Food

To ensure that 10 billion future people can eat, look at your carbon ‘​​​​​​​foodprint’ today

Eat your vegetables and go easy on meat.

It’s advice your doctor might give because a plant-centric diet is associated with a lower risk of various ailments like heart disease and obesity

Eat your vegetables and go easy on meat.

It’s advice your doctor might give because a plant-centric diet is associated with a lower risk of various ailments like heart disease and obesity.

And — Happy Earth Day! — the love-your-vegetables message is one you’ll also hear from environmentalists because a plant-based diet comes with what might be called a sustainability seal of approval.

People whose job it is to worry about global warming say vegetarians have about half the food-related carbon footprint of meat-eaters. But, no need to live on tofu. You’ll improve your “foodprint” by just pushing meat off the center of the plate and piling on the veggies.

Experts on eco-eating and recent research back this up.

10 billion hungry people

The biggest news at the intersection of eating and environment is the EAT-Lancet report, published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed Lancet medical journal. It’s the work of 37 scientists from 16 different countries, funded by the Wellcome Trust, an independent medical research charity based in London.

The report, which has been getting a lot of buzz, sets out to answer the mind-boggling question of how to feed the future population of 10 billion people a healthy, earth-friendly diet.

“Most people don’t realize that the food system is one of the primary ways that humans are affecting the environment,” explained Valerie Stull, an interdisciplinary environmental health scientist and a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute.

Valerie Stull is an interdisciplinary environmental health scientist and a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute.

“Forty percent of ice-free land is used for agriculture — for pasturing animals or growing crops,” she said. “The food system and agricultural production are responsible for almost 30% of all greenhouse gases that we emit through human activity globally.”

According to Stull, what’s groundbreaking about this study is that it “brought together experts from very disparate disciplines. So we have people who study earth systems and sustainability and agriculture working in close tandem with medical professionals and nutritionists — and all these people came to consensus in this report.”

Recommendations galore

What they came up with is an ambitious — some will say overly ambitious — plan to transform eating habits, make food production more sustainable and reduce food waste.

But at its core is the Healthy Planet Diet. And it calls for more healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and fewer unhealthy foods such as red meat, sugar and refined grains.

And, sorry paleo-people, the Healthy Planetary Diet comes down particularly hard on beef, pork and lamb, recommending no more than about 3 ½ ounces of red meat a week; that’s about one smallish burger. For poultry and fish, the allotment is more generous, just shy of about one-half pound of each per week.

Stull explains that “beef in particular can be quite damaging to the environment. It typically requires more water, more land, more feed and emits more greenhouse gases than any other protein source.”

Meat as a treat

Think of it this way, she suggested: “It’s not saying never eat meat, but instead eat one burger a week or one steak a month. Treat red meat maybe the way you treat lobster, as an indulgence, as a special-occasion food, not an everyday food.”

And the good news is that that we’ve already got some greener pastures.

“Many Wisconsin farmers are doing their best to produce livestock and dairy products using sustainable practices,” Stull said. “So how can we support them in doing that, what do they need?”

From her perspective, the EAT-Lancet report is not a “silver bullet” but rather “one of the first comprehensive guideposts for how to optimize health and environmental sustainability.”

At the very least, she’d like it to be a rallying cry.

These plates represent the dietary approach advocated by researchers in the EAT-Lancet report. (Photo: Mollie Katzen)

“Consumers can do a lot with small changes,” she said. “If everyone ate a little more toward the reference diet, we could shift demand, and the food system would respond, potentially moving in a direction that’s more sustainable to meet that demand,” she said.

You might wonder if Stull practices what she preaches. She is indeed a vegetarian except for — honest — edible insects like crickets.

She has coined the word “entotarian” for someone like her. And much of her research is about assessing ways to optimize the use of protein-rich bugs as a healthy and sustainable part of human nutrition.

Assessing your impact

Bugs or no bugs, the factors involved in making food choices — cost, carbon footprint, nutrition, to name a few — can be overwhelming.

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Tom Bryan is working to develop a way to help people assess the carbon footprint of the food they eat. (Photo: Joel Ninmann)

One person looking to make those choices easier for you, and kinder to Mother Earth, is Tom Bryan, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and a member of the Mindful Climate Action group, which is part of UW’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

He’s still putting the finishing touches on his doctoral dissertation, but his concept is to develop a calculator that will give people “a complex picture of their own diet’s impact, rather than a simplified picture of chicken vs. beef, for example.”

There already are A vs. B carbon footprint calculators, such as the one devised by and Oxford University researcher, which can be accessed at bbc.com.

There you’ll find out, for instance, that by drinking a pint of beer a day, you contribute 243 kg annually to greenhouse emissions or the equivalent of driving a gas-powered car 622 miles. A glass of wine, by comparison, equals 114 kg and 291 miles.

But Bryan is after information that takes more factors into consideration.

Here’s an example of what he’s talking about: “A resident of the southwestern U.S. may value lower water-footprint foods more than someone from the Great Lakes region. A resident of coastal North Carolina might value lower carbon-footprint (foods) more than someone less directly affected by Earth’s changing climate and rising sea levels.”

Ideally, he said, this calculator could add information to the existing diet tracking software for calories and nutrition.

And looking to the future, he imagines a day when — thanks to the wonders of artificial intelligence and photo recognition technology — you’ll be able to take a picture of your dinner “and find out the eco-impact of your meal.”

Eco labels?

He also would like to see an “eco-impact facts table” included along with the nutrition facts on packaged foods.

“The pairing of these two tables also implies a cost-benefit relationship,” he said. “On one hand, here are the vital nutrients you are eating, and on the other hand, here are the environmental costs.”

So instead of standing at a grocery store debating about blueberries (healthy) that have been flown in from Peru (all those food miles), you’ll have the information you need to make an informed decision.

He pointed to the “climatarian diet” as being the one most closely related to his research. Its aim is to help address climate change by reducing the consumption of the meat most damaging to the environment, primarily beef and lamb.

‘Small Planet’ author said it first

Frances Moore Lappé was just 27 when her groundbreaking book was published. She now works with the Small Planet Institute. (Photo: Submitted photo)

Frances Moore Lappé, the author who really got this whole conversation going, was reached at her office at the Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lappé is the author of “Diet for A Small Planet,” a controversial paperback first published in 1971, in which the then-27-year-old argued that the root of world hunger was not food scarcity, but rather our meat-centric diet and wasteful food policies.

In her book, which has sold 3 million copies over the years, she included vegetarian recipes that introduced Americans to then-unheard-of ingredients like garbanzo beans, cracked wheat and tofu.

And, no, she doesn’t take an I-told-you-so attitude.

Diet for a Small Planet” was controversial when it was first published in 1971, advocating as it did for a plant-centered diet for the good of the planet. (Photo: Ballantine Books)

But she does see that conclusions like those in the EAT-Lancet report validate and further many of the ideas that she wrote about nearly 50 years ago.

When asked to reflect on the influence her book has had over the years, she remembered an early review.

“It was called a recipe for revolution — and I liked that very much,” she said.

https://getvegetable.com

Anne Schamberg, Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

https://www.jsonline.cоm/story/life/food/2019/04/18/sustainable-diet-planet-heavy-vegetables-low-meat-earth-wellcome-trust-uw-madison/3410937002/


Source link
Tags
Back to top button
close
Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!