after Mr. Trump’s announcement that “the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, occupied territory, would be contrary to international law, in particular the obligation for states not to recognize an illegal situation.”

The German government said in a statement that it “rejects unilateral steps,” adding that “If national borders should be changed it must be done through peaceful means between all those involved.”

Most alarming to European leaders was what Mr. Trump’s action suggests about U.S. global leadership, some experts say.

“For the Europeans, this is really about upholding international law, which they see as such an important pillar of the current international system and critical to discouraging future territorial wars,” says Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council. “And now for the first time they see the United States, one of the key architects of this order, undermining its principles and one of the threats.”

Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019.

Some supporters of Mr. Trump’s action say Israel’s case is different from the Gulf War or World War II examples because Israel did not invade the Golan to annex it, but captured the strategic plateau in a defensive war. Moreover, the Trump administration says the situation is different now because Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy, has a foothold in war-torn Syria.

But for much of the international community, such justifications merely put the U.S. on the wrong side of an international order that has underpinned rising global prosperity and discouraged conflicts for 70 years.

Indeed, Ms. Kendall-Taylor, a Russia expert now at Washington’s Center for a New American Security, says Moscow is using U.S. actions like the Golan Heights recognition to promote a picture of the U.S. as an agent of disorder.

“They’re using the announcement to feed the narrative that the U.S. is a unilateral actor – and one who’s actions are destabilizing the world order,” she says.

At times, Golan was in play

NYU’s Professor Goldberg recognizes that Israel has security concerns along its border with Syria, but he also notes that since Israel passed a law annexing the Golan in 1981, it had not made it a fixture of its security strategy.

“Don’t forget that it was not so much of a problem that it stopped Netanyahu from wanting to negotiate the Golan Heights” with Syria, he says.

As for Iran, Mr. Burns says he actually sees a Golan annexation and U.S. recognition of it as a “gift” to Iran, because the Iranians are “always looking for an excuse” to capitalize on Israel’s “occupation” of territory.

Of particular concern to Ms. Kendall-Taylor is how Russia, despite the glaring contradictions of its annexation of Crimea and actions in the Ukraine, seems to be successfully advancing the notion that it, and not the U.S., is the power the world can rely on.

“Putin is advancing this perspective that Russia is the responsible global actor that acts according to international law, and the U.S. is not,” she says. “And he is adding this [Golan] U.S. action to the growing list of areas of agreement for Russia and the Europeans and even China – a list that includes the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] and climate change, where the U.S. is standing alone on the other side.”

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2. Why Republicans are balking at replacing Obamacare, again

The White House this week vowed to revive its past priority of nullifying Obamacare, this time via the courts. But Republican lawmakers see targeted fixes as a more viable path to progress.

Peter

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Two years ago, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, they couldn’t agree on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. This week, President Donald Trump again put repeal of Obamacare back on the table. He declared that Republicans will be “the party of health care.”

The president says he wants to tackle health care head-on. But there’s no replacement plan yet. And Republican lawmakers have no appetite for another bruising party battle over what might replace Obamacare.

“Relitigating” past policy battles is “a mistake,” said Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a close ally of the president and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. Some Republican lawmakers are looking to address specific flaws in the U.S. health care system. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for example, is working on bipartisan solutions to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

“That’s a potential issue that I think could unite the administration, Democrats, and Republicans,” Senator Collins says of prescription drugs. “That is not, however, in any way, a broad substitute for the Affordable Care Act.”

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Why Republicans are balking at replacing Obamacare, again

Gasps went up from the Senate floor two years ago when Republican Sen. John McCain gave his late-night thumbs-down to the GOP’s rollback of Obamacare. His vote against his own party broke a tie and snatched the controversial Affordable Care Act from the jaws of death.

Senator McCain, who had campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare, criticized the hasty and secretive process in which Senate Republicans threw together their bill, dubbed “skinny repeal.” But as he wrote in his memoir, “The Restless Wave,” the bigger problem was that the bill, while likely causing Obamacare’s collapse, “offered literally nothing with which to replace it.”

The late senator’s lesson about an empty replacement is worth remembering in a week in which President Donald Trump unexpectedly – and many say unwisely – put the GOP back in the battle with Obamacare, says G. William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. While a wholesale replacement looks unlikely now, some Republican legislators see a path to lowering health care costs by, for instance, tackling the cost of prescription drugs. 

A GOP surprise

The president surprised Republicans on Monday by throwing his administration’s legal weight behind a federal appeals court case to void the law entirely. The case may well reach the highest court in the land. Turning perception on its head, the president then declared that Republicans will become “the party of health care,” and if the Supreme Court rules that “Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than Obamacare.”

