Diet for the planet: making food a political issue

January 17, 2019 0 By NatalieM
Diet for the planet: making food a political issue

Yes, you read that correctly. A group of “experts” have come up with a proposed eating plan for the entire planet.

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health is the brainchild of Dr Gunhild A. Stordalen. EAT describes itself as:

a global, non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships.

Should potatoes be off the menu? Source

The plan itself certainly looks healthy to me, although I have some reservations. Why, for example, should we eat fewer starchy foods and potatoes? That might seem good advice for people who have a weight problem or who are not doing a lot of exercise, but even that depends on the type of diet advice you are following.

Or is it because potatoes are damaging to the environment?

• Scientific advice around healthy eating is notoriously changeable. Can there really be a definitive healthy eating plan? Or will we be told next year, “Actually, you know how we told you to eat more nuts? Maybe pull that back a little bit.”

• EAT’s brief for cities advocates taxation for unhealthy foods, promotion of “planetary health diets” in schools and in education programmes, and the adoption of food labels indicating sustainability impacts and environmental costs. Could this lead to “shaming” of people who don’t eat in a certain way, blaming them for destroying the environment?

• It seems a little arrogant for people in one part of the world (the EAT forum is based in Norway) to try and dictate the dietary choices of another part of the world. I know this is advisory, but there is some heavyweight campaign funding behind it.

• What on earth is “impatient disruption”?

Sustainable development

“Feeding a growing population” is a frequent theme in the Commission report, as is sustainable development. According to the BBC report:

The world population reached seven billion in 2011 and it’s now around 7.7 billion. That figure is expected to reach 10 billion around 2050 and will keep on climbing.

The picture is actually more complicated than the sensationalist headlines and soundbites would suggest. Statistician Jorgen Randers expects the world population to peak at around 8 billion in the early 2040s.


Global population projections are not quite as clear-cut as many sensationalist headlines would suggest. The shaded areas in this chart, from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, correspond to the range of population projections. Image: Cmglee

And the Lancet medical journal, which partnered with EAT to produce the Commission on Food, Planet, Health, recently published research suggesting that far from increasing indefinitely, the world’s rate of population increase is undergoing a dramatic change, due to a significant decline in global fertility rates.

Trends from 1950 to 2017 show that in almost half of the countries in the world, the number of children being born is insufficient to support population increase.

This is a pattern that has been noted for several decades, and it’s causing major concern to many governments.

Fertility decline

Total fertility rates, or TFRs, signify the average number of children a woman is likely to produce in her reproductive life. For a population to replace itself, the TFR needs to be around 2.1. The TFRs of most of the world’s developed countries is in sharp decline, while the TFRs of many of the world’s poorest countries are significantly higher.

These statistics are often used by proponents of the “white genocide” theory to suggest that white people are deliberately being marginalised. However it’s not just countries with white-dominant populations that have low TFRs – many Asian countries are also affected, according to this report from the CIA World Factbook.

China has a TFR of just 1.6. Japan’s TFR is 1.41. Several Caribbean nation states with predominately black populations, like Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, have TFRs less than 2, as do some of the countries in Central America, including Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Niger has the world’s highest TFR, of 6.49. In fact, the 40 countries with the highest TFRs are all in sub-Sarahan Africa, apart from four – Afghanistan, East Timor, Gaza Strip and Iraq.

The country with the lowest TFR is Singapore, followed closely by Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It’s easy to see this issue as one of poverty, as in general it’s the poorest countries, and those most devastated by warfare that have the highest TFRs, while the countries with the lowest TFRs are all wealthy and developed.

But you could look at it another way. The countries where people have frenetic working lives that make it difficult for either partner to spend time looking after their children; where people are more likely to delay having children in order to establish themselves in their careers, are evidently the ones with the highest TFRs.

Social engineering

A United Nations document from the year 2000 has provoked a frenzy of indignation from “white genocide” theorists. The New Report on Replacement Migration said that immigration would be needed to reverse population decline and to maintain working populations in eight low-fertility countries and two regions, mainly in Europe.

The report also looked at demographics in these countries and said:

The levels of migration needed to prevent population ageing are many times larger than the migration streams needed to prevent population decline.

It also recommended raising the retirement age in affected countries:

In the absence of immigration, the potential support ratios could be maintained at current levels by increasing the upper limit of the working-age population to roughly 75 years of age.

This looks like social engineering to me, and I think it fuels extremism. These recommendations appear to have become policy in many countries – one example is the annual review of demographic trends in my home country, Scotland, where inward migration is clearly seen as a solution to population decline (see p83, under the heading “Scotland’s changing reliance on migration for population growth”).

And the UK government has been introducing policies to raise the retirement age ever higher.

I have nothing against migration, and people wanting to move to different countries, but I don’t like social engineering.

Source Instead of social engineering, how about giving people more time to nurture their families?

I think a better plan would be to reduce working hours, giving people a better work/life balance, together with the income security to afford it. Many people are working for companies that produce more and more stuff to be used, thrown away and replaced. If we valued a slower-paced lifestyle, producing things that were built to last, people might have time to spend time with their children and to nurture the younger generation.

If working from home was encouraged, people could spend more time with their families, neighbours and communities, instead of spending time sitting in cars, buses and trains going to and from work.

I’m all for encouraging people to eat more healthy food – and for more sensible farming practices, which the EAT-Lancet commission also recommends. But instead of trying to change the lifestyles and even dietary habits of people in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, maybe we should take some learnings from them, and start placing more value on community, family life and our own precious time.