We want to eat food that’s good for the environment, theoretically. But we’re too busy to read every Michael Pollan hardcover or find out exactly which farm our chicken came from. Today there’s good news for us lazy environmental eaters: Just look at the food pyramid, stupid!
A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that if people from high-income nations like the U.S. just followed our governments’ dietary guidelines, we’d not only eat more veggies but would reduce greenhouse gases, the negative impacts of fertilizers, and land use. That’s because we’d consume fewer calories as well as change the composition of our diets toward fewer meat products and more plant-based foods. Lean and green—double win.
The study, conducted by Paul Behrens of the Netherlands’ University of Leiden, examined nationally recommended diets across 37 countries, representing 64 percent of the global population. He found that while most nationally recommended diets (a la the U.S.’s MyPlate program) make plenty of nutritional sense, “little or no attention is placed on the environmental impacts within NRDs.” So, it’s cool to see that these guidelines also accidentally happen to be good for the earth.
But such is not the case in lower-income nations, where most people don’t eat a lot of meat. Their diets are already quite eco-friendly, so adopting their governments’ recommended nutritional plans would actually lead to an increase in animal-derived foods and their associated greenhouse gas emissions. The answer, as always, lies in a balance. We at The Takeout believe all food is food, that moderation is key, that high or low food should be celebrated with equal reverence. Sure, you can eat a Giant Junior Bacon Cheeseburger sometimes, but maybe choose an apple for the next couple snacks and revel in your green self righteousness.