But there is no sweeping replacement plan, and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell does not intend to figure one out. The Kentuckian is waiting for the White House to come up with one, he told Politico, while he focuses on attacking Democrats’ “Medicare for all.”

Other Republican senators echoed him. As Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., pointed out with a laugh this week, Republicans could not pass “repeal and replace” even when they controlled both houses of Congress.

“The biggest problem I have, even if you’re for repeal, it’s always repeal and replace,” says Mr. Hoagland, a health policy expert who worked for many years for Senate Republicans. “By taking this court case, he’s taken the position of repeal, but we don’t have a replacement.”

After nearly 10 years as law, a flat-out repeal would deprive 20 million people of insurance, roll back Medicaid expansion, prevent young adults from piggybacking on their parents’ plans, and end protections for people with preexisting conditions, among other things. Over time, the law has become more popular, not less. It has flaws that need fixing, says Mr. Hoagland, but the idea of doing away with it absent an alternative “is terribly unthoughtful” and politically inept, he adds.

The Justice Department’s move and the president’s plan pronouncement dropped from the sky like a tornado, surprising Republicans on Capitol Hill who have pointedly avoided any replay of the party division and defeat over Obamacare. It also came during a week in which the administration lost two court cases attempting to change the Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage. On Wednesday, a federal judge blocked the introduction of new work requirements for Medicaid recipients in Arkansas and Kentucky, ruling that the changes undermined the purpose of the program to provide health care for low-income Americans. On Thursday, another federal judge called a plan for small-business health insurance an “end run” around consumer protections provided by the ACA.

But the president lays great worth on fulfilling his campaign promises, and repealing Obamacare has been left undone. At the same time, he told Senate Republicans that he wants to get the upper hand on health care as the 2020 presidential campaigning begins.

But the issue is fraught with political peril, especially for Republicans facing tough Senate races in 2020. Yes, it motivates their base, but last year the promise to protect Obamacare helped propel Democrats to their biggest gains since Watergate, handing them 40 seats in a House takeover. The White House was divided over this week’s health care strategy, with even the vice president and attorney general opposed, according to media reports.

“We’ve never, in the history of the party, ever had an advantage over the Democrats on health care as an issue,” says Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group. 

Indeed, Democrats happily pointed out the contrast between the parties as they rolled out House legislation to buttress the Affordable Care Act at the same time the administration pushed to void it in the courts.

On the Hill, Republicans focused on skewering the Democrats’ “Medicare for all” idea as a government takeover of health care. That’s much safer ground for Republicans, according to Mr. Goeas. Seniors, a powerful voting group, fear adding more people to a program that is in jeopardy for funding and for which they already have to wait in line, he says.

And when Republicans talk about health care legislation, it’s in more focused ways.

Going back and “relitigating” past policy battles is “a mistake,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a close ally of the president and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Instead, he said, Republicans should concentrate on protecting preexisting conditions and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. The Republican from North Carolina was at the center of the GOP’s wars over repeal and replace, and he joked that he’s now got a Ph.D. in health care policy that was never on his bucket list.

Piecemeal reform plan

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who joined Senator McCain in voting against Obamacare repeal, says the only way a health-care plan from the White House could become reality would be to work with House Democrats, but that would be “very difficult.”

But the senator, who chairs the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, thinks bipartisan consensus could be reached on lowering prescription drug costs. The president has already signed two of her related bills, including one to prohibit concealing lower drug prices for consumers at pharmacies. She’s working on a third bipartisan bill – to reform the patent process to make it easier for new, lower-cost biologic therapies to emerge. 

On Friday, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida introduced a bill to prevent drug companies from charging U.S. customers more than they charge other developed countries, like Canada. 

Democrats say they are having staff-level discussion with the administration about drug costs, but they do not characterize them as negotiations. “That’s a potential issue [drug costs] that I think could unite the administration, Democrats, and Republicans,” Senator Collins says. “That is not, however, in any way, a broad substitute for the Affordable Care Act.”

The president, she says, would be better served by trying to amend the act and give states more flexibility on how they implement it, “than trying to invalidate the entire act in court before he has any comprehensive plan.”

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3. In Ukraine’s presidential election, one big issue: corruption

With 39 candidates for president, Ukrainians are far from united in their visions for the nation’s political future. But one end goal is top of mind for most voters: ending the nation’s endemic corruption.

Peter

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Five years since Ukraine’s Maidan revolution brought thousands of people out onto the streets with hopes of turning the country westward, activists, journalists, and reform-minded politicians have been fighting a continuous uphill battle against corruption. And while they have had some successes, it remains a key issue ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.

