Shocked. Disappointed. Disgusted.
I’m still struggling to find the right words to describe my reaction to the release of new Dietary Guidelines for America. Not only do these new dietary guidelines fail to move us forward toward healthier and more sustainable food choices, I believe they actually take us a step backward.
Kowtowing to extraordinary pressure from the meat and dairy industries, the U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA) — and our own government — blatantly ignored the recommendations of its own panel of scientists and health professionals by removing language from the guidelines recommending what we all know is true: Americans should eat more plants and less meat.
The final guidelines are nothing short of a steak knife to the heart of science-based food policy.
I could list this document’s many failures. How it urges Americans to focus more on healthy foods and less on nutrients — then proceeds to narrowly recommend reducing the consumption of things like saturated fats without actually naming any foods to avoid. How it was carefully scrubbed of most suggestions that meat consumption be reduced — even though Americans already eat around 40 percent more meat than is recommended under current guidelines, according to USDA data. How it even suggests that processed meats may be OK, mere weeks after the World Health Organization named these food products a probable carcinogen.
While many groups have already raised their voices to decry a policy that callously recommends Americans continue following a diet that is harmful to their health, I’d like to focus on this last point.
The role of meat production in polluting our planet has been well-documented, yet it still seems to be up for debate and not on most climate change agendas. It’s been more than a decade since the United Nations declared that shifting the world to a plant-based diet would be critical if we are to avoid widespread hunger and prevent devastating climate change in the very near future.
Producing meat clear-cuts our planet’s forests; releases potent greenhouse gasses; causes species extinction; and pollutes our precious water resources. Congress ordered the USDA to base its guidelines only on nutrition and to disregard any considerations outside of human health.
But isn’t fresh water, clean air, and our future food supply critical to the health of our children and our children’s children?
But rather than focus on what’s wrong with these guidelines, I’d like to turn this into a call to action. We don’t need Congress or the USDA to tell us what we already know: that “more plants, less meat” is the only way to ensure a healthy future not only for our own bodies but for our planet. It’s that simple.
You can join me in leading our country by example. If you’re still learning about healthy food choices, take responsibility for educating yourself — we already know the government isn’t going to do that for us. If you still eat meat and dairy products, start cutting back (and reward yourself by trying something new that’s delicious and plant-based!). If you already eat a plant-based diet, serve these foods proudly to your friends and family.
Let’s change the story of our government blatantly ignoring the advice of its own appointed science advisors and working against the common good. Let’s take our power back from a government who no longer has our best interests at heart. Let’s take back our health, our community’s health, and our planet’s health.
It’s time to take back our plates.