Six Things We Learned (or Re-Learned) in 2020


It’s been an unforgettable year. The global coronavirus outbreak has changed our lives, restricted our liberties and has taken so many of our loved ones away from us. Each of us has a different pandemic story to tell – about what this year meant for us and our families, how it impacted our physical and mental health, and how our lives and livelihoods have changed as a result. Despite challenges and difficult times, there have also been some remarkable revelations and reminders. As we approach the year’s end, we reflect on some of the profound lessons this year has taught us.

1. Individual actions have a wider impact than we might think

This is certainly true of the start of this pandemic. Somewhere in China, a tract of natural habitat was destroyed, wild animals were caught, and so started the journey of an unknown pathogen from a bat to a pangolin to a person, and from there… well, we know what happened next.

This may be the starkest example of the ripple effect, but our own actions follow this same rule. If the way we live pollutes and damages the environment, drives antibiotics overuse (such as on factory farms) or exceeds our personal carbon budget, others around the world will feel the effects. Our actions matter.

2. Community, compassion and charity rock

All through the pandemic, neighbors have cared for neighbors, friends have looked out for friends. We have looked up from our phones and looked out of our bubbles and seen people who need a helping hand with their shopping, their chores, and their struggle with loneliness. At Million Dollar Vegan, we looked up from our campaign strategy and saw we could help people in need, and so we committed to donating one million meals before 2022. Sometimes it takes the worst events to bring out the best in us.

3. Factory farms are no better than wet markets

Our eyes were opened this year, first to the existence of wet markets – places where live and dead animals, both farmed and wild, may be caged and traded – which are the perfect set-up for the transmission of pathogens. And while we were all reeling from this information, we were hit with the realisation that filthy, overcrowded factory farms – the very places where most meat comes from – are equally dangerous pandemic breeding grounds. We learnt that three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases come from animals, and that this pandemic will not be the last. Industrial chicken farms were described by one pandemic expert as “ticking time bombs”. We need to end factory farming for animals and ourselves.

4. Health is everything

This is something we all know but still somehow seem to forget on a daily basis. It’s only when we become ill, or see a loved one getting sick, or indeed become fearful of catching a virus that is sweeping the globe, that we remember that our health is really all we have. This year more than ever, people have sought to improve their health and immunity through positive dietary choices. They have found that a whole food plant-based diet protects health, boosts immunity, provides all the nutrients we need, helps us live healthier and longer, and also protects us from pandemics.

5. We don’t need all the pizzazz

When everything around us seems so difficult, our minds really focus on what is important, and we find joy again in simple things. When once we needed the adrenaline shot from extreme sports, the short-lived dopamine hit from shopping, or the distraction from our lives that a trip away brings, we found in 2020 that other things matter so much more. Many people for the first time spent time in nature, watching and listening. They walked alongside rivers flowing towards the ocean, stopped to examine trees whose bark and branches are teeming with life, and leant back to marvel at the stunning starscape overhead which gently seeks to remind us that there is so much more than we will ever know. They found beauty in parks and gardens, in nurturing seeds into life, and in the incredible relationships they have with their companion animals.

When times get hard, we get clarity on the things that truly matter.

6. Everything we have depends on this planet

Everything. It’s our home, it provides us with food, with water, heat, shelter and medicines. It takes care of our bodies but it also nurtures our souls. That first glorious spring day when the sun’s warmth coaxes flower heads to pop into life does something to the very fabric of our being. And its majesty! The lakes, mountains, frozen tundra, oceans, meadows and rivers inspire works of art that touch us as deeply as the reality itself. And yet, we treat the Earth like it’s a disposable commodity. Like it’s hardly even relevant in our lives. Like this incredible animation by Steve Cutts, entitled MAN:

This year has shown how fragile our existence is and how interconnected all life is, and that by caring for animals and the planet, we are also caring for ourselves.

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