You may have asked yourself this question before, especially with the food sustainability push in recent years. But if you’re like any other normal human, sometimes you just don’t want to hear it. You’re “hangry”, craving protein and just want to order the burger without the details of how many gallons of consumable water were used to feed the farm-raised cow.

This sometimes annoying, yet very real internal battle raises the ethical question: Do you put your health or the planet first? The Dietary Guidelines Committee is voting for the latter. Every five years the U.S. government updates their national nutrition advice, or the DGAs (Dietary Guidelines Advisory), to help American’s eat healthier—and frankly, lose some weight—and the committee’s job is to update the guidelines. What they’ve asked this time around is that Americans adopt a plant-rich diet in consideration of the environment.

“There are a lot of complex issues around livestock production that suggest, quite strongly, that we need to reduce meat consumption for sustainability reasons,” Kathleen A. Merrigan, Executive Director of the Sustainability Institute at George Washington University, told NPR.

The advisory’s argument to incorporate a more “green” diet was largely based on the fact that meat production uses a lot of water, land and releases methane gasses. Also, eating less meat and more plant-based foods is healthier for us as a country.

But look flip side of the coin, for instance, a single almond takes about 2.8 liters of water to produce; so should we reduce our nut intake? Opposers say that if we are going to look at environmental impact, we should consider all foods. Moreover, not all foods are equal in terms of nourishment and individual dietary preferences.

“In our view this is clearly out of scope,” Janet Reily from the North American Meat Institute told NPR. “If you compare 10 pounds of apples and 10 pounds of meat, the meat surely has the larger carbon footprint but it also delivers more nutrition, it will nourish more people longer.”

As you can imagine, the debate is extensive, controversial and is likely in need of a more thorough evaluation. But today, in a joint statement, the government turned down the committee’s proposal—agreeing that yes, the environment is something we should always consider, but it shouldn’t fall in the scope of dietary guidelines. This news is disappointing for the DGC but they aren’t giving up hope.

"The compelling science around the need to adjust dietary patterns to ensure long-term food security cannot be ignored," Merrigan, told NPR. "If not [in] the 2015 DGA, then maybe the 2020 DGAs."

If it meant potentially sacrificing your daily nutrition, would you choose the environment? Do you think it’s possible to marry a healthy diet with a healthy environment?

 

Sources:

  1. NPR: New Dietary Guidelines Will Not Include Sustainability Goal
  2. USDA: 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Giving You the Tools You Need to Make Healthy Choices