Written By Ayla | Environmental Studies Student | Guest Writter
We’re all familiar with the saying “you are what you eat” but what we’re eating is in fact ruining our health, the health of others and that of the planet. Unhealthy eating now kills more than alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. 2.1 billion people are overweight – yet we eat more sugar, fat and red meat than ever. Still 821 million go to bed hungry every night. On top of that our food is the main cause behind species extinction and a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. So, can we feed a growing population without destroying the planet and ourselves? Yes, by changing the way we produce, consume, transport, and waste food; by giving up eating.
“The food industry profits from providing poor quality foods with poor nutritional value that people eat a lot of.”
-Mark Hyman, American physician and New York Times best-selling author.
Thomas Jefferson once said: “agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to the real wealth, good morals and happiness.” However, if shown the developments to modern agriculture through food industrialization he might change his mind. This industrialization of food has narrowed and simplified the food chain into a system that focuses on standards of quantity, uniformity and monetary cost, while ignoring factors of quality, sustainability, and resource cost. A future food system will have to prioritize efficiently satisfying each individual’s nutritional needs with minimal environmental impact; especially in terms of water, land, and energy costs.
So what does a system like this look like? By choosing to invest in only growing the most resources to nutrients efficient foods we reduce the variety of foods we grow dramatically. An example of a resource inefficient food is beef which requires roughly 1800 gallons of water, 250 square feet of land and 1200 watts of energy to produce one pound of beef, which contains on average, 69 grams of fat, and 117 grams of protein. Not to mention the 15 pounds of CO2 byproduct. Invest those same resources into growing cashews and you can grow just over 30 pounds, giving you 6720 grams of fat, and 3540 grams of protein. Of course which foods are grown in this system highly depends on how you value the different resources and different nutrients, but almost anyway you do the math one thing is for sure, we should be eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains and eating less meat. Below are specific scientific targets for six key Earth system processes and the control variables used to quantify the boundaries as described by EAT-Lancet Commission’s most recent food sustainability report.
“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
-Prof. Walter Willett MD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Considering the ever-increasing pace of life in the modern era, understandably it can be easy to lose oneself in overwhelming routine. Being in a hurry all the time, a regular citizen may have no time to satisfy even basic needs such as nutrition, opting to choose convenience over sustenance. According to the 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than half of Americans’ calories come from eating “ultra-processed foods,” meaning foods that “include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods…”. This increase in consumption of sugary, fatty, ultra-processed foods especially meats has undoubtedly contributed to a health epidemic responsible for the deaths of 670,000 Americans annually, more than alcohol, tobacco, and drugs combined. So consuming more minimally processed vegan foods is not only crucial for the health of the planet but also for its domestic inhabitants (us). Below is a chart of EAT-Lancet Comission’s Scientific targets for a planetary health diet, with possible ranges, for an intake of 2500 kcal/day.
The Commission analyzed the potential impacts of dietary change on diet-related disease mortality using three approaches. All three approaches concluded that dietary changes from current diets toward healthy diets are likely to result in major health benefits. This includes preventing approximately 11 million deaths per year, which represent between 19% to 24% of total deaths among adults.
Imagine leaving the grocery store with three bags of groceries and on the way to your car one bag disappears into thin air. Seems like awful misfortune but that is the equivalent to how much food we waste. According to a USDA study, Americans wasted 32% of food produced in 2010. That added up to 161 billion dollars, 40 times more than Trump’s net worth. However, food waste isn’t just a problem at the consumer level. 30% of harvested crops never even make it to store shelves. Farmers discard parts in order to make the food more aesthetically pleasing. This is due to the frame of mind people have when they buy produce. We want our fruits and veggies to look shiny and perfect. Though, in reality, cosmetically imperfect produce is still edible and nutrient-rich. Not only is food waste an economic issue, but it is also harmful for the environment. One of the biggest problems with food waste is how it all ends up in landfills. When food breaks down, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that captures heat in the atmosphere 20 times more than carbon. More than a third of the food we waste is meat. To reduce waste we need to get over our fear of ugly produce and extend the shelf life of our foods, but for the sake of our health and our environment we need to avoid artificial preservatives. The solution is liquefying and spray drying our food into a powder as soon to harvesting as possible. This solution aids in preserving nutrients in the food that would otherwise be lost over time – during transport, freezing and unfreezing as well as extending the lifetime of the nutrients by removing the water, inhibiting the growth of bacteria. It also completely eliminates the wasting of cosmetically flawed produce, as the consumer receives a completely homogenized powder. Finally by creating nutrient-rich powders we add to the convenience of consuming healthy by making it possible to mix ingredients with water and drink your food.