Meat and potatoes, it’s the quintessential American meal. Well, based on the new scientific report from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Americans might want to start thinking more along the lines of plant-based meat and potatoes. And not just for the sake of their own health, but for the planet’s health as well.
That’s right, after a long and heated debate over whether or not the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should take sustainability into consideration when creating the 2015 guidelines, the committee has spoken and they have!
“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet,” states the Committee in their newly released scientific report.
Naturally, this recommendation has the meat industry shaking in their boots, but the fact is, if Americans do not reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products, we will never be able to sustain food production as the population grows. Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of environmental degradation in the U.S. and arguably the entire planet. In the United States alone, at least 170,750 miles of rivers and 2,417,801 lake acres have been deemed “compromised” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of agricultural run-off. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent.
And promoting a primarily plant-based diet is not just better for the planet, but it is beneficial for people as well. A diet high in whole, plant-based foods and low in saturated fat and cholesterol (mainly found in animal products), is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.
“Previous advisory panels have noted the value of vegetarian diets, but these recommendations have been expanded to specifically demonstrate how a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of many types of chronic disease,” says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
So, what is not to like about the many lauded benefits of the committee’s recommendations? Well, for one, it deals quite the blow to the animal agricultural industry. When news first surfaced that the Committee might consider suggesting lowering their recommendations for meat and dairy consumption, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association was quick to undercut the decision, releasing a statement from Dr. Richard Thorpe that called the committee “biased” and the draft meat recommendations “absurd.” While the meat industry contends that lean meats can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet – there are plenty of plant-based protein sources that can do a better job (without the cholesterol).
Many environmental and animal rights groups have applauded the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for their report (we certainly did!), but this does not guarantee that these recommendations will be reflected in the official 2015 guidelines. The animal agriculture industry has a significant influence in Washington and there is no doubt that they will throw as many lobbying dollars they possibly can at this “problem” to make it go away.
One thing is certain, however, this report sends a message that many people need to hear: our current food habits are neither sustainable nor healthy. Whether or not the guidelines reflect the findings of this report, we can all actively work to reduce (or completely eliminate) our personal consumption of animal products. When there are so many delicious plant-based options out there, making a better choice for you and the planet has never been easier!
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