Wanqing Zhou is an associate of Brighter Green. She spoke with ACE Intern Echo Sun in March 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
Concerned with increasing meat consumption in China, Brighter Green wanted to produce a short documentary on the topic, so they reached out to filmmaker Jian Yi in 2009 and made What’s for Dinner. Jian Yi was already vegetarian, but Brighter Green provided him with more information on what is quite a multifaceted issue.
The impact of the documentary has been small. Because of limited funding and time, its quality and length do not qualify it to be screened or circulated widely; however, it is still the first documentary on this topic in China. Brighter Green had several screening tours in major Chinese cities in 2014, during which they contacted interested institutions and held screening and discussion events. The documentary marked the beginning of Brighter Green’s work in China, as well as its collaboration with Jian Yi’s team and the Good Food Foundation. Brighter Green now provides the majority of funding and resources to Good Food, but Good Food rarely mentions their name openly or specifically due to complicated policies regarding non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
By funding Good Food’s operations, Brighter Green can avoid creating an image of foreigners telling Chinese people what to do, which they think could cause pushback. Good Food is a completely Chinese team that has constant access to Brighter Green’s resources.
Brighter Green started with the documentary. The film wasn’t accessible online or in theatres, so its reach did not extend beyond the veganism/animal advocacy community. Brighter Green did not want to focus solely on veganism. Rather, they envisioned a multi-issue approach in which they would consider the whole food industry along with its social and environmental impacts. Consequently, they launched the Good Food Academy—their strategy was to gradually dilute the veganism aspect of their project and make their work more holistic. While still focusing on animal agriculture, they wanted to speak about its implications for society, the economy, consumers, and environmental health.
Wanqing suggests that they want to take a more comprehensive stance. Currently, they emphasize climate change because it is such an urgent issue, and they try to incorporate the issue of animal agriculture into climate change, as well as public health more generally. In this sense, they want to hold a more holistic view. Regarding animals, Brighter Green aligns with the animal rights argument insofar as they aim to ultimately end the animal agriculture industry. However, the public is most interested in health in general.
Political and Social Context
Brighter Green does not have legal NGO status in China and can only work through cooperation with Jian Yi’s Good Food Foundation. Therefore, the organization does not have any channel to influence policy on its own. Brighter Green also finds it hard to point out flaws in law and policy. Before Wanqing joined the group, they made reports and policy recommendations that mentioned the inadequacies in the Chinese government’s work regarding environmental protection, but this approach was not particularly effective. Because of that, Brighter Green has instead decided to focus on the positive factors in Chinese society upon which they can seize as the basis of their own work. For example, traditional Chinese diets have a relatively low proportion of meat; the question for Brighter Green, in this instance, is how to preserve and revitalize this existing culture. Their main focus is to influence the public. They are also trying to cooperate with educational institutions to introduce healthier cafeteria food choices.
The Chinese government’s five-year plan for nutrition and food also promotes lower meat intake. The state does not want to encourage a high-meat diet because a high level of fodder import is already a problem.
Partnership and Resources
Brighter Green has accumulated many resources and connections over the years. One of these is with Johns Hopkins University and the World Resources Institute. Additionally, Brighter Green translates their reports and shares them. Relevant research in China is rare, so most of the theoretical basis for their work comes from foreign sources.
Two large problems Brighter Green has identified are poor translation and a disconnect with the Chinese context and culture. For instance, many recommended foods in PCRM’s nutrition guide are unheard of and cannot even be found in China, so Brighter Green wants to encourage the production and accumulation of local resources—through methods such as the collection of data about meat production or demand and trade in different provinces, or by gathering information about the participants in the food movement.
The Good Food Hero Summit was held to gather and recruit “good food heroes” who have experience and expertise in relevant areas and to incubate their research and advocacy projects. Brighter Green wants to invite foreign experts to work with local grassroots teams.
Brighter Green is a very small organization. They are oriented towards the goal of raising awareness and behavioral change, but in what form and through what means is not fully specified. They constantly discuss and test methods; the replacement of the term veganism with “good food” is one example of how they address the public’s existing attitude toward veganism.
Brighter Green has no expertise in organizational operation and development, especially in this context. They are still uncertain about the organization’s niche, both in terms of theme and organizational structure. A lack of human resource professionals who specialize in this multidisciplinary field is also a challenge. Indeed, the organization is still in a trial and error phase.