Do You Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

There exists two extreme groups of people in this world: those who eat more than they need and those who struggle to get enough to survive. Even if you fall into neither of the groups, we’ve all probably been guilty of food wastage before!

Either way, it is clear that much of humanity’s dietary choices are slowly killing this planet.

The EAT-Lancet Commission recently published a report detailing the environmental unsustainability of a modern-day diet – high in red meat but low in vegetables. According to the UN, livestock contributes to at least 14% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to the emissions of all vehicles combined! If this is not alarming enough, think about it as being responsible for half the total global GHG emissions by the year 2030.

The reason for this is the large amount of methane emitted by livestock and the need for grains to feed them. On the other hand, having a plant-based diet drastically reduces the level of GHG one would emit. Dr. M. Sanjayan from Vox shared in a video that an average of 330g of CO2 is produced for every serving of beef, 74g for any cheese and 14g of CO2 is emitted for every serving of vegetables or rice and a shocking 2g for lentils.

Before we start accusing Lancet of trying to brainwash everyone into adopting veganism or vegetarianism, this is absolutely not the case!

What the EAT-Lancet Commission is proposing is the adoption of a Planetary Health Diet that is similar to the Mediterranean diet – one that is largely plant-based with moderate consumption of dairy and low consumption of red meat.

Based on the planetary health diet, it is recommended to reduce our food consumption by one serving of red meat per week, one ounce of white meat and fish and a quarter of an egg per day. This is equivalent to simply eating less of one serving of beef rendang, one serving of chicken (as in a plate of chicken rice), one tuna sandwich and 2 eggs every week.

I know it’s difficult… but you can do it!

Here is a food guide for the Planetary Health Diet:

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Figure 1

While it seems stringent, the nutritious value does not fall short of the 2000 kcal needed by an average adult every day.

If changing personal diets can save the planet, then what are we waiting for?

Unfortunately, there are problems equally, if not more pressing, than the sustained high GHG emissions; the global food system impacts not only the rich but also the poor. It is indeed applaudable that the first world countries persist in their pursuit to alleviate issues such as global warming and environmental degradation as a result of the global food system. However, as we overcome these issues through breakthroughs in sustainable food production methods one after another, we must never overlook the fact that there is way more people who are overfed than those that are malnourished in the world.

According to the Guardian, while around 820 million people worldwide are underfed, over 2.6 billion people are at the same time either overweight or obese, and many of these cases arise due to poor dietary choices.

Hence, beyond just informing the world about making better dietary choices, the Planetary Health Diet could potentially be tailored to achieve better food distribution around the world.

This begs the question: how do we make such a radical change to the food systems in the world?

It is not uncommon for individuals to lack motivation when it comes to drastic lifestyle changes. Therefore, more top-down approaches can be adopted to induce a greater change in people. Perhaps, on top of the “healthier choice” label in dining places, dishes that adhere to the Planetary Health Diet guide can be marked out to give consumers a better indication of the better choices that they can make.

So, to all those faced with the first-world problem of deciding what to eat every other meal, the Planetary Health Diet could very well be your solution!

Written by: Andrea

References:

Barclay, E. (2019, January 24). The way we eat could doom us as a species. Here’s a new diet designed to save us. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2019/1/23/18185446/climate-change-planet-based-diet-lancet-eat-commission

Carrington, D. (2018, November 28). Global food system is broken, say world’s science academies. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/global-food-system-is-broken-say-worlds-science-academies

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