Public procurement and state registers are increasingly accessible to the public via the internet, increasing transparency. Automatic value-added tax refunds have helped close exploited tax loopholes. Anti-corruption agencies have been established. These all have been important steps backed by Western partners and the International Monetary Fund. And journalists have been able to hold even the powerful to account. One of the most talked-about recent pieces of journalism is an investigation into corruption at a state-owned defense giant. The reports forced the president to dismiss an ally of his tied to the affair.

“The first results are really astonishing,” says Igor Burakovsky of the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting. “But at the same time these results are to be seriously defended, and they have to be developed.”

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In Ukraine’s presidential election, one big issue: corruption

Between presidential election posters on the streets of Ukraine, one billboard shows a well-dressed arm reaching out menacingly toward a soldier. Below is the phrase “The corruptor steals from you. Monitor your money.”

It’s part of a campaign to raise awareness about how much the citizens of Ukraine pay in taxes and to create a deeper understanding of how grand corruption works.

Five years since Ukraine’s revolution brought thousands of people out onto the streets with the hopes of turning the country westward, activists, journalists, and reform-minded politicians have been fighting a continuous uphill battle against corruption. The topic comes up frequently in conversations ahead of the presidential election, as many average Ukrainians are disappointed in the pace of reforms.

Corruption “is a huge issue,” says Pavlo Sheremeta, who served as minister of economic development and trade for eight months in 2014, leaving office because of what he describes as “creeping corruption.” “I think frankly this is the reason why the current, not only president, but the whole system of government has such a low level of trust and support among Ukrainians. The expectations in Ukraine were much higher, and the president is fighting for his political survival.”

Progress against corruption

The fight against corruption comes at a moment when the average monthly wage hovers slightly above $300, millions of Ukrainians continue to go abroad to work, and nearly two-thirds of the population reports it isn’t satisfied with the standard of living. An active war continues in the country’s east that has left more than 13,000 dead since 2014.

Despite corruption being an “endemic part of state management,” Ukraine has had some successes in the past five years, says Igor Burakovsky, head of the board at the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, a think tank based in Kiev that issued a report on the country’s fight with corruption.

Lydia Tomkiw
A well-dressed arm snatches food from a child on an anti-corruption billboard in Kiev, Ukraine. The text reads “The corruptor steals from you. Monitor your money.”

Public procurement in most areas takes place through an online system, ProZorro, which ensures that money is spent efficiently and transparently. Access to state registers and data is now available through an open portal, increasing transparency. Automatic value-added tax refunds have helped close exploited tax loopholes. These, as well as the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP), and the specialized anti-corruption prosecutor’s office, have all been important steps backed by the demands of Western partners and the International Monetary Fund.

“The first results are really astonishing,” Dr. Burakovsky says. “But at the same time these results are to be seriously defended, and they have to be developed.”

The defense of reforms is top of mind as Ukrainians head to the polls Sunday in an unpredictable presidential election filled with a unique cast of candidates. The front-runner is Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice known for playing the president in a popular TV show. He is running against President Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent and a wealthy chocolate magnate, and Yulia Tymoshenko, a veteran of Ukrainian political infighting nicknamed the “gas princess” for her dealings in the country’s energy sector.

Mr. Zelenskiy leads in a poll released this week, followed by Mr. Poroshenko and Ms. Tymoshenko. With it unlikely that any candidate will hit the 50-percent threshold needed to secure the presidency, a second round of voting between the top two candidates is set for April 21.

The Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), a Ukrainian civil society organization based in Kiev, has been pressing leading presidential candidates with whom they’ve met to agree to a slate of anti-corruption measures. (Only Mr. Poroshenko has declined the group’s invitation).

Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of parliament who is part of a small group advising Mr. Zelenskiy, says the candidate is committed to several of AntAC's requests, including making NABU an independent agency, guaranteeing the independence of Ukraine's anti-corruption court, reshuffling the NACP, and reforming the secret services.

‘There will be enough work’

The election campaign has been filled with dirty tricks. For example, a candidate named Yuri Tymoshenko is on the ballot in what many consider a move meant to confuse supporters of the former prime minister. And all three of the top candidates are facing accusations of varying degrees of shady ties and corruption. Even Mr. Zelenskiy has engendered concerns; despite being a political neophyte, his show airs on a channel owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, to whom Mr. Zelenskiy has denied being beholden.

But journalists and activists have been able to hold even the powerful to account. One of the most talked-about recent pieces of journalism is a multipart investigation into corruption at state-owned defense giant Ukroboronprom. The reports ricocheted across Ukrainian media and forced Mr. Poroshenko to dismiss an ally of his tied to the affair.

Still, the pressure on activists and journalists fighting corruption has been intense. Like politicians, anti-corruption groups must file asset declarations – a move activists say is meant to attack their work. AntAC has faced criminal investigations, as have individual members, including Vitaliy Shabunin, who punched a man who had been harassing him. Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of AntAC, has seen fake news spread about her alleging she lives a luxurious lifestyle and owns many houses.

