Eating to save the planet
Wow! An article about nutrition featured in the mainstream news that’s not highly controversial or sensational (or plain wrong)! Possibly unprecedented. Maybe you saw in the news that the Norway-based thinktank Eat and the British journal The Lancet have commissioned a worldwide study into how to feed the whole planet, healthily and from sustainable food sources. Maybe it will be taken on board in the UK, given the increasing interest in moving towards ethical and environmentally-friendly nutrition.
You can read the report’s Brief for Everyone at the link below, but a very brief synopsis from me is:
Food sourced from animals has higher environmental footprint per serving (especially true of grain-fed livestock) so a diet including more plant-based foods and fewer animal foods is better for both people and planet. The diet recommended in the study isn’t totally vegan though; rather an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, alongside small portions of meat and dairy. The brief doesn’t recommend giving up meat altogether because it’s an important source of nutrition including protein, iron and B12, but the recommended amounts would be a huge reduction for many people in the UK:
Weekly <98g red meat, <203g poultry, <196g fish.
Plant protein accordingly needs to increase to at least 125g dry beans, lentils, nuts etc daily.
Vote with every plate
A brilliant point made in the report is “vote with every plate”. We impact markets with our demand, so we should make choices that support environmentally sustainable and socially responsible farming.
Many people are moving to a vegan diet to reduce their impact on the environment or perhaps just because they don’t want to cause animal death. But, one can approach that philosophy too simplistically. Whether vegan/veggie/omnivore, our food purchasing choices make an impact ethically and environmentally.
Small, organic, free-range farms help improve local wildlife diversity and soil quality. Conversely, non-organic mono-agriculture depletes soil, reduces wildlife diversity, pollutes and is related to deforestation. So, choosing processed foods such as soy meat-replacements from a pesticide-heavy, deforested soy farm, causes more environmental harm than occasionally eating locally produced organic meat from small farms in the UK. The worst offenders for pollution are industrial grain-fed livestock (as well as being horribly cruel and causing antibiotic resistance!!) so ideally everyone should buy only locally produced and organic meat and dairy.
Our health as well as the planet’s!
The report also refers to global health outcomes. Unhealthy diets are, it says, “the largest global burden of disease”. The assumption that vegetarian diets are healthier isn’t true if, like a friend of mine at uni, you live off crisps and microwaved veggie burgers. (Since I’m honest, I ate my fair share of instant noodles and crisp sandwiches in those days. Don’t judge, we’re talking 15 years ago when students drank snakebites, the day after which all you can cook is instant noodles and crisp sandwiches). The point is, there are so many vegetarian alternatives available in the supermarket that I wouldn’t feed to the pigeon, let alone myself. Instead of ‘fish’ made of laboratory-grown fungus, just cook up a lentil curry. I eat primarily vegetarian food but we now have grass-fed/organic meat at home roughly twice a week - that’s still way more than is recommended in the report! I usually don’t buy meat from restaurants unless they proudly announce its provenance on the menu. If they don’t, it’s probably shit.
My husband Vijay has just perfected pressure-cooker Channa curry. It’s amazing, the tomatoes go sweet without any added sugar. I’ll get a recipe to share ASAP.
Another tip - try Feto tofu. It’s fermented and tastes way nicer than plain tofu, and it’s organic EU soy.
I wonder what the environmental impact of all humans maximising their bean intake will be on greenhouse gas production though? Farts, so many farts.