How can we eat in a healthier and more sustainable way?

 How can we eat in a healthier and more sustainable way?

by Sofia Farina

During the day dedicated to health and climate change, it is impossible not to talk about food and food production. In this article we tell you about an event that focused on this very topic, held in the morning of the fourth day of COP28.

Our food system is broken.Raphael Podselver, director of UN affairs at ProVeg International, opens the panel on food and nutrition security in connection with the transition to healthy and sustainable food systems. Podselver rattles off a series of hard-hitting data from the FAO‘s ‘State of World Food Security and Nutrition 2023’ report. More than 800,000 million people in the world are facing hunger and malnutrition, he said, and at the same time we have 40 per cent of the world’s adults overweight. This, moreover, means that our food system has a hidden burden on the global health system with a cost of 10 per cent of global GDP.

“We have an inefficient, and often highly subsidised, food system that fails to feed the world and makes people sick. Moreover, food systems account for ⅓ of global greenhouse gas emissions and animal agriculture alone accounts for 20% of emissions.” The crux, emphasised by ProVeg’s director, is this: the way we currently feed ourselves makes humanity and also the planet sick.

How we produce food and how we distribute it

The tough introduction to the event ends with a question, for the experts invited to attend, and for those listening: how can we move to more sustainable food systems? Johanna Trewern, director of the research group at ProVeg and researcher in the field of sustainable diets and behavior change, answered in a very clear and well-organized speech.

“One of the greatest challenges of our time is how to feed a growing world population within the confines of the planet, and how to do it sustainably. And this should be an important part of the climate negotiations going on here. Malnutrition is on the rise, especially after the Covid pandemic, and we know that producing more food in the same way will not be enough to solve the problem of food and nutrition security.”

Trewern also brings hard data and talking numbers to prove that “the problem is how we produce food and how we distribute it. 30% of all the food we produce is wasted or lost along the supply chain, and if industrial livestock farming is taken into account, 19 billion animals are wasted (die or are never eaten) every year. Furthermore, 40% of cultivated land globally is used to grow food for livestock and another 30% is used for biofuels. “We really need to prioritise the use of land to grow nutritious food for direct human consumption, and we should do this with sustainable farming methods,” comments the researcher.

Ideological and ethical change

We need to change the way we think about and value food politically, we need to move away from the idea of how many calories we can get from the land we have and think about how to produce healthy food for the population and how to do it without harming the environment,” this, according to Trewern, is what we need to do – as soon as possible – to address this problem.

The researcher reminds us what sustainable diets look like, for the planet and for the human body: they are plant-based or plant-rich diets, with minimal amounts of foods high in unhealthy fats and sugars. He also emphasises, however, that all this ‘we know, it’s nothing new’ and how it’s time to focus on action, on getting people to really change the way they eat.

With a strong scientific attitude, important numbers are cited here too: an average EU citizen consumes twice as much meat as the world average and, if you look at the supply chain, this implies that ⅔ of all the grain we produce in the EU goes to feed animals and not people. Which, comments the researcher, ‘is extremely inefficient’.

The diet that is good for health and climate change

In the event, mention is made of the well-known Lancet diet, published a few years ago by the scientific journal of the same name, which has the dual aim of protecting our health and that of the planet. ‘Adopting the Lancet diet would reduce emissions from the food system by 48%, making the degree and a half of warming truly within reach and preventing a huge number of deaths worldwide, the most recent estimate being 24%,’ it was explained.

Particular emphasis is placed on the role of pulses: increased production and consumption has benefits not only for people and the climate, but also for nature, as they contribute to increasing soil health. “In the EU currently 2% of our agricultural land is used to produce pulses,” it is pointed out, with the hope of a change of direction as soon as possible.

Call for more diversity
Finally, the need for greater diversity throughout the supply chain is emphasised. This is indeed a vital strategy for climate adaptation, as well as for food and nutrition security. “Our current food system lacks diversity, most of what we eat is based on 5 animal species and 12 plant species, which is absurd when you consider that there are more than 6000 species available globally that could be used for food,” said Trewern. The current diet, in essence, makes us more vulnerable in terms of climate change impacts.

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