Journalists and activists also face harassment and attacks. Anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk died from the injuries she sustained in an acid attack late last year.

But regardless of who the next president is, there’s so much corruption that it ensures “there will be enough work” for journalists, says Denys Bihus, who was involved in the investigation into Ukroboronprom and hosts the online and TV anti-corruption program “Nashi Hroshi” (Our Money).

Ukraine has ambitious anti-corruption legislation but doesn’t have officials who are ready to implement the legislation, says Iegor Soboliev, a reform-minded member of parliament who has worked on legislation concerning illegal enrichment and the e-declaration of assets. Finding candidates on the local and national level who are well educated and willing to combat corruption will remain a challenge.

“I’m optimistic, and I always say to people, ‘We will win, definitely, no doubt. The only question is when,’” he says. “Can we use these five or six months before parliamentary elections effectively? Or the process will require more time, more resources, more awareness? This I cannot predict.”

The past five years have taught activists and reformers that the fight against entrenched corruption is a marathon, not a sprint, Ms. Kaleniuk says.

“I don’t want to emigrate from Ukraine,” she says. “The condition for me to stay here in Ukraine is to do everything I can to change it.”

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A deeper look

4. Pass the tofu: How eating vegan became a billion-dollar business

Meat consumption continues to grow worldwide, but so does the number of people considering, carefully, the ethics of eating any product derived from animals.

Peter
Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
Chef Dyllan Armenta prepares a vegan oat and chickpea hamburger at the Tasty Beet Juicy and Healthy Food restaurant in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Jan. 29, 2018.

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Geordie Brown, a 27-year-old Canadian actor, adopted a vegan lifestyle after his annual January health kick. For Mr. Brown, it started as a two-week challenge. Then it turned into four weeks, and now it’s been two years.

“I can’t really justify a reason to go back,” he says. “I have tons of energy. There has been no food that I was missing, so I have never turned back.”

Veganism is more mainstream than it ever has been, with more people, particularly millennials, adopting a vegan lifestyle for their own wellness, the wellness of the environment, and the wellness of animals.

You don’t need to store your grill in the garage just yet. Meat consumption continues to grow – especially in emerging economies like China. And strict vegans still comprise a fraction of the population in rich countries: just 2.3 percent in Canada, and 3 percent in the United States. But the fundamentals of plant-based eating have been promoted by everyone from Beyoncé to Bill Clinton. The past five years has ushered in a new era for the legume, tofu, and tempeh.

“Veganism has transformed from this more fringe and rights movement into a more mainstream lifestyle,” says Nina Gheihman, a Canadian sociologist. “Instead of it being seen as a marginal thing, where people eat alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast ... it’s seen as aspirational.”

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Pass the tofu: How eating vegan became a billion-dollar business

Sam Turnbull is what you might call an accidental vegan.

From a family of chefs and hunters in Sunderland, Ontario, she grew up in a house decorated with animal heads, where the eggs they ate came from their own chickens. She says she’s the last person who thought she’d give up meat or cheese to embrace a 100 percent animal-free diet.

But one day in 2012, right before Christmas, she wasn’t feeling her best and turned on a documentary called “Vegucated,” which she thought was going to inspire her to eat more vegetables. Instead it was about veganism – and she says it dispelled all the ideas she held until then that vegans were, as she puts it, “weird and crazy – and lacking in protein.”

Driven by equal parts ethics, health, and environmental concerns, she got up from the screen, cleared her kitchen of animal food products, and adopted a new lifestyle cold turkey (no pun intended). “I realized that I basically couldn’t not be vegan if I wanted to live my life according to my own values,” she says.

Today Ms. Turnbull has made it her goal to bring veganism to the masses – to those who might associate the extreme form of vegetarianism that eschews not just the flesh of animals but all foods they produce, like eggs, milk, and even honey, with radical, angry, activism. Instead she creates recipes she shares on a blog she named “It doesn’t taste like chicken,” posts her meals on Instagram, and uploads cooking shows to YouTube.

“Hi friends, it’s Sam!” she opens her most recent video on how to make vegan cinnamon buns, with a characteristic huge smile and wave. She keeps things light as she sets out to replicate the comfort foods she craves – chocolate cake, (tofu) bolognese, and vegan fried “eggs.” It’s the opposite of what she found seven years ago, when she went searching for new ways of cooking. “Everything was like green bowls, and Buddha this and that, and power smoothies and green smoothies and chia balls,” she says.

Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters
Josefine Maran, one of the owners, scans products at Maran Vegan, Austria’s first vegan supermarket, in Vienna Jan. 31, 2018.

