We could be killing ourselves and destroying our planet at the same time because of the food we eat and the manner in which we produce it. According to a study conducted by a consortium of three dozen researchers and published in The Lancet, a leading UK based medical journal, the situation is a catastrophic one. Researchers believe that only a huge shift in the global diet can save our planet from a slow and painful death. Apparently, the key lies in reducing roughly by half the sugar and red meat we eat and doubling the vegetables, fruits and nuts we consume. At present, a billion people are hungry around the world while two billion are eating the wrong foods, leading to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. According to the most recent Global Disease Burden report, unhealthy diets lead to 11 million avoidable deaths each year.
There are also other problems. Our systems of producing food are destroying the land on which we depend for life. The production of food produces greenhouse gases, resulting in a loss of biodiversity while agriculture, which now takes up nearly half the planet’s surface, uses up about 70 percent of the global freshwater supply. The worst culprit in this is the raising of cattle for which huge tracts of forest have to be cut down while the animals graze on vast pastures to meet the demand from consumers. So, what are we to do? The researchers suggest we allow only about seven grammes of red meat per day, with a maximum of 14 grammes. A typical hamburger patty contains 125-150 grammes. They also suggest we eat less grain, less dairy and only one or two eggs per week. The diet calls for a hundred percent increase in legumes, such as peas and lentils, along with vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Not surprisingly, given that food is also a huge source of profit for manufacturers and commercial interests, the report has drawn heavy criticism, notably from the livestock and dairy industries which have questioned its accuracy and the motives behind it, pointing out that milk contains huge amounts of nutrients and vitamins. The argument will no doubt continue. The question of what we eat and how to divide food more equitably is a massive problem which faces us all. A solution needs to be found before our planet is destroyed.