Is climate eating hot yet?
“Unhealthy diets contributed to more deaths globally in 2017 than any other factor, including smoking.”
This is a sobering sentence. It comes from an article in Nature titled: What humanity should eat to stay healthy and save the planet. This isn’t one single decree from the heavens. It’s not one diet for all. It’s dozens, if not more.
If everyone ate a more plant-rich diet, and there were no further emissions from all other sectors, the world would have a 50% chance of meeting the 1.5 °C climate-change target. If there were other systemic changes (say there was less food waste), AND our diets improved, then the chance of hitting that target would increase to 67%.
So that you don’t freak out, an improved diet might still include red meat. But (big but) the maximum amount allowed in a week for an average 30-year-old is one single serving. The other crap I often complain about—soda, candy, snack foods, and ultra-processed junk—needs to mostly be avoided.
A diet like this would save 11 million people. Give or take. An important note here, and one I keep coming back to, is that this recommended diet needs to be tweaked to be regionally and culturally appropriate. (Let’s burn the American Diet!) Some countries will need different nutrition metrics for vitamins and minerals depending on what’s locally available, and what the typical diet is. People in Africa may need more iron or calcium. (Americans eat too much red meat, so our calcium and iron intake are just fine.)
What’s nice to see is that this same effort is being put towards kids’ diets. In Stockholm, researchers are using algorithms to improve school lunches, which are “a near unique opportunity to foster sustainable dietary habits.” The habits we pick up as kids, yep, we often continue as adults.
But of course you can make change. I grew up with a fridge stocked with margarine, nonfat milk, Ritz crackers and Skippy peanut butter. (I also had lots of home cooked meals.) I usually brought my lunch from home—anything I could grab and stuff in a paper bag. Sometimes I bought a piece of pizza (the worst pizza known to humankind), or friends and I went on a lunch-time run for fast food. My food life is nothing like that now. Change can happen at any age, you only have to want it bad enough.
We all want to see the climate improve, or simply not slink further into the abyss, but it will mean we need to hold hands and choose to eat differently.
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