Wednesday , June 16 2021

Diets can do more than help you lose weight – they could also save the planet

Fasting diets have long been ruled out as selfish, superficial quests on body weight.

But if you study the real content of popular eating books, you will find that most tell a different story. Many inspire dieters to improve the health of their bodies, society and the planet.

This is a topic I study in my research, as is my book, "Diet and disease of civilization," from 2018. More than just weight loss guides, eating books tell rich stories that encourage people to change their lives to save the world.

Big ambitions

Diets inspire change not because one is more effective than another, but because they tell stories that are worth believing.

Clean up the tips on nutrition and you will find that while most popular diets preserve seemingly selfish goals, they also insist that individual health is inextricably linked to a larger environment.

A quick overview of diet books reveals their great aspirations. Think about Paleo's diet. Hundreds of paleo diets describe peaceful prehistoric communities rich in singing, dancing and storytelling. Today leaders have promised that "eating Paleo can save the world".

Promoters of detox diet make similar claims. Detoxers
believe that pollution of the environment and toxins cause stress, obesity and other contemporary problems.

The 1984 Detox Book claimed that people can not "remove our destiny from the fate of the country" and insist that "what we have learned to release our bodies from harmful substances must also apply to the cleaning of the world."

Today's diets go a step further, concluding that if you do not "eat clean", you can eat "dirty" foods with pesticides, toxins and carcinogens. A book on diet explains that pure food is "not only good for one's health, but equally important for the environment as well." The "Good Diet", a popular vegan book written by actor and animal activist Alicia Silverstone and Victoria Pearson, is titled "A simple guide to feeling great, losing weight and preserving the planet."

Nutrition consequences

Presumably, today's food world can use some savings.

The health consequences of how Americans eat have long been cataloged. For example, 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight or obese, which costs the US economy about $ 190 billion a year.

But the environmental consequences of these food choices are just as strict. Agriculture is responsible for about a dozen of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture consumes more than two-thirds of the fresh water on the planet.

And that's the specific choice of diet that keeps these pressures on the environment. Animal products, for example, provide only 18 percent of typical US calories, but still occupy 83 percent of all arable land. Just cutting the beef would be more effective to lower carbon than to quit the car.

The role of the government

This is where the government can learn from popular nutrition plans and promote sustainable public health and environmental diets.

Preventing food waste was critical to US assistance to Europe in World War I.
National Archives

In the dietary guidelines, the US Department of Agriculture encourages Americans to consume a healthy diet that focuses on foods with high levels of nutrients and low levels of sugars and saturated fats. But, despite the recommendations of the advisory committee, it does not include a language for the sustainability of the food system or how such a diet has a well-established relationship with human health.

The government also discourages other steps towards environmental nutrition. Think about new technologies for the cultivation of live animal cells – a technology that can cut off 14.5 percent of Americans' anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the government bends to the concerns of the industry and implements unnecessarily strict definitions of meat, preventing soy products and lab products using the label.

History shows that today the Ministry of Agriculture lacks a valuable opportunity. During the First World War, the US government used diets to do more than improve the health of individuals. As head of the Food Authority, Herbert Hoover urged Americans to stop using food, so the United States could use it to stop the starvation in Europe. His efforts are now worthy of saving the lives of some 7 million Belgians and 2 million Frenchmen.

Popular diets also took the humanitarian goal. A 1918 diet included a program called "Watch the weight of an anti-casserole".

Today's food authorities could do the same: ask Americans to eat better because the food system is actually a network. Our food choices have a major impact on our health and the planet.

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