So scientists are waving “The New Diet” flag in a Lancet article (the original article actually appeared in 2019 but this post got lost somewhere in the thrash of daily life). The basic tenets: it should be primarily plant-based, you can eat more calories and it will save the planet. Ho-hum. Where have we heard this story before? As with so many scientific studies, much of this is just a presentation of the prevailing biases.
New Diet: Grains
Item: we should stop using grain to feed cattle. OK, this makes really good sense. But instead of taking it to the next step – having cattle eat grass – the report says we should feed that grain to people instead. Hello, it’s eating too much grain and its various byproducts that has created, or at least fueled, the obesity epidemic in the US and much of the rest of the developed world.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Item: meat and dairy are the two biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Nope – it’s energy production and consumption (electricity, heat, travel) at 66.5% compared to the 13% for ALL of agriculture. And beef production is less than 20% of that 13%.
New Diet: Fruits and Vegetables
Item: eating more fruit, vegetables and nuts can decease your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Not if you eat more grains to supply the additional calories you previously got from meat and fat. Supposedly we could feed 800 million people on the grains we feed to livestock. In other words, we would continue to use conventional farming methods, strip away the topsoil, pollute the rivers and oceans, cause erosion and other damage, but it would be OK because we’re feeding people.
New Diet: Low-Fat, High Carb
Item: the diet would be mostly unsaturated fats, plant proteins and carbohydrates from fruits, whole grains and starchy vegetables.” Again, this is the low-fat, high carbohydrate hypothesis that has proven so spectacularly unsuccessful in helping people lose weight. No to mention that your body needs saturated fat, because of the omega-3/omega-6 ratios. Saturated fat is particularly important for optimum brain development in children. I’ve been wondering for quite a while whether the increases in children’s mental health issues over the last 30 years or so is connected to the low-fat/unsaturated fat diet we’ve been feeding them.
Item: you can eat more calories. The caveat – you have to have moderate to high levels of physical activity. For a nation of couch potatoes, more calories is going to be a disaster.
Food From the Oceans
Item: this new diet plan requires that humans “manage” the oceans – if we can’t even manage the land on which we evolved, how the heck will we handle the sea? Land agriculture is already causing huge problems due to pollution and fertilizer runoff.
One thing I can give a thumbs up to in this new diet plan is to eat less sugar (I say preferably none or next to none). Another part that gets a thumbs up is stop putting more land under the plow, especially in places like the rain forest. To which I would add we need to take a LOT of land back to forests and grasslands. Finally, the authors recommend we decrease food waste, which is a very good point, as it’s a big problem.
There are several points in this article where one of the scientists quoted says something along the lines of “everybody knows.” I’m reminded of Robert Heinlein’s comment: “If ‘everybody knows’ such-and-such, then it ain’t so, by at least ten thousand to one.”