When trying to make food choices that are not only good for our health but also good for the health of the planet, it turns out that taking care of one can often take care of the other. At the National Journal Healthy Food | Healthy Planet summit in Washington, D.C., politicians, journalists and environmentalists gathered with representatives from Italy’s Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition to discuss how we can better deal with the world’s changing food needs.
“It turns out good eating for a healthy planet is basically good eating for your own health,” said panelist John Reilly, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change for the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. “Unfortunately, we are eating things that are bad for our health and bad for the planet.”
Barilla presented its “double pyramid” to illustrate how nutritious food is also food that is best for the environment. Fruits and vegetables reside in the widest part because they are the healthy options around which we should base our diet. In the inverse environmental pyramid, such food is in the narrow point, because it has the least environmental impact. It was no secret at the summit that red meat is the enemy, with its production causing the most damage to the environment. Its recommended serving size takes up a small fraction of the pyramid, which represents most of the same dietary recommendations as the Agriculture Department’s MyPlate diagram.
“If the wealthiest consumers would eat less meat, that would reduce the pressure on resources and make it a bit more possible to produce more food for those people that need food, so I think that is the balance we need to really get at,” Reilly said.
Restaurants also can do their part
To help people adhere to the suggested diet and cut down on meat consumption, restaurants can adjust the ratios of their dishes.
“They don’t even need to change the description on the menu; just include a smaller potion of protein and a larger portion of vegetables,” Corby Kummer, senior editor at The Atlantic, said after the summit.
Using more vegetables and less meat also cuts costs. Kummer recommended that restaurants look at the food that customers take home or leave on their plate to gauge portion size. If plates are regularly coming back to the kitchen with food on them, minimizing waste could be as easy as adjusting portion size.
Just as we need all parts of the food plate or pyramid to add up to a healthy diet, the answer to the world’s food woes will be attained only through a combined effort by people in a plethora of fields. Barilla External Relations Director Luca Virginio said that when it comes to finding answers, pieces of the puzzle are already out there — all we need to do is put them together.
“There is nothing — nothing — that needs to be invented. It’s a matter of the collective and finding the best available knowledge that is already existing in this planet,” Virginio said. “So, what we try to do at the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition is bring together the best available knowledge in the world and to give a voice to this fantastic knowledge. Because most of the time the best knowledge is not known because people don’t have the power to speak … When you talk about food and nutrition, I am sorry, but there is no scientist, no economist, no environmentalist that can solve or address problems of food and nutrition on his own. Food and nutrition is so complex that if you want to try to give a reason or a solution, you have to put together economists, scientists, sociologists, environmentalists — all together — because only if you put them all together do you have a good understanding of the course of some solution.”