We need to eat. Several times a day. If it wasn’t for the will to stay alive there are many other reasons to do so. I often ask myself: Do we live from food or do we live for food? While we cannot abandon the need to eat, food is incredibly powerful: With access not being equally distributed across global and societal levels, used as a tool by many different stakeholders food has become a highly politicized natural resource. The concerns of climate change and a fast growing world population pushing earth beyond its natural limits raise the question: What is the healthiest and most sustainable diet for ourselves, future generations, and our planet? Under the slogan “Your plate. Our planet.” on friday December 9 more than 1000 visitors came to listen to the world’s most influential scientists, policy makers, and entrepreneurs in this field at Stockholm Conference Centre.
Way too often I need to get reminded of how privileged I am. I get to eat whenever I feel hungry and entering the supermarket around the corner I find myself having the choice between hundreds of different options. As if this wasn’t spoilt enough I don’t even need to cook myself but know exactly where to go and get my favourite dinner (or why not get it delivered?). However, with increasing prosperity we notice phenomenons like obesity, coronary heart disease, cancer -you name it- becoming more and more common. Are unlimited choices a burden to our health? Poor nutrition does not only concern developing countries any more. It is right here among us, feeding the pharmaceutical industry to come up with solutions for treating the outcomes of unhealthy lifestyles. Anyways, at least it is serving the economy.
While there is still too many people who don’t know how to use diet as a tool to better health, there is even less people who are aware of that our food choice has great impact on the environment. Land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, pollution and depletion of oceans […] The dimensions of how food production affects the environment are ungraspable but research agrees it is the number one burden – with livestock being the major threat to the system (still coming before today’s “natural” habit of using plane and car for transportation). The once so strong ecosystem that has been recovering ever since is according to experts approaching a “tipping point” where there is no turning back: It seems to be on us whether we are leaving an irreversible destroyed system making global food supply even more challenging for the generations to come – or take action now.
So do we all need to give up meat? Actually, research has shown that growing livestock to a certain extent does have positive effects on land use in some regions. However, the diet considered as both the healthiest and most sustainable is a plant based diet – low in fat and high in fibre (learn more about the benefits of a vegetarian diet in my article Eat Mostly Plants). However, a meat eater myself, I do value the nutritional function of animal products especially with regard to the aim of “building the body” (I learnt it’s a great source of iron and protein). In fact, I tried out a variety of different dietary approaches at times focusing on health, weight loss, weight gain, sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade, organic production… oh yes, I passed along them all and I have to say – even though I came back to eating meat (for now, you never know…) – I am so glad I have considered a full range of factors and gained new perspectives and knowledge on what I have on my plate.
Now, does that solve our problem? Well, not really. However, I believe that awareness is key to make changes. I do also believe food choice matters when it comes to lowering our impact on the environment. However, to me it seems quite utopic that all of a sudden everyone would stop eating meat. I think we should rather get away from making meat the “star” of a meal already because it is better for our health. I still refer to the moderation approach – nothing is good for you when eaten in binge. There is still so many things we don’t know about nutrition, research has just started to “uncover the top” of an iceberg clarifying how we work. I choose to eat animal products because I feel it completes my nutrition (even if some research might speak against). I want to choose from the full range of products with a conscious manner, bearing in mind where it comes from, its benefits and disbenefits.
Unfortunately there are long tails of issues attached on our food system that need to be addressed such as food supply infrastructure and food waste (one third of the food produced for our consumption still never gets to reach our stomach). The quality of our soil is not the same as 50 years ago, leaving harvest poor in nutrition. What’s the actual content of the food we eat? Apple is not apple. Does it provide enough vitamins? When do I know I take too little of a certain vitamin? Is supplementation the solution? Concerned about your health, the planet, or both – don’t stop questioning and analyzing the food on your plate. My personal answer is variation and moderation and being open-minded for different approaches to a healthy body and soul. Most of the times it happens to be the best option for the planet too.
Missed the Nobel Week Dialogue about the Future of Food? Watch it here.