Recommended utopian diet admirable but impractical

There is nothing wrong with setting the bar high when it comes to planning a diet that will be healthy and heed the environmental requirements of the planet. Indeed, it’s admirable. But if, as The Lancet journal’s report on a healthy and sustainable diet concludes, the world must accept the report’s recommended diet changes to help stop global warming, then we’re all going to die.

That’s obviously facetious, but the report may as well be called the utopian diet, rather than planetary health diet, as it’s been named.

The Lancet, a respected medical journal, has published a report on agriculture, healthy eating and global warming that has an impressive pedigree, involving 37 experts from 16 countries,

It addresses global health — most notably tackling malnutrition and obesity — and reducing agriculture’s contribution to global warming.

It offers five strategies that will require massive government intervention to override the marketplace and changes in diet that would normally take a generation — or generations — to adopt.

Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes would have to double, and consumption of red meat and sugar would have to be cut by more than half. The reference diet, for example, allows a maximum of 14 grams per day of beef (a quarter pound hamburger contains 113 grams).

The recommended shift in diet is not new to anyone who has been paying attention to nutritional trends.

Millennials, who tend to prioritize healthy food and environmental issues, might well embrace these concepts and take the report’s conclusions along its ideal path.

However, the idea that all nations and cultures must embrace the planetary diet is fanciful — not just because trends in meat consumption are increasing in developing countries, but also because it requires government policies (subsidies) to encourage growing grains and moving away from livestock, intensive rethinking of land use and wholesale acceptance of the world’s many cultures to change what they eat.

It’s nothing if not optimistic, noting that the report’s framework is “universal for all food cultures and production systems in the world, with a high potential of local adaptation and scalability.”

Yet the level of government intervention and micromanagement this would require would be beyond what many developing countries would accommodate and just as beyond what developed countries would accept in lieu of the marketplace.

The justification for the move away from dairy products — though not to the same degree as meat — is that the need for calcium is not what was once thought, and other sources can provide enough. That reduces the environmental impact of dairy products and fits nicely into the prescribed diet.

We are not taking issue with the science of the report, or the direction that it advocates, only the practical application of its principles.

Still, one of the recommended strategies is to reduce the amount of food waste. Indeed, it’s now thought that up to 50 percent of food is wasted, either unharvested, rejected by supermarkets or left on the plate. It’s a good place to start.

At the same time, direct research should focus on helping producers adapt. For instance, there is already research to try to adapt corn to be grown in more prairie regions. Similar research could follow for other plants, making producer acceptance more feasible.

However, some parts of the Prairies where livestock graze cannot be adapted for crops. Producers would be pushed out of business and their land turned back to native prairie. What country will embrace that and pay for it? Certainly not Canada.

If the entire planet were to embrace this report, the world would be a very different place, economically, culturally and politically.


Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.


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