Today her visibility over social media is part of the reason why veganism is more mainstream than it ever has been, with more people, particularly millennials, adopting a vegan lifestyle for their own wellness, the wellness of the environment, and the wellness of animals.

You don’t need to store your grill in the garage just yet. Meat consumption continues to grow worldwide – especially in emerging economies like China. And strict vegans still comprise a fraction of the population in rich countries: just 2.3 percent in Canada, and 3 percent in the United States. But the fundamentals of veganism, centered around plant-based eating, have been promoted by everyone from Beyoncé and Bill Clinton, to environmentalists, doctors, and government officials. The past five years have ushered in a new era for the legume, the pulse, tofu, and tempeh.

“Veganism has transformed from this more fringe and rights movement into a more mainstream lifestyle,” says Nina Gheihman, a Canadian sociologist pursuing a Ph.D. in the social aspects of veganism at Harvard University. “Instead of it being seen as a marginal thing, where people eat alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast as Woody Allen said in the ‘Annie Hall’ film in the ’70s, it’s seen as aspirational.” That runs the gamut from athletes focused on performance, to those who are seeking glowing skin, to environmental scientists warning the world it must reduce consumption of animal products to be able to feed the planet in the future.

Booming plant business

While abstaining from animal products was practiced in ancient societies such as Greece and India, the word vegan is traced to 1944, when the U.K. Vegan Society was founded. This year it celebrates its 75th anniversary – and what was once a rights-based or hippy movement has become decisively fashionable.

One British survey this summer counted 3.5 million British vegans, or 7 percent of the population, up from half a million people in 2016 (although many claim that increase must be exaggerated, reflecting respondents’ aspirations more than what is on their plates). 

If the real numbers are smaller, the plant business is booming nevertheless. According to market research in June 2018 by Nielsen, in the U.S. the plant-based food industry saw dollar sales growth of 20 percent from the year before, worth more than $3.3 billion. A telling moment came in 2016, when Tyson Foods, the biggest meat processor in the U.S., bought a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, maker of alternative vegan proteins. In Toronto, like many urban metropolises, new vegan restaurants seem to pop up monthly, while chefs ignore vegan options at their own peril.

And while rich countries have adopted veganism with voguish zeal, vegans point out that it’s a democratic movement for all – that a bowl of rice and beans costs much less than oven-baked chicken breasts. Ms. Turnbull intentionally uses ingredients in her recipes from her local Loblaws supermarket – not high-priced products only available in urban specialty stores.

And despite the stereotype, it’s not just a rich, white movement. Vegetarian dishes, many of them vegan, are the staples in many societies from India to the Middle East. There is a thriving black vegan movement, from the U.S. to South Africa. The website “Black Vegans Rock” points out that “saying that veganism is white erases all of these incredible diverse Black voices and contributions.”

No group is driving the changing diet more than the young. According to a survey from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canadian consumers under 35 are three times more likely than those 49 or older to consider themselves vegetarian or vegan.

Geordie Brown, a 27-year-old Canadian actor, adopted a vegan lifestyle after his annual January health kick. Like Ms. Turnbull, he turned on a series of documentaries on Netflix. For Mr. Brown, it started as a two-week challenge, and then it turned into four weeks, and now it’s been two years.

“I can’t really justify a reason to go back,” he says. “I feel healthier. My skin feels clearer. I am going to the gym six times a week, I have tons of energy. There has been no food that I was missing, so I have never turned back.”

In Vegandale

The movement can feel both faddish and cultish. Mr. Brown is lunching at a vegan cafe in a community in the west end of Toronto that’s been dubbed “Vegandale.” It is a play on the neighborhood’s real name, “Parkdale,” with an onslaught of restaurants, cafes, a brewery, and stores that only sell vegan products. One T-shirt reads “Kale is the new beef”; hipster caps have the word “vegan” stitched on them. Behind the cashier is a wall mural depicting “Vegandale,” with the message, “The world is vegan if you want it.” The artist painted cows, pigs, goats, and cats walking down a stretch of this community.

His friend Michelle Bohn, with whom he is lunching, lives in this neighborhood – an old immigrant enclave that is quickly gentrifying – and says that the rebranding of the community has irked some locals. “It is a little evangelical,” says Ms. Bohn, who tends to eat vegetarian. “There are a lot of vegans who have just switched into the lifestyle that tend to broadcast it and convert people when they’ve made that decision. I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve realized how unsustainable our way of living is, or if they need reassurance they made the right decision.”

Vince Talotta/The Toronto Star via ZUMA/Newscom
A mural in The Imperative shop in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood locally known as ‘Vegandale,’ because of all the vegan restaurants and stores that have opened in the rapidly gentrifying immigrant enclave.

