Can a Healthy Diet Help Our Earth?
The United States Department of Agriculture provides “leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management” (usda.gov). Every 5 years the USDA amends their suggested guidelines on healthy eating. For the first time in history, advisors of the department proposed updating the report with sustainability in mind. This would entail the administration to consider a food’s impact on the Earth when deeming it healthy or unhealthy.
Like any change, this proposal stirred up major controversy. Those owning businesses within the food industry are especially outraged by the idea. Critics argue, “environmental concerns were beyond the scope of the guidelines and addressing them is an overreach of the USDA authority” (Westervelt). The final decision on the matter won’t be made public until this year’s guidelines are released.
Dieticians and nutritionists are noticing a connection between sustainable food sources and the demand within the food industry. People are no longer solely focused on the calorie, carb, fiber, and sugar aspect of the food they eat, but there is growing concern with how the food was sourced or farmed. Professor Christopher Gardner of Stanford University School of Medicine discusses his years of research and dedication to attempting to convince people of the positive health connections between sustainability and eating right. He found that only when he educated his clients on topics like global warming, animal rights, chemical use in farming, and other controversial discussions they opened their minds to changing their diet. The concept of sustainability does not provide people with immediate results and therefore is hard to convince them that it should be factored into physical health recommendations.
Though it may not be an obvious connection, scientists have found that a change in our diets can dramatically benefit our Earth. For example, “Americans currently get about 15% of their protein from plant-based sources. Shifting that to 25% could result in enough water savings to provide two-thirds of California’s water supply” (Westervelt). Food locations are pulling their weight as well. Five Guys Burger and Fries, for example, are experimenting with offering smaller portions of meat. The long-term impact includes sustainability whereas short-term consequences include money being saved within the supply chain and a weight loss incentive for customers.
Some protein-packed foods that have a small negative effect on the Earth include organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, pasture-raised eggs, and limited portions of meats. Foods that have a considerably large carbon footprint are processed foods, water bottles, poultry and dairy, and fresh flown fish.
It’s a tough task to encourage people to eat more sustainably when they don’t see an immediate impact on their health or lifestyle. Education on the topic, however, can change this, and inspire people to consider both the effects on their body and the Earth when making decisions related to food.
Westervelt, Amy. “How to Eat Healthy and Save the Planet.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 29 June 2015. Web. 18 June 2017.
“About the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” USDA. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.