Even I, the perpetual optimist who was taught to always “look at the sunny side of everything,” can agree: there are many reasons to loathe 2020. Many humans weren’t exactly on their best behavior, which shouldn’t surprise us as uncertainty, isolation, stress, and fear spread faster even than any virus. Nevertheless, there are many stellar people out there who have nurtured my faith in humanity during this year unlike any other I have lived through. Their courage, kindness, generosity, and integrity show that doing the right thing isn’t out of style. They give me hope. They inspire me to keep on showing up in 2021.
I chose 10 groups of people here, and present them in no particular order, but there are many more. Please share your own gratitude for 2020 heroes – big and small – in the comments.
Workers at all links of the food supply chain
Produce pickers and packers, truck drivers, grocery store stockers and cashiers: somehow, they managed to keep on showing up for work, doing the best they can to keep us supplied and fed throughout the year. None earn much for their service: they are low-pay employees, “sharecroppers on wheels“, or foreign workers with few welfare protections. Due to their working conditions, they all face a heightened risk of contracting covid-19 and the social net that could catch them if they fall sick is already overstretched and full of holes.
May we express our gratefulness by enhancing labor protections in years ahead.
Health care workers
Nurses, doctors, and other caregivers know of the possible risks to their own health that their profession entails, but this year brought that hazard into sharp relief. Caregivers kept on showing up for work despite the risks to themselves and their families, despite the lack of means to protect their own health, and despite the nonsense they could hear on the news which, sadly, was too-often even spat to their faces on their way to work.
My heart goes to workers of long-term care homes for the elderly who deserve better working conditions and a higher pay. Pandemic or not, they get little recognition for their carrying the burden of compassionately caring for the most vulnerable of people, often when even their closest relatives no longer feel that they can do it. In 2020, care home aides were exposed to toxic doses of despair and trauma, and many lost their own lives to covid-19. Please support initiatives to give them better working conditions.
Black Lives Matter organizers
We saw some painful, heartbreaking, mean violence captured on video in 2020. It was awful, and even worse knowing that such visible crimes are only the tip of the iceberg of oppression. And then we saw millions of people, some of whom had never stepped outside of their racial comfort zone, showed up on the streets to say: “That is wrong.” A greater awareness blossomed. That wouldn’t have happened – and kept on happening – without the many years of preparatory work of community organizers and antiracist activists. I am grateful for the people who are leading the movement, putting their own lives on the line for justice and peace for all.
Unlearning our deeply held racist habits is a lifelong process that does not end after a single march. I am grateful for everyone who continues to amplify Black, Indigenous, and diverse voices, and learning more every day. For starters, we could all benefit from listening more in 2021. (Donating also helps.)
Dr. Michael Greger and the entire team at nutritionfacts.org
Long before this pandemic, Dr. Michael Greger and his staff and volunteers at nutritionfacts.org were life savers. Every year, they review every peer-reviewed paper published about nutrition, assess their validity, make sense of diverging results, and translate scientific knowledge about food and health into plain-language videos, books, and even cookbooks anyone can use to improve their lives. In the face of a disease that most aggressively sickens those suffering from chronic, lifestyle-fueled conditions like heart disease and diabetes, Dr. Greger and his team continue to generously share their findings with the lay public while also educating the medical community.
First a public health expert before developing his lifestyle medicine practice, Dr. Greger captured the opportunity to publish How to Survive a Pandemic, another masterpiece of knowledge translation and synthesis. I am in awe of the mere fact that he was able to pull together such a thorough and useful book in such a short time. (That’s seriously showing up.) It feels odd to say that I am grateful that he shared his terrifying insight about future, seemingly inevitable bird flu pandemics, but knowledge is power. Do yourself and the world a favor by reading the book and quitting chicken.
Education for Nature – Vietnam’s wildlife trafficking fighters
In 2019, we started preparing a family trip to Vietnam. I had a life-long fascination with the country, and doubled down on reading everything I could about its history and culture. In the process, I learned how illegal trafficking was depleting Vietnam’s forests of wildlife, but also discovered a small group of dedicated fighters who track down poachers and resellers, and pressure local authorities to enforce their own laws. They are called Education for Nature – Vietnam. Their efforts to keep turtles, bears, lemurs, and pangolins in their natural habitats and off peoples’ plates and living rooms are particularly relevant in the current pandemic context, where species intermingling in wet markets and the destruction of natural environments are directly to blame for our predicament. Please consider donating so more volunteers can show up, be trained to recognize and fight wildlife crime, and fewer animals taken out of their natural habitat. A few dollars go a long way.
