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To Avoid Catastrophic Damage, Humans Need To Change Their Diet: Study

We need governments to help accelerate the change by aligning national dietary guidelines with healthy and sustainable requirements

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Food, Meat, damage
This is the "Impossible Burger," made from wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and other ingredients, shown in Bellevue, Neb., Jan. 11, 2019. A report released Jan. 16, 2019, by a panel of nutrition, agriculture and environmental experts recommends a plant-based diet. VOA

The way humanity produces and eats food must radically change to avoid millions of deaths and “catastrophic” damage to the planet, according to a landmark study published Thursday.

The key to both goals is a dramatic shift in the global diet — roughly half as much sugar and red meat, and twice as many vegetables, fruits and nuts — a consortium of three dozen researchers concluded in The Lancet, a medical journal.

“We are in a catastrophic situation,” co-author Tim Lang, a professor at the University of London and policy lead for the EAT-Lancet Commission that compiled the 50-page study, told AFP.

Currently, nearly a billion people are hungry and another 2 billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, causing epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Food, Meat, Damage
The key to protecting human and planetary health is a dramatic shift in the global diet — roughly half as much sugar and red meat, and twice as many vegetables, fruits and nuts — a consortium of three dozen researchers concluded in The Lancet. VOA

Unhealthy diets account for up to 11 million avoidable premature deaths every year, according to the most recent Global Disease Burden report.

At the same time the global food system is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the biggest driver of biodiversity loss, and the main cause of deadly algae blooms along coasts and inland waterways.

Agriculture — which has transformed nearly half the planet’s land surface — also uses up about 70 percent of the global fresh water supply.

“To have any chance of feeding 10 billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries” — the limits on Earth’s capacity to absorb human activity — “we must adopt a healthy diet, slash food waste and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts,” said co-author Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact Research.

“It is doable but it will take nothing less than global agricultural revolution,” he told AFP.

The main culprit

The cornerstone of “the great food transformation” called for in the study is a template human diet of about 2,500 calories per day.

Meat, Food, Damage
Beef products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in McLean, Va. VOA

“We are not saying everyone has to eat in the same way,” Lang said by phone. “But broadly — especially in the rich world — it means a reduction of meat and dairy, and a major increase in plant consumption.”

The diet allows for about 7 grams (.25 ounce) of red meat per day, and up to 14. A typical hamburger patty, by comparison, is 125 to 150 grams.

For most rich nations, and many emerging ones such as China and Brazil, this would represent a drastic five- to tenfold reduction.

Beef is the main culprit. Not only do cattle pass massive quantities of planet-warming methane, huge swaths of carbon-absorbing forests — mostly in Brazil — are cut down every year to make room for them.

“For climate, we know that coal is the low-hanging fruit, the dirtiest of fossil fuels,” said Rockstrom. “On the food side, the equivalent is grain-fed beef.”

It takes at least 5 kilos of grain to produce a kilo of meat.

meat, Damage
The big challenge is making meat that looks, feels and tastes like the real thing. Pixabay

And once that steak or lamb chop hits the plate, about 30 percent will wind up in the garbage bin.

Dairy is also limited to about one cup (250 grams) of whole milk — or its equivalent in cheese or yogurt — per day, and only one or two eggs per week.

At the same time, the diet calls for a more than 100 percent increase in legumes such as peas and lentils, along with vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Grains are considered to be less healthy sources of nutrients.

“We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources,” said Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton. “For the first time in 200,000 years of human history, we are severely out of sync with the planet and nature.”

Pushback

The report drew heavy fire from the livestock and dairy industry, and some experts.

meat
FILE – Professor Mark Post holds the world’s first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London, Aug. 5, 2013. Mosa Meat, a Dutch company that presented the world’s first lab-grown beef burger five years ago, said July 17, 2018, it has received funding to pursue its plans to make and sell artificially grown meat to restaurants from 2021. VOA

“It goes to the extreme to create maximum attention, but we must be more responsible when making serious dietary recommendation,” said Alexander Anton, secretary-general of the European Dairy Association, noting that dairy products are “packed” with nutrients and vitamins.

Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London said the report “reveals the full agenda of nanny-state campaigners.”

Also Read: Eat Less Meat To Meet Climate Targets: Study

“We expected these attacks,” said Lang. “But the same food companies pushing back against these findings realize that they may not have a future if they don’t adapt.

“The question is: Does this come by crisis, or do we start planning for it now?”

Some multinationals responded positively, if cautiously, to the study.

“We need governments to help accelerate the change by aligning national dietary guidelines with healthy and sustainable requirements, and repurposing agricultural subsidies,” the World Business Council for Sustainable Development said in a statement. (VOA)

Next Story

The Dining Table Starts Turning To The DIEning Table, Is Eating Alone Healthy?

