There really isn’t much doubt that the standard American diet is killing a lot of us slowly. And some, very quickly.
Ultra-processed foods full of fat, sugar and unpronounceable ingredients are behind the rise in diabetes, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and cancer. And we’re doing it to ourselves.
And, as if this weren’t bad enough, these dietary choices are killing our planet at the same time.
EAT is “a global, non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption, and novel partnerships.”
In 2018, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, and Health brought together 37 top scientists from around the world to try and define what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet: healthy for us, and sustainable for the planet.
The planetary health diet
While we produce as much food as we ever did, or more, in terms of calories, almost a billion people still lack sufficient food.
And many of us (you? me?) eat empty calories that don’t nourish us and are produced by using chemicals and other agricultural practices that endanger our environment.
In response to these problems, the Commission has set a goal to achieve “Planetary Health Diets” for the world’s population by the year 2050.
Not much time.
So, what is a “planetary health diet”?
You won’t be surprised to hear that the Commission’s recommendations echo much of the dietary adjustments we’ve recommended here for so long.
“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 percent. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
A planetary health diet is a “flexitarian” diet, meaning it is plant-based but can include reasonable amounts of meat, fish, and dairy. After all, it’s hard to go “cold turkey” on eating meat or drinking milk, and not everyone will want to give them up entirely.
5 strategies and how you can support them
So, what needs to be done? What part can you play, and how will it benefit you?
The EAT report lays out five strategies that, over time, can move us toward worldwide availability of healthy, environmentally-friendly food by:
- Encouraging people to eat healthier diets. First, a concerted effort by individuals to increase the amount of plant-based food they eat, as well as a commitment by institutions like schools and hospitals to follow these dietary guidelines.
Again, think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains as the centerpiece of your diet.
- Refocusing agriculture so farmers move away from producing high quantities of a few crops (often, the ones that are used to feed the livestock), and instead incentivize producers to grow varied nutrient-rich, plant-based foods.
- Moving toward growing a range of crops that can both nourish people and keep soil from deteriorating from overuse. In other words, sustainably intensify agriculture.
Eating less meat and more grains, fruits, and vegetables and buying them through local farmer’s markets is a good way to support this strategy. And shopping at your local farmer’s market – or even better, buying produce from an organic farmer – is another way to get unadulterated food onto your plate, while supporting good farming practices.
- Preserving natural ecosystems and ensure continued food supplies. That includes protecting the waterways that produce fish and seafood, as well as prohibiting land clearing and restoring degraded land.
- Reducing food waste by at least fifty percent. We can certainly do our part here by eating more plant food which can be composted if not eaten, and by planning our meals more carefully, rather than impulse buying what looks good at the moment.
If you make your food choices with these five strategies in mind, you can be part of a global movement to save your health and the health of the planet.
First steps to a planetary health diet
Eliminating meat from your diet is not as important as making considerate choices about what you eat and planning your meals well.
To that end, here are a few recipes to get you started on the Planetary Health Diet (they sound pretty delicious to me!): Planetary Health Recipes.
And here is a very readable summary of the EAT Commission’s report, complete with infographics.
- EAT Website — eatforum.org
- How to feed a growing population healthy food without ruining the plane — The Conversation