FOOD FOR THOUGHT
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Researchers from Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute, Agroscope, report that the same food can have very different environmental impacts – the best growing practices achieved the same yield with about a third of the impact. For instance, the worst 10 per cent of beef production produces 12 times more greenhouse gas and requires 50 times more land to produce 100 grams of protein, compared to the best 10 per cent of beef production. The trend was the same among the major crops — wheat, maize, and rice.
The idea behind the study was to help inform food producers and consumers on better ways to reduce their environmental impact. To do this they created a comprehensive database on the environmental impacts of nearly 40,000 farms, and 1,600 processors, packaging types, and retailers for 40 major foods.
But the inescapable trend was that even the best managed livestock can’t produce the equivalent amount of protein as the worst managed vegetable crop, without causing a bigger environmental impact and why they conclude animal product-free diets are likely to deliver greater environmental benefits than changing production practices both today and in the future. Hence “Would you go vegan to save the planet?” headlines.
There’s no question in our minds here at GI News that making better choices about the food we eat – where it has come from, how it is grown and how animals are farmed – matters.
The researchers focused on environmental impacts. Not human health impacts. We are big fans of plant-based diets built around the foods the natural world has provided for us – good, wholesome carbs including fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, and grains. These foods and the traditional staples we make from them are both sustaining and sustainable.
In fact, you only have to look around the world to see that plant-based dietary patterns such as the traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets are associated with good health and long life. The “Blue Zones” story is the same. In these communities where people are ten times more likely to be living a healthy, active life until they are 100 than the rest of us, author and researcher, Dan Buettner reports they:
• eat food, not too much, mostly plants
• are active every day
• get plenty of sleep
• are not stressed out, and
• have strong social connections.
He also found that their diets are as noteworthy for their diversity as for what they share. In Loma Linda, California, they are vegans. In Costa Rica, their diet includes eggs, dairy, and meat. In Ikaria, Greece, and Sardinia, Italy, they practice variations on the theme of Mediterranean diets. In Okinawa, Japan, a traditional plant-based, rice-centric diet produces the same outstanding results.
After infancy, we have considerable flexibility in our food choices because we are omnivores. We evolved to be adaptable. We are not “One Diet Fits All” people and we don’t think the only choice we have to deliver environmental benefits is ditching animal products. But we do think it’s back to the future time where we feel good about the food we produce, buy, cook and eat and we enjoy the pleasure it brings each day with family and friends. Our goal here at GI News is to help people simplify their lives and choose the sustaining and sustainable good wholesome carbs that are digested at a rate that our bodies can comfortably accommodate. That’s why we wrote The Good Carbs Cookbook where we list the 10 reasons why we love them.
1. We love the way they power the brain.
2. We love the way they fuel the muscles.
3. We love the energy they give.
4. We love the good stuff (vitamins and minerals) that comes with them.
5. We love their keep-it-regular fibre habit.
6. We love preparing meals for family and friends with them.
7. We love the traditional foods they put on the plate.
8. We love the variety and pleasure they bring to the table.
9. We love the way they feed the world.
10. We love their lighter footprint on the planet.
- Research reveals how the same foods create markedly different environmental impacts and outlines a new approach to reduce them
- The Good Carbs Cookbook
- Prof Clare Collins, Love meat too much to be vegetarian? Go ‘flexitarian’
- Catherine Saxelby’s Complete Food and Nutrition Companion, Vegetarian and Vegan Diets, pp326–8