A new diet to save the world
If we change our diets, can we save the world? That was the question posed to 30 world-leading scientists by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, and the result is the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy and sustainable global diet.
Believe it or not, food production is the single largest driver of ecological degradation and climate instability.
The way we raise livestock is increasingly recognised as a moral, ethical and environmental disaster; the way we replace forests and other diverse habitats with uniform farmland has led directly to the loss of thousands of species; the amount of food we waste is an international scandal.
We have created a situation where one half of the world has so much food that it is making us ill, with diseases such as diabetes and heart disease on the rise, and the other half are suffering from a global problem of undernutrition which negatively affects people throughout their lives.
Our food production system is almost certainly broken.
So far no one has been able to agree on solutions or the path forward. Contradictory evidence and contrasting cultural factors have left a void where global cooperation and standards would normally be. For instance, the World Health Organisation does not respond to the global food crisis in the way it does to an ebola outbreak.
In this way, the EAT-Lancet report aims to fill the gap and provide a global scientific framework for a healthy diet which can be used to set guidelines and targets – something which has been lacking until now – called the planetary health diet.
The planetary health diet is designed to provide adults with everything they need from day to day. Roughly put, the diet consists of half fruits, vegetables and nuts, and half whole grains, plant proteins such as beans and lentils, and unsaturated plant oils. This is supplemented with a modest amount of meat and dairy if you wish to do so.
These target amounts are designed to maximise human health and concurrently minimise environmental impact. By removing the meat-heavy attitude which characterises the Western diet, it is hoped that we can solve multiple serious problems at once without having to rely on high-tech, science fiction solutions such as lab-grown meat or liquid meals like Huel or Soylent.
The fact is that a time where we must change what we eat isn’t far away, even if we don’t want to do so. Much like how we will be forced to switch to renewable energy whether we like it or not, it is a simple truth that the way we produce food now cannot go on. Either we stop by choice or the ecological reality will force us to.
When the change occurs, those early adopters of renewable food production will inherit the industry and everyone else will be playing catch up. If you are looking at the long term, investing in food production consistent with the planetary health diet is a good idea. Things which might seem unimaginable now – a world where we eat radically less meat – are not that far away. It will pay in the future to start investing in a sustainable future now.