Consumers not being helped to shift to sustainable diets, yet evidence suggests this is an urgent 21st century challenge for the food system, warns new book

People in both developed and developing countries must transform their diets if environmental damage is to be rectified and global nutrition to improve, according to a new book.

Sustainable Diets 
is the first book to outline the range and scale of the food challenges that face the world.

Its authors, leading food policy expert Professor Tim Lang and nutritionist Dr Pamela Mason, say action must be taken now because poorer nations are following damaging eating patterns set by western countries. They argue western countries are rudderless because governments will not connect human and environmental health.

Sustainable Diets reviews evidence from hundreds of sources to make the case for change. It calls for a new emphasis on changing culture if the food system’s impact on environment and health is to be improved.

Professor Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, and Dr Mason, an independent nutritionist specialising in local food systems, argue that politicians and the food industry must face the true cost of the world’s food systems on the planet and take a lead in setting out to change consumer habits.

Humanity is entering a new era for food consumption. The new goal for consumers is to eat low impact diets. Only sustainable diets will give future generations the chance of decent living. It is a fantasy to say we can produce our way out of the coming crunch.

Professor Tim Lang, launching Sustainable Diets

Tim Lang

The authors define a sustainable diet as one that provides people with the nutrients they need while protecting environmental infrastructure (e.g. climate, water, soil and biodiversity) and preventing socio-economic divisions (e.g. from inequalities, bad governance, poor wages and education).

They say the way forward for nutrition has long been clear from the evidence: an increased intake of plant-based foods – such as vegetables, fruits and whole-grains – with limited meat and processed foods high in sugar.

It is argued that only a tiny minority of the public knows that diet is a major driver of climate change, water use and biodiversity loss.

Consumers are largely ignorant of how many ticking time bombs there are within the food system. Many supermarkets and food processors know but are acting below the radar, when it is time for them to come clean with the public and to engage people in the change.

Dr Pamela Mason

Fruit and veg

According to Sustainable Diets, the situation is not helped by competing messages about diet. In an internet era, there are no fixed cultural norms. The pursuit of cheapness does not sit well with a drive for more local food or for fairness. And consumers worry about the cost of dietary change.

Reviewing where consumers are being helped to make any progressive change, Dr Mason and Professor Lang argue that only Sweden, Germany, Brazil and Qatar have been clear about helping their citizens to alter their diets in significant ways. They explain that some food industry lobbies, particularly for meat and dairy, have actively blocked attempts to introduce sustainable dietary guidelines in Australia and the USA. The result is that a global policy tipping point hasn’t yet been reached.

The authors propose a new “SDG2” strategy for public policy – national and local Sustainable Dietary Guidelines to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This approach proposes a 20-to-30-year “Great Transition” for food systems, setting new goals for all sectors and grouping actions under six new major over-arching themes which tackle: food quality, health, environment, culture, economy and governance.

We propose governments, companies and cities – anyone wanting to lead – now use this six-heading approach to sustainable diets. Good diets for the 21st century will be about delivering good quality food, health, environment, socio-cultural appeal, rounded economics and trusted governance.



Western food consumers have never had it so good and so bad. How they eat is now undermining the future. And developing country consumers are being sucked into a pattern of eating which is bad for health and the environment. Unless there is population-scale change, the necessary reduction in diet’s impact on people and the planet will be too little and too late.




Professor Tim Lang 

Among the key facts highlighted in the book are (references in notes to editors):

  • Diet is now the biggest source of premature death in the world, with diet associated with 18 million deaths annually (1).
  • Over- and mal-consumption in the developed world is now spreading in developing countries (2).
  • Good diets require a high amount of horticultural produce yet land use is distorted by feeding ever more animals for meat and dairy (3).
  • Animal production is responsible for a third of all of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and 36% of the calories produced by the world’s crops are used for animal feed. Only 12% of those feed calories ultimately contribute to the human diet as meat and other animal products (4).
  • Food is a major source of degradation of water, soil and biodiversity,  yet urbanised consumers cannot see this. It’s not on a food label (5).
  • Consumers are unaware of high water use for food. The average US diet consumes 5,400 litres of virtual water a day and even a vegetarian diet consumes 2,600 litres a day (6).
  • 87% of global fish stocks are over-exploited or fully-exploited,  but consumers are still advised to eat fish. (7).
  • Global food waste, despite rising awareness, continues to be out of control. EU food waste is 89 million tonnes a year, worth about £950 per household (8). UK food waste was dropping but has now stalled (9).
  • Food is the biggest employer on the planet (10),  (e.g. employs 3.7 million in the UK), (11). Yet is too often characterised by low wages (12). Contracts and traders drive down costs in the name of ‘cheap’ food for urbanised consumers (13).

