Hard to swallow: It’s either this diet or our planet is toast
It's possible to feed 10 billion people with this one-size-fits-all diet, say scientists - but most of you aren't going to like it
It might sound like a pipe dream, but when an international group of scientists launched a highly revolutionary diet this week, they presented something of a “silver bullet” for more than one problem dogging our planet and its inhabitants.
Dubbed the “planetary health diet”, it promises to feed 10 billion people, save about 11 million deaths every year, and give us a last-minute U-turn on our one-way trip to destroying planet Earth.
According to the scientists, greenhouse gas emissions would be slashed, while more land, water and biodiversity would be preserved. In contrast, our food systems have put unprecedented pressure on the planet, and it is now unsustainable.
So what does it entail and who came up with it? The major shift required is in the consumption of meat (it would have to plummet), and the consumption of fruit and veg, nuts and pulses (it would have to double).
This is according to one of the biggest scientific research studies ever into what we eat, what we should be eating and how to address world food issues.
On any given day, according to the scientists, we would eat 50g of nuts, and 75g of chickpeas, lentils, beans and other legumes.
We would also eat 28g of fish, 13g of eggs a day, 14g of red meat and 29g of chicken. We would then also eat 232g of whole grains (such as bread or rice), 50g of starchy vegetables, and 250g of dairy. We would have 200g of fruit and 300g of nonstarchy vegetables.
For some populations around the world, the shift would be more radical than for others. The Guardian reported that if the entire world population must halve red meat and sugar consumption, in North America this would equate to eating 84% less red meat than today, and six times more beans and lentils. To comply, Europeans would have to eat 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds.
By contrast, in East Asia it is fish consumption that would be the main change, and in Africa, that of starchy vegetables.
The diet was masterminded by 37 scientists from different disciplines across the globe who were brought on board by The Lancet as part of their EAT-Lancet commission.
“Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability. However, our current trajectories threaten both,” said the researchers in the report, adding the report “addresses the need to feed a growing global population a healthy diet while also defining sustainable food systems that will minimise damage to our planet”.
Tamara Lucas and Richard Horton, editors at The Lancet who wrote a commentary explaining the significance of the diet that took two years to research, said that was an urgent situation in a time of major crisis.
“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200,000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence,” wrote Horton and Lucas.
They say the dominant diets that the world has been “producing and eating” for the past 50 years are no longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity. It is also these diets that have exponentially increased the burden of some of our biggest killers like heart attacks, strokes and various cancers.
“Unless there is a comprehensive shift in how the world eats, there is no likelihood of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals … or of meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change.”