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Food: A dietary dilemma


Pressure is mounting on the global food system. There are more mouths to feed and, according to the UN, the world's population is expected will reach to 9.3 billion by 2050. Feeding those people will lead to huge increases in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, but that’s not all.

Food and food prices are already starting to become flashpoints for communities around the world. This is one cause of increases in economic migration as impoverished people look for better standards of living. In our own community food is a key need for those who come to the Foodbank. Meanwhile, obesity – and associated non-communicable diseases such as diabetes – continue to rise.

Food, farming, environment and health are inextricably linked so how do we ensure that a growing population can eat in a healthy, affordable way without adding to the pressures on our land, water and energy resources?

Step forward the sustainable diet which is increasingly seen as a way of moving towards a healthy future for both people and planet.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, describes how awareness of the connections between environmental and public health problems has grown in recent years.

"For 30 to 40 years, evidence has been mounting which shows food has a huge impact on the environment and on public health. Those two bodies of evidence have built up in tandem, and in the past 20 years, a simple idea has taken hold: maybe consumers should eat a diet that considers environmental limits and public health. That concept is sustainable diet, and it's basically eating for health and for the environment."

What does such a diet look like? In the UK, the NHS promotes an "eatwell" plate, designed to guide the public on healthy eating. WWF has taken this further with its "Livewell" guide, which takes those healthy eating goals but marries them with sustainability objectives. Its five rules for a sustainable diet are: eat less processed food; waste less food; eat less meat; buy food that meets a credible certified standard; and eat more plants.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF UK says; "Meat is an issue because of the amount of resources it consumes. We have to grow a lot of grain to feed to the animals we eat. We're not arguing that people shouldn't eat meat, but we're saying the amount of meat we all choose to eat needs to reflect what's good for us and what's good for the environment, and for many of us that means reducing meat consumption."

Lang concurs saying: “For people in developed countries it’s about challenging the notion that progress means eating ‘feast food’ every day.”

WWF's research has shown – perhaps unsurprisingly, since it includes less meat and more vegetables – that a sustainable diet wouldn't cost any more than a typical diet today and it’s likely to make us healthier.

Eating a sustainable diet shows obedience to God’s injunction to be good stewards of the resources we control. And, we are helping ensure that everyone who prays ‘give us today our daily bread’ has the chance to have their prayer answered

Parts of this piece first appeared in the Guardian Newspaper in June 2014