And vegans can also still be seen as hardliners. Marni Ugar leads noisy protests outside of nonvegan restaurants in Toronto whose policies she objects to. One chef was so fed up with them that he carved a deer leg in his restaurant’s front window, and she has received angry messages from pro-hunting groups. She doesn’t flinch.

“This is a social justice movement. There is sexism, there is racism, there is speciesism. They are next to each other, they are all the same,” says Ms. Ugar, who was a longtime vegetarian but switched to veganism, giving up the yogurt she once devoured, after learning about inhumane practices in milk production. “You cannot be a feminist, from my perspective, and support dairy.”

Still, many of today’s vegans don’t identify with some of that militancy. Says Mr. Brown: “I take it as a compliment when people find out and are surprised. Whatever I am, I’m breaking the stereotype of whatever that person thought a vegan was.”

Growth of the ‘flexitarian’

If health fads are drawing converts, concerns about the carbon footprint could inspire the longest-lasting changes in eating habits, producing more “flexitarians,” or those who reduce meat consumption in favor of more plants. A report in the British journal The Lancet this year said that the world will only be able to feed an estimated 10 billion people by 2050 if citizens don’t adopt a largely plant-based diet. It was signed by 30 scientists from around the globe. “Even small increases in the consumption of red meat or dairy foods would make this goal difficult or impossible to achieve,” the summary reads.

While strict veganism remains a fraction of Canadian society, the Dalhousie survey shows that 6.4 million Canadians already follow a diet that restricts meat partially or completely. Just over half of respondents said they are willing to reduce their meat consumption, and one-third are willing to do it in the next six months.

A symbol of how popular plant-based eating has become emerged this winter when Health Canada, the country’s federal health department, unveiled the 2019 food guidelines.

The first overhaul since 2007, the new guide gives new prominence to “plant-based eating” – like chickpeas or nuts, for example – and less to meat or milk.

It has largely been commended by groups like Dietitians of Canada. But some industry groups, from the Dairy Farmers of Canada to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, issued press releases reminding Canadians of the importance of meat and milk as part of a healthy diet. Some critics have scoffed that it, while not technically but in principle, jumps on a vegan bandwagon.

Andrew Samis, a surgeon from Kingston, Ontario, questions whether there was a “vegan agenda” behind the guidelines. He says plant-based eating – the parlance itself problematic to him because he says it’s ideological – is the answer for some Canadians but not for all for a multitude of health reasons. Many worry about getting enough nutrients, like B12, which many vegans take as a supplement.

“I don’t think that the vegan diet is necessarily unhealthy for all people,” he says. “But this is Health Canada saying it and proposing it as a diet for all Canadians.... I think it’s reasonable to ask: Is this a vegan ideological agenda overlaid on Canada’s food guide?”

Chicken at a church fair

David Jenkins, a father of the glycemic index and professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, hopes so. He once, unwittingly, was part of the trend toward more carnivorous habits. His relative ranking of carbohydrates in foods gave rise to diets like Atkins that eschew carbohydrates for protein, which he says was never his intention. He’s been a vegetarian since he was a child, after winning a Bantam chicken at a church fair whose offspring was served for Christmas lunch, which he refused to eat.

Today he is a strict vegan, and says he sees it as the only sustainable path forward, an ethos that is growing in strength in younger generations looking at planetary wellness.

“You begin to realize that perhaps you should be looking at sustainable humane diets,” he says. “It’s not just what does the best for humans, period, but what does the best for the environment and other species that works well for humans.”

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On Film

5. Four March movies our critic says are worth the ticket price

Among the films that caught Monitor film critic Peter Rainer’s eye in March are an “anti-romance romance” and a reimagining of “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner.

Peter
Courtesy of Netflix
Woody Harrelson (l.) and Kevin Costner star in ‘The Highwaymen,’ a retelling of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ from the point of view of the lawmen who hunted the Depression-era outlaws.
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Four March movies our critic says are worth the ticket price

A documentary about Orson Welles’ artwork and the fictional story of a convict who forms a bond with a horse are two of the films that won over Monitor film critic Peter Rainer during March.

‘Ash Is Purest White’ burns with quiet, incandescent force

In the extraordinary Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s “Ash Is Purest White,” there is not a moment when one does not experience the moment-to-moment passage of time, its slow sweep and quiet epiphanies. This is not the sort of movie that offers up immediate gratifications, though there are some of those. Instead, it moves along with a steady grace. Its ruminative power creeps up on you.

