Healthy Diets for a Healthy Planet

The Guardian recently ran an article titled “Men’s meat-heavy diets cause 40% more climate emissions than women’s, study finds” so of course I had to go down the research rabbit hole. Two main articles were cited.

One was a relatively small study examining “Variations in greenhouse gas emissions of individual diets: Associations between the greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient intake in the United Kingdom” and it found that that in the 212 participants who tracked their food intake for 1-3 days, the diets of men were associated with 41% higher greenhouse gas emissions, as they reported eating eat more meat and drinking more alcohol. It also noted that non-vegetarian diets produced 59% more greenhouse gases than vegetarian diets, and that vegetarians also had lower emissions associated with eating confectionary and baked goods, reflecting healthier diets more generally. There were no differences in emissions based on age or on body size. The study didn’t consider the impacts of various diets on water consumption, another important factor in environmental health.

The second study, “The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns: a modelling study” was even more interesting to me. It used regionally comparable food prices for 150 countries and paired them with a variety of diets from a standard meat-eating diet through to vegan, included estimates of food waste, economic growth, health costs, and climate change costs, to calculate which diet might be best for the planet.

The conclusions were complicated. Generally, vegetarian diets are significantly less expensive in upper-middle-income and wealthy countries, but more expensive in lower-income countries, without other changes. This is partly explained by the need for those in poorer countries to increase their nutritional intake to meet minimum health standards.

However, by reducing food waste, getting more people out of poverty, and counting the diet-related costs of climate change and health care, vegetarians and diets became much more affordable even in the poorest countries. So much for the argument we sometimes hear about how a healthy plant-based diet is too expensive.

Turning back to the original gender-based headline, neither study considered the gendered role of food preparation, usually unpaid labour in most parts of the world. Eating out, packaged, and pre-prepared foods have been major contributors to food waste and environmental degradation, as well as to the ability of women to work outside the home.

My takeaway? I still eat meat, but I try to live by Michael Pollan’s famous adage for healthy eating: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Since Pollan defines “food” as things that are minimally processed, that means I spend a lot of time growing foods and cooking them. I am fanatic about not wasting anything. Your mileage may vary.

Image: a plate half filled with colourful fruits and vegetables, with small portions of whole grain foods and various animal and vegetables proteins, plus a glass of water. Source: Canada’s Food Guide

Sam’s plastic free July and the fitness challenge part of it 

Travelling this summer in Europe (Spain actually) I was shocked at the preponderance of bottled water. Plastic bottled water everywhere. I carried a water flask. But that didn’t help at restaurants and it was hard to find places to refill it. By the time I was home I’d had enough.

Image result for memo bottle
A memo water bottle, flat shaped, fits nicely in my briefcase

When I got home friends were sharing the campaign for a plastic free July. See here. “Joining the challenge is quite simple…choose to refuse single-use plastic during July.  Plastic Free July aims to raise awareness of the problems with single-use disposable plastic and challenges people to do something about it. ​You’ll be joining a million+ people world-wide from 130 countries in making a difference.”

Why? There’s been lots in the news lately about the environmental impact of plastic and I’ve been feeling pretty doom-y and gloomy about the future of the planet and our continued existence on it. This was something I could do. See A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’

“A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change. New figures obtained by the Guardian reveal the surge in usage of plastic bottles, more than half a trillion of which will be sold annually by the end of the decade.”

It’s not that I think individuals taking action is the answer but paying attention to my own actions connects me to the larger cause and keeps the environment in my focus. I also feel less helpless.

I decided to make single use plastic take a way items my focus. No more water bottles, plastic cutlery, and plastic cold beverage containers. I’d already bought washable cutlery and cold beverage washable tumblers and considered myself ready to go. My summer purse (or “hippie side bag” as the kids call it) is starting to feel like a giant picnic hamper around my neck but I am managing.

Straws are an issue and people keep handing them to me. Some people have made the elimination of plastic straws their focus. Sarah bought us each a reusable one and we’ve been carrying them with us. At least they don’t add much weight to the hippie side bag.

So far I’ve faced two challenges, one fitness related and one not.

The non-fitness challenge is ice cream. It’s vaguely calorie and food related. I don’t like ice cream cones and years ago I decided they were empty needless calories. Also, when ice cream is in cones I tend to eat it too quickly because I hate drips. But now I have the plastic cups and spoons to deal with so, for July at least, it’s back to cones. (I’ve been feeding them to my dog.)

The fitness challenge is food and drink during bike rides. I’m not about to start filling my jersey pockets with reusable cutlery and cups. Twice now I’ve landed at a bakery after a long ride and had to use plastic cups. I wasn’t about to not drink iced coffee. After I thought about it having it put in my cycling water bottle but that’s not a good solution either. I wish places used non-plastic cups. It’s not like we were taking the coffee to go.

Here’s our bikes at rest at the Black Walnut Bakery, a favourite place to stop after rides. Here’s hoping they start offering cold beverages in glasses.


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Bikes at rest! #yarnbombing

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