Food is more than nutrients. We nutrition scientists cannot sit on the sidelines of the sustainable diet challenge. We need to help produce more ecologically sensitive advice. Researching and writing this book has opened even my eyes to how we nutritionists aren’t helping consumers wise up on sustainability.

Dr Pamela Mason

https://www.city.ac.uk
Consumers sustainablediets foodsystem warns book
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
1 view in december
I recommend
No recommendations yet

Comments

Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Crime
A young man has been knifed repeatedly in a horrific broad daylight attack outside a north London station. Police and paramedics were called to the scene in Kentish Townshortly after 3pm on Monday. They found a 20-year-old man suffering from stab injuries. He was rushed to hospital. Video footage posted on social media showed a police cordon in place on Prince of Wales Road, next to Kentish Town West station. Former Camden councillor Matt Sanders said on T...
Crime
A "jealous" husband who murdered his estranged wife after she rejected the offer of spending "one last" night with him has been jailed for 16 years. Martin Cavanagh, of Chatterton Road, Bromley, was handed the jail term on Monday at the Old Bailey after being found guilty of murder by a jury - writes standard.co.uk The court heard the 35-year-old was “controlling and possessive” towards victim Sophie Cavanagh, 31. Jurors were told he sabotaged her Match.co...
Society
A man who survived 12 years in a children's home blighted by a "paedophile ring" told a public inquiry how he cowered under his bed most nights as he called on the council who ran it to apologise to him directly. Paul Connolly, 56, spent 12 years living at St Leonard's Children's Home in Hornchurch while staff routinely attacked boys in their care. Mr Connolly this week told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse how he arrived just before his eig...
Society
U.S. lawmakers have reached an agreement on the Farm Bill that drops a proposal to tighten food stamps restrictions backed by President Donald Trump, and are looking to vote on it this week, according to congressional staffers. Attendees wait in line to enter the 2018 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jordan Gale The agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the crucial piece of legislation caps a months-long bitter deb...
Society
Historic black and white images give a glimpse inside London's abandoned central London Tube stations which still survive to this day. Londoners are being given the chance to explore inside sealed-off stations including Aldwych and the Jubilee line branch of Charing Cross this winter. Though all tickets for these stations were snapped up within hours of being released, additional tours are expected next year. Remarkable photographs show the escalators lead...
Society
Protesters will march through central London for a pro-Brexit rally backed by English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and Ukip's leader. Several thousand people are expected to descend on the streets of the capital this Sunday to demand that there is no “betrayal” over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The rally will take place just three days before parliament’s crucial vote on Theresa May's deal. Almost 4,000 people have said they are going o...
Society
Westminster council has launched an inquiry into discrimination and “body-shaming” at nightclubs in the heart of the capital. Officials have revealed a “task group” has been created to look into the problem following recent reports of discriminatory door policies, including at exclusive clubs in areas such as Mayfair. Body image and anti-discrimination campaigners today welcomed the move after a series of cases of alleged racism and “fat-shaming” were high...
Society
A teenager has been stabbed to death in south-east London. Police were called at about 21:40 GMT to Topham House in Prior Street, Greenwich, following reports a man was unresponsive after being stabbed. The 18-year-old died at the scene. A 17-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with the death and taken to a police station for questioning. More than 120 murder investigations have been launched across London this year. Image captionPolice have cordo...
Society
Thames Water said the Beast from the East and summer heatwave had an impact on its ability to meet leakage targets as it reported interim pre-tax profits crashing to £67.7 million from £218.5 million a year ago. The water company also revealed the extreme weather sent complaints soaring as it battled supply interruptions, with written customer complaints jumping to 11,083 in the half-year to September 30 from 8,242 a year earlier. Thames Water was ordered...