Exclusive Interview with Vegan Environmentalist Suzy Amis-Cameron
Former model and actress Suzy Amis-Cameron — as any avid Ecorazzi reader knows — has since 2012 been embracing a plant-based diet. Alongside her famous filmmaker husband James Cameron, the pair has become very vocal with their vegan advocacy, touting not only the personal health and beauty benefits, but also — and especially — the planet-positive effects.
“My whole focus now, when I have extra bandwidth, is spent bringing more awareness around livestock production and the environment. I feel like it’s my mission,” Amis-Cameron said during our interview. “When you get me started on this stuff, I won’t be quiet.”
We couldn’t be more pleased by her enthusiasm discussing the very real fact that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, among other things (think deforestation, wildlife extinction, water waste, ocean dead zones, air pollution, global hunger, etc.).
A longtime environmentalist, in 2006 Amis-Cameron started the MUSE School CA. Established with sustainability in mind, everything was — and is — green-as-can-be (from water conservation to waste management, energy use to transportation) save for the food. Thanks to her family’s discovery of veganism, however, that’s soon slated to change. MUSE is poised to become the first plant-based school in the U.S.!
The wife and mother of five also launched Red Carpet Green Dress. Inspired in 2009 by the visibility her husband’s blockbuster hit “Avatar” would draw, Amis-Cameron founded a design contest challenging creatives the globe over to envision and execute a gown — and now also a tux — that is at once worthy of the red carpet as well as mother earth and its inhabitants. Winners are mentored by a well-known fashion brand, their wares then worn by an actress and actor to the Academy Awards. This generates far-reaching awareness around the wasteful nature of manufacturing clothing and how we might improve upon it by evolving materials and methods. The contest also raises money for MUSE, so it’s a win-win.
There’s much more on the horizon for the Camerons — from educational publications to a plant-based café in New Zealand — and without further ado we’ll let the lovely lady share with you in her own words.
Your husband recently mentioned in a Reddit AMA that he was celebrating two years of veganism. Has your whole family been vegan for that amount of time?
Yes. Two years [and almost four months] ago I watched “Forks Over Knives” and was so moved by it that the next day I sat down with Jim and we watched it together. We both decided we were going to be completely plant-based. Within 24 hours our whole kitchen was cleaned out. So, yes, we’ve passed the two-year mark. And our whole family is on board.
What are some of the benefits you’ve experienced?
We haven’t been sick in over two years! We have two young kids and, when their friends are getting sick all the time, they don’t get sick. I’ve got a teenage daughter and her skin is beautiful. I’ve noticed that my skin is constantly clear. If you look online, you can see pictures of Jim at the “Avatar” premiere. And then you can find pictures of him now. He’s lost at least 30 pounds, if not more.
You said in an interview earlier this year that you’re working on writing a series of books about food and the environment. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to take this project on, and what we can expect from the series?
After Jim and I watched “Forks Over Knives,” we ended up reading [a lot of] books, starting with “The China Study,” “The Food Revolution” and Richard Oppenlander’s “Food Choice & Sustainability.” Jim has actually been pretty aware of the connection between livestock production and the environment. I had snippets of it, but wasn’t really educated or versed in it. But he was also living with the myth that you need animal protein in order to thrive and be healthy. Watching “Forks Over Knives” — and then all of the research we did subsequent to that — he came to the realization that, not only can you thrive, but also it’s bad for you [to consume animal products]. Jim and I have both been in the environmental circles for decades, and people aren’t really talking about it. It’s the elephant in the room.
I started realizing that there’s really nothing out there that speaks to women and moms. So, I wanted to write four different books that target four different demographics: one for thought leaders, one for women and mothers, one for the teenage/early twenties group and one for the under 12 group. There’s very little out there. People [need] to understand that they can do one very simple, elegant thing to make a huge impact on our planet, for the future of our children.
Have you expanded your plant-based diet to an overall vegan lifestyle?
The main focus for us is around food and the environment. The side effect benefits to being plant-based [are] that it is wonderful for your health. We all want to look great and be trim, and it certainly helps with that. And then it’s a benefit to the animals. I can honestly say that I have not bought anything leather [since seeing] “Earthlings,” which had a huge impact on me.
