Suzy Amis Cameron talks to Jo Confino about our addiction to meat and dairy and the benefits of a plant-based diet

Film director James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, an actor and model, are planning a global campaign to persuade people to move towards a plant-only diet (where no animals or animal products are consumed) in order to sharply reduce global carbon emissions and improve their health.

The Hollywood power couple, who met on the set of Titanic, changed their diet overnight more than two years ago. They warn that society is addicted to eating meat and dairy and that the issue has been largely ignored, even by environmental NGOs.

They hope their project, which is still at a very early stage, "will turn the needle" in raising people's consciousness particularly in the US, which they believe is trailing Europe in recognising the dangers. "At the moment we are at the genesis of creating the project and collecting the science behind it so we're both steeped in the research and the data," Amis Cameron tells the Guardian.

"The project will include many different modes of communication that will reach as many different demographics as we possibly can from children to 90-year-olds. We want to bring awareness around the connection between livestock production and our environment to leave the planet a better place for our future generations to grow up in."

The couple initially quit eating meat and dairy for health reasons and Amis Cameron points to studies coming out of China from doctors and scientists that she says shows a strong connection between the consumption of animal products and major health problems such as heart disease and cancer.

As they delved further into the subject, they recognised that the meat and dairy industry is also the elephant in the room when it comes to climate change.

Amis Cameron says that while all the transportation in the world accounts for around 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, the combined impacts from livestock production accounts for nearly 15%. "Jim and I have talked many times about being able to create education for people around this subject," she says. "People are not aware because nobody talks about it. We're just constantly being told we need animal protein, we need milk for calcium and it's actually all a fallacy.

"We have an addiction to consuming animal products and it's hurting our environment. One simple thing that everyone can do, starting right now, is to reduce or eliminate the consumption of animal products because of the amount of water that it takes to produce a gallon of milk or a hamburger, the amount of land that is being cleared and all of the biodiversity being lost just to either grow grain to feed the animals or for grazing. About a pound of meat equals one acre of the rainforest."

Amis Cameron says momentum is starting to build around highlighting the issue and says she is heartened by recent studies in the UK showing the importance of reducing meat consumption. Last week the journal Climatic Change published a major study in the UK which found the dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat eaters were more than twice as high as for vegans.

She is highly critical of major corporations for spreading misinformation and for advertising unhealthy foods and says those companies that fail to act will come under increasing pressure from customers. "We're constantly sent information about being consumers, about unhealthy foods to eat," she says. "We're bombarded by big corporations with messages that we have to consume more, thereby creating more trash. We're sent commercials about ridiculously unhealthy foods that not only hurt our bodies but hurt the planet and drive up prices for healthcare."

The huge success of her husband's film Avatar, a film with a strong environmental thrust, shows that it is possible to change people's awareness about ecological issues, says Amis Cameron, and the couple believe it is imperative that they put their influence to good effect.

"We all know how powerful film can be and people's consciousness was certainly tapped into in Avatar, the most successful film in the history of the world," she says. "It started a big conversation around the environment. I think people are afraid of starting conversations and sometimes think it's better just to leave that elephant in the room and tiptoe around it. That's certainly not Jim's style and it's certainly not my style, and it's not our style together. Even if we're going before our time, we're not afraid to start a conversation.

"Jim is off doing Avatar 2, 3 and 4 right now and I'm off doing education and fashion and we completely come together on the plant-based piece and it just all dovetails beautifully. We use our strengths in the areas that we have them and then we have found this beautiful common land, and we're both right in the middle working together."

Amis Cameron created an environmentally focused private school in California back in 2006 because she was unable to find appropriate education for her children and the 140 pupils are now producing fresh fruits and vegetables and are expected to move entirely to plant-based meals next year. Four more schools in the US and abroad are in the pipeline.

She has also been seeking to influence the fashion industry through the creation six years ago of the Red Carpet Green Dress design contest to create an environmentally and socially responsible dress for the Oscars.

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