We are first introduced to Bin (Liao Fan), a small-time gangster, or jianghu, in the coal mining village of Shanxi. His girlfriend, Qiao, played by Jia’s wife, Zhao Tao, who has appeared in almost all of his nondocumentary movies, enjoys being a gangster’s moll. Bin is brutally set upon by a rival gang and she saves his life when she disperses the attackers by firing an illegal gun into the air. Because she was in possession of an illegal firearm, she receives a five-year prison sentence. Bin never visits her in prison and is a no-show when she is finally released. With an almost fated compulsion, she sets out along the Yangtze River, to a village at the foot of the Three Gorges Dam, to find him. Zhao is remarkable in a complex role that, by the end, reveals what she is fully capable of.

Jia’s movies, which also include “A Touch of Sin” and (my favorites) “Still Life” and “The World,” all express in varying degrees his abiding theme: China’s transition from traditionalism to the corruptions of freewheeling capitalism. He can be heavy-handed about this, and I’ve never quite understood why such a progressive artist should hold such nostalgia for a time when the Cultural Revolution was still in force. Thankfully, “Ash Is Purest White” is among the least didactic of Jia’s films. Grade: A- (This movie is not rated.)

‘Transit’ unfolds an imperiled world with echoes of our own

Christian Petzold’s “Transit” is a fascinating paradox: an anti-romantic romance. It may have the surface trappings of a “Casablanca,” but it’s closer to “Vertigo.” 

The source material, about French refugees fleeing the Nazis, is a 1944 novel, set two years earlier, by the celebrated German-Jewish expatriate writer Anna Seghers. By contrast, Petzold’s film takes place in a vaguely present-day limbo. Georg (Franz Rogowski, who looks remarkably like Joaquin Phoenix and has some of the same striking presence) is asked to smuggle identity papers to a famous German author named Weidel but he discovers that Weidel has committed suicide. Georg makes it to the sun-baked seaport of Marseilles with the intention of locating Weidel’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer). There he is mistaken for Weidel by the American consul. And so begins an impersonation that has the deliberate trappings of a Kafka nightmare.

If Petzold had simply filmed Seghers’s novel as a wartime period piece, it would have lacked resonance. But he recognizes the story’s expansive contemporary allusions. He’s too cagey a filmmaker to hit you over the head with these allusions, and yet there are moments when only the most blatant symbolism will do. Grade: A- (In German and French with English subtitles.)

‘The Eyes of Orson Welles’ focuses on director’s artwork

“The Eyes of Orson Welles” is a digressive, idiosyncratic, and altogether fascinating documentary by Mark Cousins. The focus of the new film is Welles’ little-known artwork: the sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings that he rendered throughout his life. It seems almost comically unfair that, given his great gifts as director and actor, Welles should also, as it turns out, be a marvelous artist. 

The crux of Cousins’ movie is that Welles the filmmaker was first and foremost a visualist. Still, Cousins goes in for a lot of wild speculation. He had access to a treasure-trove of material from Welles’ youngest daughter, Beatrice, as well as material from archives at the University of Michigan. They include storyboard sketches Welles made for several of his films. Seeing the sketchbook origins of a scene is like being privy to the first stirrings of a great symphony. 

I hope that, just as there was a book last year of Stanley Kubrick’s great early work as a still photographer, some enterprising publisher will see fit to grace us with a thick tome of Welles’ entrancing artwork. Grade: B+ (This movie is not rated.)

‘The Highwaymen’ retells ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ story

“Bonnie and Clyde” is one of the landmarks of Hollywood cinema, so it takes a healthy dose of chutzpah to revisit that territory. “The Highwaymen” does just that – sort of. Instead of focusing on the two elusive outlaws whose two-year bank-robbing spree galvanized Depression-era America, it retells the story from the point of view of the lawmen who ambushed and killed them. Is it as good as “Bonnie and Clyde”? Of course not. But it’s a solid, straightforward piece of work featuring a pair of first-rate, lived-in performances by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson that lift the film above its class. 

Movies about violence rarely deal with its psychological consequences. Just pull the trigger and move on. In “The Highwaymen,” the filmmakers give violence its due. The film also functions as a kind of counterweight to the folk hero myth that “Bonnie and Clyde” perpetuated. 

One more word about Costner: His performance in this film, coming after his fine work in TV’s “Yellowstone” as well as the films “Hidden Figures” and “Molly’s Game,” among many others, is yet another note-perfect rendition. At his best, Costner both exalts and complicates the strong and silent types who crowd, often to diminishing effect, so much of our American movie mythology. Grade: B+ (Rated R for some strong violence and bloody images.)

Performances in ‘The Mustang’ have the sharp tang of authenticity

The background for “The Mustang,” starring Matthias Schoenaerts, is a federal government program in which, to control overpopulation, several hundred wild stallions are periodically rounded into holding facilities and trained by prison inmates for sale at public auctions. This might seem like a fairly unpromising setting for a movie, but this debut feature by Laure de Clermont-Tonnere is a solid, if somewhat predictable, drama about a convict, Schoenaerts’ Roman Coleman, who bonds with a mustang while serving out his prison time in the Nevada desert. 