Speaking of the elephant in the room and change-making documentaries, have you heard of “Cowspiracy”?
I’ve seen it! The filmmakers really pulled together something wonderful. It’s really impactful and I hope lots and lots and lots of people see it.
You recently announced that your MUSE school will be transitioning to becoming the nation’s first plant-based school. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in making this a reality?
The first question out of anybody’s mouth is, “Where will they get protein and calcium?” So, we are spending all of next year creating a MUSE speaker series called MUSE Talks. We’ll be bringing in people — from climate scientists to doctors to cookbook authors — to give talks to the teachers and the parents and to interact with the children. These will be marketed [widely] and open to the public.
You get all the proteins you need from plants. Animal proteins are not the best source of protein; they’re actually bad for you. You can end up with heart disease and cancer and autoimmune disease, etcetera. You eat plants and you not only are surviving, you’re absolutely thriving. Which we are finding out. We have boundless energy.
If the families have an issue with it, depending on what they want to do in their own homes, it’s a lunch and a snack. It will be up to them if they want to feed their children differently for breakfast and dinner [and on weekends]. MUSE is an environmental school and we walk our walk in every other respect. This was just one of those ah-ha moments, which made us realize we aren’t walking our walk 100% if we’re still serving animal products. We’re very proud because, as far as we’re aware, we will be the first plant-based school in the nation.
Can you expand on your proposed sustainable plant-based diet campaign?
Jim and I are at the very beginning of creating a campaign together. I can’t discuss the details because it’s in the early stages. But we’re excited. We’re in a unique position. We have a platform that not everyone has. We feel very honored and very privileged to be able to utilize that for the greater good, for the betterment of our planet. So, our hope and dream — our goal — is to help people understand that connection between livestock production and the environment and how everyone can collectively help to make the planet a better place.
Earlier this year, you told Vogue that you were thinking about starting your own sustainable fashion line. Is this still a possibility?
It absolutely is. How clothes are manufactured is very polluting and devastating for our planet. We did Red Carpet Green Dress initially as a fundraiser for MUSE. It’s wonderful to have a beautiful, sustainable dress that’s walking the red carpet at the Oscars. But, we all wear clothes, every single day. From the moment we’re born, they wrap us in clothes, until the day we die. Hemp is a miracle plant. It uses very little water, grows ridiculously fast and doesn’t deplete soil.
Your family’s Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara was recently featured for its extensive biodynamic farm. Are you using this space as a test bed for larger biodynamic ventures? How are you managing all of these international farms?
We’re using permaculture and organic practices on the ranch in Hollister. We grow all of our own food. It’s completely off the grid. It is definitely a model site for full on sustainability. Besides a few things — like maybe oils and grains and things like that — you could totally just live up there. We’ve got solar and wind power and water and pretty much everything one would need. The farm in New Zealand is a working farm and it’s on a larger scale, for commercial production and supplying restaurants. We have our own products — Cameron Family Farm products. We’ve got walnuts, olives, olive oil, hemp seeds.
Are you planning to expand your land holdings in New Zealand?
We have a pretty big chunk already. I can’t imagine we will. We did recently acquire a building in Greytown, about 45 minutes from the farm. We’ll open a market there to sell our products and our produce and have a little café. And, at some point, we would love to open a plant-based restaurant.
Does Jim cook?
We all get in the kitchen, which is really fun, and it’s increased since we went plant-based, because we have all these beautiful gardens now.
Have you read any of the “Avatar” sequel scripts? Has the beauty of New Zealand managed to inspire even more of Pandora? Will we see more environmental themes woven into the plot? Perhaps veganism?
I can’t speak to that. Jim is in his man cave writing the scripts as we speak. They’re going to be extraordinary, but it’s classified! I personally cannot wait to see the new “Avatar” films. The first one was so mind-blowing to begin with, and I know the other ones are going to exceed it, because the man at the helm is brilliant. He just happens to be my husband.