Watching what you eat

Sensemaking / Watching what you eat

With interesting developments in national dietary guidelines, change is afoot in how we think about what we eat

By Ivana Gazibara / 05 May 2016

There is more and more debate about the impact that food production and consumption have on the environment and, increasingly, some real action, in the form of dietary recommendations to cut down on meat and dairy consumption.  

This trend has been building for a while. As far back as 2009 the Swedish Food Agency tried to communicate advice on less environmentally damaging food consumption. This was initially published on the SFA web page as information on the environmental impact from food production. In 2015, Sweden finally officially revised its national dietary guidelines. In brief, the message is: eat greener, not too much, and exercise. The reach of this new guidance is significant: in Sweden, free school meals are served to all children up to the age of 18 and SFA advice plays an important role in determining the type of food being served.

Last year, there was a big outcry in the U.S., as the dietary guidelines were being revised. There was a lot of debate and campaigning for the idea of including sustainability considerations in dietary guidelines, which would have hit the meat and dairy industries particularly hard. But there was also a powerful lobbying effort from the incumbents to prevent that change from happening. In the end, sustainability was not included as part of the guidelines. While this was disappointing, it was reassuring and fascinating to see the debate happening in the first place, with many well-known voices agitating for sustainable change.   

This year, the UK and Holland have followed. The UK recently published its Eatwell guide, where for the first time sustainability and health were part of the picture. The Dutch have stolen their thunder with what is possibly the most ambitious initiative yet: the Netherlands Nutrition Centre. The Centre has recommended slashing meat consumption by almost half, citing both health and environmental reasons. Sausages, burgers and other processed meats do not even appear on the ‘wheel’ infographic, because of their link to certain types of cancers.

All these government led initiatives are supported by trends such as the growing awareness of the benefits of increasing plant-based foods in diets, and the rise of the so-called ‘Instagram healthies’ – nutrition and wellness celebrities who often advocate plant-based eating

Globally, the meat and dairy industries have lobbied against these changes in dietary guidelines but it looks like they are slowly losing that battle, and sustainability is no longer a dirty word in nutritional advice.

Sources:

http://www.triplepundit.com/2016/03/cut-meat-say-new-netherlands-dietary-guidelines/

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/10/06/446369955/new-dietary-guidelines-will-not-include-sustainability-goal

http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/elin-roos/environmental-concerns-now-sweden%E2%80%99s-newly-launched-dietary-guidelines

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Healthy-diet-healthy-planet-UK-dietary-advice-backs-plant-proteins-over-meat-dairy

Image credit: Webvilla / Unsplash

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