The director has a good eye for semidocumentary detail, and the performances, which also include Bruce Dern as a veteran trainer, Gideon Adlon as Roman’s estranged daughter, and especially Jason Mitchell as a fellow inmate and trick rider, all have the sharp tang of authenticity. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language, some violence, and drug content.)

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The Monitor's View

Elections to watch, perhaps to admire

Two ways to read the story

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In upcoming contests in Slovakia, Ukraine, Indonesia, and elsewhere, anti-corruption candidates are ahead in the polls. This fits a trend noted in a recent survey that showed more than half of 126 countries have seen improvements in “the absence of corruption.” This will be the second year that such progress has been recorded.

“We have an increasingly strong global norm against corruption,” says the World Justice Project’s executive director, Elizabeth Andersen. “It is increasingly enforced by national governments, by international bodies, the World Bank ... and the like.” Yet, Ms. Andersen notes, official reforms are being “reinforced by a pretty powerful civil society and people power movement.”

All this makes it essential to closely watch many democratic elections, especially those in which candidates reflect popular demand for honesty, transparency, and accountability in government. Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, puts it this way: The world has a historic opportunity “to combat corruption more effectively and build Planet Integrity.”

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Elections to watch, perhaps to admire

In Slovakia, the anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova, a woman largely unknown a few months ago, is expected to be elected president on March 30.

In Ukraine, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is famous on TV for making fun of corrupt leaders, is leading in the polls for the first round of a presidential contest on March 31.

In Indonesia, current president and anti-corruption crusader Joko Widodo is expected to be reelected April 17. His main opponent, former Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, is desperately trying to claim he can better tackle corruption.

And on June 16, Guatemala’s most prominent anti-corruption fighter, Thelma Aldana, could win the first round of a presidential election – if powerful oligarchs don’t interfere.

Many elections these days fit into a trend noted in a recent survey of 126 countries by the World Justice Project. It found more than half of the countries have seen improvements in “the absence of corruption.” This will be the second year that such progress has been recorded.

“We have an increasingly strong global norm against corruption,” says the group’s executive director, Elizabeth Andersen. “It is increasingly enforced by national governments, by international bodies, the World Bank ... and the like.”

Yet, Ms. Andersen notes, official reforms are being “reinforced by a pretty powerful civil society and people power movement.”These movements, which are often preceded by mass protests, recently helped bring about important transitions in power toward cleaner governments in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Malaysia.

In particular, many parts of Latin America have witnessed a shift toward a culture of integrity, a result of a massive scandal that involved the giant regional construction company Odebrecht. The scandal has galvanized the public and led to the fall of many elected leaders.

“Issues of impunity are being addressed as the Latin American political and business class are being held accountable for the first time in recent memory,” says Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The ricochet effects from the Odebrecht case, adds former U.S. prosecutor David Hall, “portend the beginning of more effective and fairer global anti-corruption law enforcement.”

All this makes it essential to closely watch many of the democratic elections these days, especially those in which candidates reflect popular demand for honesty, transparency, and accountability in government.

Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, puts it this way: The world has a historic opportunity “to combat corruption more effectively and build Planet Integrity.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

‘There is none else’

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Here’s a poem that highlights how we can never be outside the powerful, universal presence of God.

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‘There is none else’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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God, the great I AM –
the only presence.
I AM. Here.
I AM. There.
I AM. Everywhere.
Because
I AM – ALL.

I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.
Isaiah 45:5

God is everywhere, and nothing apart from Him is present or has power.
Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 473

Poem originally published in the Sept. 1, 2014, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

When the commute is by boat

Ann Hermes/Staff
Andrew Whitmore and Cesar Zepeda talk on the ferry ride from Richmond to San Francisco on Feb. 11. With the steady rise in housing prices in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, workers are moving farther out to find more affordable housing. Bay Area employees have entered the class of supercommuters – those who spend an average of 90 minutes or more each way getting to and from their jobs. Bhakti N., a Richmond resident (she gave only the initial of her last name), was about to turn down a position in San Francisco because of the commute when a new ferry service opened that promised a 35-minute ride across San Francisco Bay. She took the job. The city is planning new bike paths, subway lines, and highway express lanes to ease congestion. For many Bay Area supercommuters, they can’t come soon enough.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 1st, 2019 )

Come back Monday, when we’ll have a story about a Beijing club that aims to turn boys into men – an effort that points to shifting social realities everywhere and contested values that deal with more than masculinity.

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 29, 2019
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