This week’s Listen Up! is written by Kate Aben, guest contributor
On January 22, 2019 the Government of Canada released an overhauled version of the iconic Canada’s Food Guide . The new guide does away with confusing prescriptive serving sizes and the cheesy (pun definitely intended) rainbow background. The new, simplified version, encourages plant-based eating and reduces the emphasis on meat and dairy (actually the dairy category was eliminated altogether) and focuses on portion sizes. The guide highlights water as “your drink of choice” and discourages consumption of sugary drinks (juice, pop) and alcohol. Also, notable, the new guide emphasizes food behaviours to promote healthy eating habits; encouraging Canadian’s to “be mindful of [their]eating habits” and promoting home cooking, enjoying food and eating with others.
The new guide is not without push back. The shift away from meat and dairy has resulted in opposition from the respective industries. Earlier in January, Tom Lynch-Stauton, a representative for the Alberta Beef Producers, told The Globe in Mail that it would be dangerous to equate meat with plant-based proteins. Similarly, Isabelle Neiderer, director of nutrition and research at Dairy Farmers of Canada said that eliminating the dairy category “sends the wrong message that foods are interchangeable.” The criticism predominantly comes from corporations that have financial bias, and would benefit from having their products highlighted in the national strategy. Dieticians of Canada and the evidence laid out on the Government of Canada supports the Food Guide’s changes.
As a basic education tool, the Food Guide is designed to help Canadian’s follow a healthy diet. Additionally, it largely influences public institutions (i.e., schools and hospitals) in shaping their meal plans. There lies its importance; the Food Guide influences the individual health and well-being of Canadians, affects health care costs and impacts climate change. It is time to eat more plants!
A plant-based diet has been shown to lower your risk for obesity, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. On a system level, diet-related diseases in Canada are estimated to cost over $26 billion dollars per year . Although I acknowledge these plant-based benefits, I am going to focus this opinion piece on the impact on climate change.
A study published in the journal Nature (Springmann et al., 2018) in October 2018, found that as a result of population growth and continued consumption of Western diets, high in red meats and processed foods, the environmental pressures on the food system could increase by up to 90 per cent by 2050, therefore “exceeding key planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital ecosystems could become unstable.”
Basically – if the world continues its current meat consumption, factoring in population growth, we will cause dangerous levels of climate change which = extreme weather events, deceased biodiversity, polluted water supplies, and ocean dead zones.
Sharon Palmer (registered dietician and sustainable food expert) noted, “research consistently shows that drastically reducing animal food intake and mostly eating plant foods is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet over your lifetime, in terms of energy required, land used, greenhouse gas emissions, water used and pollutants produced.” So, what about meat is so damaging to the environment? Manure-related emissions, significant freshwater use, pressures on cropland are the prior impacts of the meat industry. For example, “beef is more than 100 times as emissions-intensive as legumes,” Springmann (author of the Nature article) said. He continued, “This is because a cow needs, on average, 10 kilograms of feed, often from grains, to grow one kilogram of body weight, and that feed will have required water, land and fertilizer inputs to grow.”
It is an interesting paradox – we grow plants to feed animals, which require all of the resources (land, water, fossil fuels, pesticides, fertilizer to grow). Then we go ahead and feed the plants to animals and “care” (that’s an opinion piece for another day) for them over their lifetime while they produce methane and manure. Have I convinced you to eat plant-based yet?
There is another option… a diet to save the world, you could say. “Flexitarian,” a healthy compromise for you and the planet. This lifestyle is predominantly plant-based, it includes eating plenty of fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins (aligning with the Canada Food Guide), as well as modest amounts of poultry, fish, milk and eggs, and minimal red meat. It is the least restrictive approach that is both healthy for Canadians and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough for us to stay within environmental limits. I encourage you to start thinking about red meat as you do lobster, a ‘special occasion, once in a while’ kinda food. As a beginning ‘flexitarians’ try to eat six to eight meatless meals per week. At a more advanced stage, try to eat at least 15 meatless meals per week. It is worth noting that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle would result in even lower greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based protein options include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, quinoa etc. With a bit of effort, and the power of the internet, you can find yummy, healthy plant-based recipes. I hope that this opinion piece has provided you with some insight and motivation to make lifestyle changes that will benefit your health as well as the environment.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Minimalist Baker: – I recommend the spicy tofu stir-fry and squash quinoa chili
- The Buddhist Chef: – Check out the Thai red curry ramen or the vegan mushroom pie!
- Hot for Food: – My favs are the lentil/veggie curry and the baked falafel sliders
- Happy Cow: – This website is an inventory for vegetarian and vegan restaurants worldwide!
Kate Aben is a pro-choice, mental health advocate; a liberal-voting feminist who believes the earth is round. She works as an Occupational Therapist in Forensic Mental Health and reads cookbooks for fun. Kate grew up in and loves Huntsville; the lakes and the snow!
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.