Monday, 11 February, 2019
‘Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.’ That’s the full title of the widely covered ‘Planetary Health Diet’ report launched last month, with funding from The Wellcome Trust.
The lead authors, Walter Willett and Johan Rockström led a team of health, agriculture, policy and environment experts from Lebanon, México, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as Europe – 16 countries in all. “Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems: Food, Planet, Health” is the title of the Commission’s Summary Report.
Walter Willett’s team say that, ‘Without action .. today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease’. In fact, the whole ‘Planetary Health Diet’ revisits many familiar issues that Indigenous people, farmers, community leaders, parents and guardians, people in poverty, and social justice campaigners have been raising the alarm about for decades.
Most people probably want to have the food in our life that helps us have ‘health’ in the sense that Willett and team define, of ‘complete physical, mental and social well-being’. The ‘Planetary Health Diet’ is being launched with the social media hashtag, #FoodCanFixIt. But clearly health, like being vegan, is linked in hugely complex ways to most aspects of how we live our lives – never, just food.
“Without action .. today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease .’ Action – degradation – prevention: who are the people, specifically, who are empowered and enabled to take action? Who are the specific people who are causing the worst degradation? Who are the specific people who are empowered and enabled to prevent diseases?
‘The Planetary Health Diet’ covers a lot of welcome ground: their eating guidelines are certainly compatible with being vegan, since they affirm that foods taken from animals are ‘optional’: ‘[B]y volume of approximately half .. vegetables and fruits; the other half .. should consist of primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein.’
Walter Willett’s EAT-Lancet Commission team affirm ‘Global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth .’ That is, there is actually enough food for everyone, if we have respect for all living beings, fairness and justice at the heart of our systems. In other words, the current damage being done to human and non-human beings, and our living Earth, has always been avoidable. These harms are due to the specific people – people who have the individual and collective social power to make things far better, using knowledge that we already have – failing to act. The most powerful people are failing to collaborate with and empower the rest of us.
The Key Messages that Willett and the EAT-Lancet team set out are welcome: That unhealthy and unsustainably produced food poses a global risk to people and the planet; That current dietary trends are increasingly harmful; That we need healthy diets from sustainable food systems; That we know what general healthy diets look like; That we need substantial dietary shifts; That lives are at stake; That we need substantial food production shifts; That agriculture will need new priorities; That the Sustainable Development Goals are also vital; and that the overall goal is within reach, if we work together. We also welcome much of their more specific advice, such as, “Food service professionals can help reduce meat consumption .. while allowing fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes to take starring roles.”
However, Willett & EAT-Lancet have also missed some Key Messages. For example, they have a focus on health arguments for moderating both how much potato and other starchy vegetables we eat, and also, the pleasure of foods added sugar and refined grain. Yet, they fail to put a matching focus upon the imperative to take all the ethical, just and fair actions needed to end the exploitation of animals in farming. Lives are indeed at stake! Liberating animals from being farmed vital for saving the lives of farmed animals themselves, and also, for the lives of free-living animals who have nowhere safe to live because of our animal farming industry, and for humans to enjoy ‘complete physical, mental and social well-being’.
In their specific advice about agriculture, the EAT-Lancet team actively ignore decades of action research on methods of farming without farmed animals (‘stock-free’). Instead, they choose to repeat damaging myths about animal farming. But it is stock-free agriculture including stock-free agro-forestry that the world needs to expand, to support sustainable farming and the fight against climate change.
So, how to get ‘there’ from the ‘here’ where the world is current languishing? Willett and the EAT-Lancet team boldly declare, “This concerted commitment can be achieved by making healthy foods more available, accessible and affordable in place of unhealthier alternatives, [and by] improving information …”. But the key information we need has already been available to powerful people for decades, as well as being shared and studied by millions of us for all that time. Information is not enough, especially when leaders and powerful people willfully ignore it.
So perhaps, what we need is new leaders, who are focused on serving and empowering and sustaining us all? Most people embrace the shared ethical principle that, ‘it is wrong to cause harm unnecessarily’. What if we collectively demand that the people who hold positions of power and influence –politicians, business owners, owners of media outlets, leading scientists, the wealthiest 10% of the population and so on – act now? We do call upon them to act now – to collectively and ethically to end all these unnecessary harms, in all aspects of food, farming, and every part of our shared global society and living Earth.