Animal Justice lawyers fighting ag gag laws
Oh! Canada, I thought you’d steer clear of such obscene laws, but I was so naïve. In June 2020, the Ontario legislature adopted bill 156, a direct attack on whistleblowers trying to expose illegal and unethical practices on farms. In December, just on the eve of the law taking effect, Animal Justice released extremely disturbing footage taken on an Ontario pig farm, showing Canadians exactly what the Ontario government and farm lobbies are trying to prevent them from seeing.
Watching more violence doesn’t make me feel good, but I am grateful for the courageous individuals who gathered the footage because exposing this dark reality is necessary to be able to fight it. The legal advocacy group will be showing up in court to challenge the constitutionality of the law. If you want whistleblowers to continue being an important part of our democracy, consider donating to support Animal Justice’s fight through Canadian courts.
Handyfolks on YouTube
The rising cost of construction materials shows that I wasn’t the only one who was struck by the urge to make improvements to our home during the more restrictive months of the pandemic. Who was there for me when it was time to face my fear to install a new light fixture, tinker with plumbing to put in a bidet attachment on our toilet, and loosen that damn kitchen faucet? The handy people of YouTube, of course. Special thanks go to the man who tried to demonstrate how to detach a Moen side sprayer hose with only one hand while holding his phone with the other. The video wasn’t professional but the explanation was the only good one I found on the entire Internet. If it wasn’t for you, I’d still have to take my dehydrator shelves to the bath tub to clean.
YouTube DIYers may seem out of place in a list of activists and heroes, but to me they are living proof that one doesn’t have to do extraordinary deeds to help other humans. Showing up to share everything you know and expect nothing in return – that does rekindle my faith in humanity.
Wet’suwet’ten Land Defenders
What would we have talked about a lot more in 2020 if it wasn’t for the pandemic? Climate change, I bet, and Indigenous rights, too. I for one am guilty of falling into deep holes of doomscrolling about covid-19 and lacking the mental bandwidth to keep the Bigger Picture at the forefront. Not everyone, thankfully, fell into the same trap.
I am grateful for the Wet’suwet’en people who show up and stand on guard to protect us against ourselves, standing against the construction of new pipelines and the further debasement of our environment. I encourage you to learn more about and support their actions.
Coach.me’s online coaching community
April and May were particularly difficult for me. I felt most lost after my father’s death in March, in addition to being confined at home trying to homeschool my kids (I am a terrible teacher), and thinking dark thoughts about the future of humanity, Something reminded me to return to the coach.me community and I am glad that I did. I was lucky to work with a couple of coaches who helped me reconnect with my habits and cheered me into starting to show up again for myself and my community. I got back into writing and started building a meditation practice that I never thought possible.
Online chat coaching is nothing like conventional hour-long coaching sessions, but sometimes a light virtual touch from another human who cares about your well-being and success is all I need. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to become certified as a digital habit coach myself. I’m thrilled to be graduating on January 2nd. If you would like to experience the power of tiny habits to change your eating and cooking routines, please consider reaching out to me. Let’s show up together!
My readers and clients: people eating more plants
Every day, you show up in the kitchen to feed yourself and perhaps your loved ones too. You are trying to eat fewer products that come from animals because you know it’s the right thing to do for your health, for the planet’s, and of course for the animals. You may not be able to completely remove yourself from exploiting or causing suffering to animals – even level 10 vegans can cause harm to non-human animal lives in one way or another – but you’re aware of the damage humans are inflicting upon other species, and keen to be part of the solution. Thank you for being here. I see and appreciate your efforts. They motivate me to keep on showing up, too.
In taking away some of our sense of control and agency in our own lives, the pandemic has made it more challenging than ever to show up and make the right choices. On the other hand, the kitchen is also the perfect place to start putting some order and meaning back into our lives. May you find the strength and inspiration to cook really good food for yourself and your loved ones in 2021. Every meal is an opportunity to do better.