Orchestrating a family meal, day after day, was a chore that no one wanted to undertake and so the dining table witnessed a different kind of evolution. It became lonely.

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dining
My version of a happy home is as delineated through my own experiences, so I am less than amused by this change. It is here that my perceptions of the halcyon days gone by conflicts with today's reality. Pixabay

I have grown up in a typical Punjabi household. The place was Patiala. During the peak of any season, our oddly planned, 50’s built house would be such a cacophony… the din

created by us all…family members of all age groups and sizes. For a child, the craze in those days was that of play, play and more play interspersed with food, food and more food.

And this household had generosity writ all over it. A buzzing, bustling kitchen with Biji (grandmother) ruling the roost, her palpable charm and grace was always as warm as the
sugar laden tea she offered you first thing, should you be our guest on any day, forget just a good day!

Sunday was the day for special indulgences where brunch was almost always outsourced Poori Chana Aloo (fat be damned) from Mota Halwai. Sonorous conversations happened
around the dining table. Eating together was therapeutic too because a lot of problems were solved across kitchen counters and dining tables.

food
We sat at that table for hours, far beyond the meals, just talking and laughing. The benefits went beyond health. It was nourishment of the soul and the body alike.
Pixabay

We had it all. Our generation, and the ones before us. We may not have had the sophisticated gadgetry of today’s times nor did we have the knowledge of the world on our finger tips but we did have our own small happy world knit together. We sat at that table for hours, far beyond the meals, just talking and laughing. The benefits went beyond health. It was nourishment of the soul and the body alike.

The dining table was then the deciding table. Indeed.

Nothing changed in my world as I graduated from my teens to my 20’s except the fact that I was now married with children. Life in the 90’s was simpler. Sunday was still an open
house… a family and friends communion of sorts. Feasts became larger because the number of loved ones grew tremendously. And since the humble mixie could no more churn out the humongous lassi portions fast enough, it was irrefutably replaced with a dedicated washing machine with its rattling rhythmic buzz, perched right within the large kitchen.

Yes you heard it right. To churn lassi in bucketfuls. Sounds like privileges that are beyond the ordinary? Stuff that legends are made of probably! Even if it was just one big cauldron of home cooked mutton curry served with a “never-counted-never-ending” supply of tandoori rotis and raita, there was always more than enough for everyone. Those were the days when the dining table had enough scratches on it to prove that it had been a witness to countless feasts and fights, drinks and the drunk, the romance of meals à deux, love and lovers, in different measures. We may not have had it all together, but together, we had it all.

The dining table became the defining table. Indeed.

But that was then when life was comparatively simpler and eating together was the centrepoint of the day. The turn of the century turned the tables, literally and figuratively. The size of the family started to shrink as did the size of its generosity. Best friends and cousins were non grudgingly replaced with gadgets and communication was now happening via Skype and video chats. Visits became few and far fetched.

food
Dinners saw less and less of “you have to
eat all vegetables” kind of phrases and not many young mothers seemed to be sourcing recipes for Bottle Gourd or Panjiri anymore. Pixabay

Orchestrating a family meal, day after day, was a chore that no one wanted to undertake and so the dining table witnessed a different kind of evolution. It became lonely. Just like
the people who were eating on it somedays. The table was now mostly used as a work station, the laptop siting on it, once too often. Where once food garnered positivity and
camaraderie, now the simple, neatly laid out daily meals were replaced with quick “on the go” breakfasts and “at work” lunches. Dinners saw less and less of “you have to
eat all vegetables” kind of phrases and not many young mothers seemed to be sourcing recipes for Bottle Gourd or Panjiri anymore.

The parental engagement fostered around the table was fast depleting. Did we even need a full-fledged dining table? The practical acceptance of its now defunct utility and
importance was directly related to the disappearance of the family size and family meals. It was no more the centre of distribution for anything at all.

And the dining table started to be the DIEning table instead. Indeed.

My version of a happy home is as delineated through my own experiences, so I am less than amused by this change. It is here that my perceptions of the halcyon days gone by conflicts with today’s reality. When my children left home to pursue their dreams and lives, the first thing that felt really different was the dining table. My shared meals became limited to the Langar (community meals in gurdwaras) and social events. Food has always defined my existence and our mutual love for each other often evokes wistful sentiments of a once full family life.

Also Read: Lok Sabha 2019 Elections, EC Outlines Stringent Guidelines For Social Media Usage During Campaigns

With an increasing focus on eating food that benefits our health, we have definitely moved towards nutritionally better meals but from a psychological perspective, is eating alone healthy? Healthy enough? No amounts of supplements can infuse a rush of endorphins, like a happy chatter around the dinner table can. Once the unifier, the table stands alone
today. When did it become just a piece of furniture really? Maybe it’s time to create a home, all over again, around the diening table. One meal at a time.

And bring it back to life! After all there is nothing half as good as a household bonding over a meal. (IANS)