Before the invention of agriculture, human has to hunt and gather to obtain food. The hunting and gathering activities expense a lot of energy for limited food that could be obtained because the human has to find food far away from their home. Agriculture has increases access to food and ultimately food security.
The agricultural activity we know today is majorly impacted by the post-war mindset. After World War II, there is a need to feed the increasing population and therefore the industrialization of food production was necessary. This industrialization is called Green Revolution, and it makes nutritious food more affordable for everyone. However, this ‘modern’ food production is shown to have a negative impact on the environment and to human health. For more than half-decade after World War II ended there are a lot of technological improvements in the agricultural sector. Ironically, there are not many changes in how we produce our food.
Along with the increase of climate change awareness, there are more and more people who are more conscious about how their diet impacts the environment. So how do we ensure the ‘correct’ nutrition with the least impact on the environment? What if we don’t change our agricultural practices, would we still be able to eat sustainably? With these questions in mind, EAT-Lancet Commission creates a healthy diet guideline based on how we currently produce our food.
In the EAT-Lancet reference diet, the authors calculate the essential nutritional requirement for humans to live a healthy and active life. In their calculation, they consider how each food is being produced and how they impact the environment through their associated greenhouse gas emission, water use, energy use, and fertiliser requirement. Further, they simplify their calculation into the food intake recommendation.
If you examine the table, you will notice that they do not exclude the animal products and added sugar from the recommendation. The authors do however underline that it is more ideal to cut out or exclude animal based protein and added sugar out of your diet. The paper also emphasizes how leaning to plant-based food is way more beneficial for the environment and for health.
The EAT-Lancet reference diet was indeed considered as one of the breakthroughs in the movement toward sustainable food production. However, it is also natural for people to question the paper itself. For example, the author does not acknowledge potential future technologies on agriculture or on food science, such as the technology to produce plant-based meat alternatives. It is also questionable whether the diet is affordable for most of the human population (and a lot of papers argue that this diet is more likely to be not affordable).
Personally, I think the paper summary will be helpful to orient the readers on how food production is related directly to sustainability. The dietary recommendation on its own is not a panacea that could help overcome the complex food production problems. While I don’t follow their diet reference strictly, I notice how they also highlight the importance of having multiple type of food in your diet. The rule of thumb is the more diverse and colorful the food on your plate is, the more likely you fulfill your nutrition requirement!
So, how colorful was your plate today? Do not forget to eat your veggies! ;)
Willett, Walter, et al. "Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy
diets from sustainable food systems." The Lancet 393.10170 (2019): 447-492.