Suzy Amis Cameron says she is homesick for New Zealand. Although the actor and environmentalist is American by birth, and married to Canadian movie director James Cameron, their Wairarapa homestead is their happy place.
“New Zealand feels more like home than the US at this point,” says Suzy, over the phone from Malibu. “The people are so warm, welcoming, and open. We have permanent residency and the first thing I hear when I go through immigration now is ‘welcome home’. It’s beautiful. People are so respectful and authentic. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
Respectful and authentic are two words that underpin how Suzy lives her life. Co-founder of MUSE, a non-profit environmental school in the US (along with her sister Rebecca) and Red Carpet Green Dress, an international sustainable fashion initiative, it’s no surprise she was deeply affected by the pro-vegan documentary Forks Over Knives, which she watched with her husband six years ago.
She says that within 24 hours the couple had cleared their kitchen of animal products. Within 48 hours they had stopped production of yoghurt and cheeses at their goat farm.
“I was coming to the table completely from a health point of view – we both have heart disease and cancer in our families. Jim had the doctors telling him he should take heart medication prophylactically,” she says. “I knew there had to be another way. A friend of mine told me about Forks Over Knives and when I watched it I thought, that’s it. That’s the answer.”
When they bought their farm in the Wairarapa nearly eight years ago they had two dairies, one of which was the most successful in the region. But 18 months later they decided to shut them both down.
“We just couldn’t carry on, it didn’t fit with our philosophy,” says Suzy. “We transformed one dairy building into an organic vege operation with a sprout house next door. We crop hemp, linseed and rye corn.”
In nearby Greytown, much of the Cameron Family Farms produce can be found at Food Forest Organics, the plant-based café and organics store Suzy founded in 2015. With yummy raw food cakes and local suppliers on show, it’s become a real community hub.
The Camerons may have gone plant-based for their health, but soon James began talking about environmental issues relating to farming. “I’d been in environmental circles for decades, and I worked with one of the largest environmental NGOs in the US, and no one had ever talked about animal agriculture, not once,” she says.
When James said to her the more people they could inspire to go plant-based, the more they could move the needle on climate change, Suzy felt it as a calling – and she started with MUSE, making it the first plant-based school in the US fall of 2015.
“It was full on mutiny. We lost 50 per cent of our families, the push back was incredible,” she says, in spite of their 18-month-long education programme around the issue.
“Eventually our head of school got very frustrated and said, ‘People! You can give them eggs and bacon in the morning and you can give them a burger at night. It’s one meal a day – OMD!”
Suzy was inspired by this idea, which lead to her new book OMD: Change the world by changing one meal a day.
“Asking people to go 100 per cent plant-based only works for a small percentage of people, but one person eating one plant-based meal a day for a year saves 200,000 gallons of water, and the carbon equivalent of driving from LA to New York.”
She says that when she talks about the environment, people always ask her what they can do, and that OMD is a simple, elegant and empowering solution.
“Animal agriculture is the second leading cause of greenhouse gases and climate change, more than all transportation combined. You can actually make more of a difference by what you’re putting on your plate than what car you’re driving. Every time you eat plant-based you cut your carbon footprint by one third, and your water footprint in half.”
In the book, Suzy has included the Green Meter Eater, where you can calculate your carbon footprint from the various recipes that are in there – some created with her vegan friend, New Zealand governor general Dame Patsy Reddy. But it’s not a recipe book, it’s a resource for life, offering facts and education as well as suggested shopping lists, stockists, books, movies and how to create a plant-based pantry.
“I recommend you get a buddy to do it with, and it becomes fun,” says Suzy, who says she and James have so much more energy since switching their diet, and are rarely ill. “The reasons why people go plant-based are so personal, and I don’t care why you do it – just do it. Everybody wins, there is zero downside.