On the future of our food supply


I just read “Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” (1). The article deals of course with the exact opposite – our lousy diets and unsustainable food systems. That our diets are unhealthy should be no secret. That our food systems are in danger of collapse, and that there is a pressing need for action, may not be so obvious – for most of us the closest contact to our food sources is the grocery store.

The EAT-Lancet Commission, an independent body of experts from a number of countries and different scientific disciplines, was formed to come up with scientifically sound solutions to these problems. This Lancet article (1) summarizes the committee’s findings and recommendations.

Their dietary recommendations should be familiar from food guides. Their model diet mainly consists of a variety of plant-based foods, uses unsaturated rather than saturated fats, allows modest amounts of seafood and poultry, and limits the consumption of red and processed meat, sugar, and refined grains.

To ensure viable and sustainable future food production systems the committee determined safe upper-limits for agricultural greenhouse gas release, biodiversity loss, land-system use, freshwater use, and nitrogen and phosphorus use in fertilizers. These safety limits must not be exceeded if we want to have a viable future.

The EAT-Lancet Commission considers these measures necessary, doable and effective. The question now is how to implement them – how to accomplish the “21st century great food transformation”, as an accompanying editorial (2) puts it.

The dietary recommendations are realistic and flexible enough to be compatible with various tasty cuisines, including the highly regarded Mediterranean diet.  Of course, we have our ingrained eating habits, fast food is convenient, or we may lack the necessary cooking skills. Still, health concerns should be motive enough to take these dietary recommendations seriously. Our health is our responsibility, and nutrition must be a prime concern.

Making changes to the food production systems, on the other hand, can be expected to be more difficult. Current food business practices weren’t the results of a lack of knowledge; they were adopted because they were profitable. Corporations have no incentive to change; in fact, we can expect them to fight any measure that would cut into their profit, damn the consequences. Think of the “tobacco wars”.

Unhealthy diets are bad enough, but continuing harmful agricultural practices would sooner or later have catastrophic consequences for all of humanity. How would we grow any food at all if we used up all the groundwater, or if irresponsible insecticide use killed off all the pollinators? Let’s hope the people responsible for the damage realize that they would perish with the rest of us, and change their act before it’s too late.

Sources

  1. Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, et al, Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 447-492 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4
  2. Lucas T and Horton R, The 21st century great food transformation, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 386-387  https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)33179-9


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