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With huge variations in meat consumption, we’re ‘all in this existential crisis together’—Vox

‘Eating more plant-based burgers could help us avoid environmental catastrophe, according to a new report.

‘The way we eat and produce food has become so destructive to the environment and our health that it now threatens the long-term survival of the human species, an international commission of 37 scientists write in a sprawling new Lancet report.

‘We now have so many interconnected food-related crises—climate change, pollution, and food waste, not to mention malnutrition and obesity—that it will be impossible to feed the 10 billion people expected by 2050 unless we make dramatic changes to our diets and farming practices, the researchers argue.

‘What’s needed, according to the peer-reviewed report, titled “Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems,” is a new philosophy for how to eat on planet Earth.

Though there are huge variations around the world in what and how much we consume, we are all in this existential crisis together.

‘Which brings us to what seems to be the most controversial aspect of this report: its specific dietary advice for ensuring that everyone’s nutritional needs are met without exceeding “planetary boundaries.”. . .

‘This “planetary health diet,” as the authors call it, is a provocative recommendation, especially for those of us in countries (like the United States) where many people eat multiple servings of meat a day. It would require a radical revamping of our food culture—prioritizing sustainability and collective survival over food hedonism and tradition.

‘So it’s no shocker that there’s been some pushback to the report, and not just from the usual suspects in the meat industry, who seem to feel increasingly threatened by modest increases in flexitarianism, veganism, and good old-fashioned vegetarianism. A few researchers and doctors have also quibbled with some of the details in the dietary advice, and whether we really know what a healthy diet for all humans looks like. Let’s chow down on the details.

‘After three years of reviewing what they say was “the best evidence available for healthy diets and sustainable food production,” the Lancet authors came up with a set of targets for shifting diets on an average intake of 2,500 calories a day. Funding for the initiative came from the Wellcome Trust in the UK and the EAT Foundation, the private foundation of Norwegian billionaires Gunhild and Petter Stordalen.

‘The targets are ambitious, to say the least.

‘Relative to average global consumption patterns, everyone should eat half as much red meat and sugar, and twice as many nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

‘Per person, this means about less than half an ounce of red meat per day, or one serving of red meat (one quarter-pound hamburger) per week. The targets are similarly stringent for other animal products, recommending less than one ounce of white meat (such as chicken), one ounce of fish, one-quarter of an egg, and 9 ounces of milk per day. . . .

Even the world’s largest livestock companies, through efforts like the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, admit they need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from the billions of animals they raise to sell to us.

Much of the demand for animal products comes from more affluent countries like the US—where each person ate 222 pounds of red meat and poultry, on average, in 2018.

As the Lancet report argues, we’re eating far more than our fair share, environmentally speaking.

The report acknowledges that animal agriculture can be beneficial to ecosystems in some contexts. . . . According to Stanford meta-researcher John Ioannidis, nutrition science hasn’t yet been able to prove if there is a single set of nutritional guidelines as specific as the ones in the Lancet report for all humans to follow. . . . Others also quibble with the report’s nutritional recommendations — including doctors and dietitians who advocate for low-carb patterns of eating, especially in an era when we are drowning in sugar and refined carbs. . . . In a piece for Psychology Today, Georgia Ede, a psychiatrist and nutrition consultant, writes that “animal foods are essential to optimal human health” and describes the various ways she thinks the EAT-Lancet Commission authors fail to provide adequate scientific evidence for the nutritional value of a plant-based diet. . . .

What about all the people who are malnourished or don’t eat much meat at all?

‘As the chart from the World Resources Institute above shows, meat consumption varies greatly by country.

And the report notes that many of the 1 billion of the world’s population who are malnourished need more animal products in their diet, not less.

‘“In some places, like rural sub-Saharan Africa, and rural South Asia, people don’t get enough animal products to get their growth cognitive needs,” said Jessica Fanzo, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins and a Lancet co-author. Stunting in kids, for instance, is sometimes associated with low consumption of animal products and other protein-rich foods.

Ultimately, the dietary guidance the report offers is meant to be flexible and tailored to different cultures and food availability.

But there’s a clear message for wealthier countries where meat consumption is high: We will need to cut way back, as much as 90 percent. . . .

Read the whole article: The way we eat could doom us as a species. Here’s a new diet designed to save us, by Eliza Barclay,  Vox, 23 Jan 2019.

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