Whilst many of us will be enjoying Chiang Mai’s diverse landscape of metropolitan madness and natural wonder this weekend, Joanna Broomfield and Max Hellier, founders of plant-based community organisation Root The Future, will embark on an epic 10-day 1,500km cycle in aid of raising awareness of the dangers of the rising air pollution levels in Northern Thailand and how a switch to a plant-based diet can help to combat this.
The couple will set off from Chiang Mai on the 28th and will cycle a daily average of 150km a day for 10 days which will see them cover the length of Thailand and reach the target destination of Phuket on the 6th of February.
Phuket and the south of Thailand are dealing with rising levels of ocean pollution, another focus of the campaign.
Root The Future are no strangers to using extraordinary physical feats to promote their cause, with the pair running a marathon in 2021 to raise money for plant-based restaurants that were forced to close during the Covid-19 pandemic. A year later in 2022 they invited the public to join them on a 50km run. This initiative proved to be so popular that the Root The Future run club was formed, who now meet every Saturday. Those who wish to follow Joanna and Max’s journey can do so by staying tuned to the Root The Future YouTube channel, where every kilometre of the journey will be livestreamed.
Meet Joanna Bloomfield, founder of Root The Future
Inspired by her love for animals, Joanna Bloomfield made the switch to a vegetarian diet twelve years ago. After learning more about the health implications of eggs and dairy she went vegan shortly after and has been an advocate for others to do the same ever since.
“It’s all about education,” says Joanna.
“I think once you start on this journey the education comes naturally; you start to read more and speak to people. I slowly learned about the environmental implications of a plant-based diet and I think that’s kind of something that if you switch to a plant-based diet for health reasons, you will fall into learning about the environmental impact that type of diet has as well.”
The modern Thai diet incorporates a large variety of animal products: whether that be eggs, dairy meat or fish. In the 1980’s the demand for meat in Thailand boomed, subsequently increasing the need for cheap animal feed in the form of maize.
“Cheap animal feed is top priority because you have to feed cattle a lot of food in order to get them to the point where you can sell them for food, so you need to put a lot of calories in to animal agriculture to get few calories out.
“That has made the demand for maize really increase a lot, which is the reason that there’s so much deforestation happening in northern Thailand in order to make space for more maize farms.”
After harvest, farmers will often burn their fields to get rid of large amounts of biomass and make the soil fertile enough for it to grow more crops. The maize crops are often saturated with chemicals that, when burnt, release harmful emissions into the air.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” warned Joanna.
“Unfortunately, the farmers do not have the funds to dispose of the biomass more sustainably. This is one of the major causes of Chiang Mai’s ‘smoky season’, which affects day-to-day life for our residents. Like, you want to go out for a run in Chiang Mai, but it is a particularly bad day? You just can’t go out or you have to keep your children inside, you actually don’t have a choice. You have to breathe the air. It really does affect everybody.”
Root The Future’s message is simple: the more of us that switch to a plant-based diet will decrease the demand for meat and in turn reduce the number of maize farms.
“I think people will be empowered to know that they can actually kind of positively impact that just by what they have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” Joanna added.
According to a study published in the Oxford University journal of science, a global switch to a plant-based diet could reduce farmland area by more than 75%. This would be an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined. Whilst this may seem like a utopian pipe-dream, Joanna is seeing the positive impacts of her advocacy of a plant based diet with her organisation Root The Future increasing their reach year-on-year.
“We (Joanna and her partner Max) started Root The Future in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was glued to their phones and their screens. We thought this is a great time to capture people with entertaining and educational content around climate action and how to make that subject fun, attainable, and entertaining.
“So in 2020 when Covid wasn’t really a thing, we did a big market, and then Asia’s biggest plant-based festival in Bangkok. We also did Thailand’s first plant-based food awards and worked with Tatler to do a vegan food and fashion shoot.
“Just lots of random projects that we feel like we would want to see.”
The impact of their hard work was really felt when the couple were invited to speak in front of the United Nations at the Humanitarian Affairs green summit in 2022. The couple delivered separate hour-long speeches in front of 180 UN delegates, an occasion Joanna recalls as “absolutely terrifying” but an “immense privilege.”
“We were very honoured to be asked and both myself and Max spoke for an hour each, and mine was about why what we eat matters most.
“There were 180 delegates, I believe, from 40 countries. So, it was very challenging to do that kind of thing in the UN, obviously terrifying, but it was also just amazing to be able to speak to essentially who could be the future leaders of the world.”
With her next ‘terrifying’ endeavour looming, Joanna gave us an insight into just some of the logistical challenges that come with planning a 10-day 1,500km cycle.
“We have an EV follow car, he’s going to be behind us, so trying to make the route that fits in with all the charging stations is the first challenge. Second challenge is avoiding the highways. Cause we obviously don’t want to get run over by trucks.
“And the third challenge is finding a route that’s not a mud track because when you put in the walking route on Google Maps, it shows you a lot of non-driveable routes. We were also looking on street view yesterday and saw quite a few cobras in the road on street view, so I’m officially terrified!”
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