What’s to chew over? Saving planet, and ourselves, must be on menu

The so-called Planetary Health Diet is significantly healthier than the Business as Usual diet... a win for the planet, says Victoria White.

IF YOU’RE A parent you don’t willingly put a Grade One carcinogen in your child’s body.

That’s the information I’ve been wrestling with since the Lancet Food Commission’s report came out last week, yet again branding cheap, processed pork as posing a danger to health.

I don’t eat it myself but my boys do. They love it in sandwiches and on pizzas and chopped into pasta. My autistic boy is mildly obsessed with it.

It will have to go because a parent doesn’t willingly put a Grade One carcinogen in her child’s body, does she?

Sandwiches will have to be filled with cheese and hummus and tuna and occasional chicken.

It can be done. After a few weeks, we’ll be over the change.

The great thing about the Planetary Health Diet which The Lancet suggests can feed 10bn people without destroying the planet is that it excludes very little. It doesn’t even involve eating insects.

All we have to do is limit our red meat consumption to the equivalent of a small meatball a day, which is basically one meal a week, at most. No big deal, particularly as you can eat a “moderate” amount of poultry and you can eat fish.

Eating oily fish weekly is reputed to decrease a person’s risk of dying from a heart attack by a third. The so-called Planetary Health Diet is significantly healthier than the Business as Usual diet, over all.

That’s a win for the planet. It would prevent 11m human deaths annually — a fifth to a quarter of all deaths — and one of those humans might be someone you love.

It would make it possible for us to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our commitments on climate change under the Paris Agreement, without which, in the words of the Lancet Food Commission, “today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease”.

Let’s speak plainly here: We’ve got to attempt the food transition or play fast and loose with the world’s climate and the world’s health, in direct defiance of international commitments we have willingly made.

Our government should have welcomed the Planetary Health Diet and committed to helping us follow it there and then. Leo Varadkar should have made it plain the Hereford steak he boasted about eating last week was to be an occasional treat.

The fact that he didn’t is depressing but less so than the fact that the opposition could only attack him for daring to link climate change and health with red meat at all.

Fianna Fáil deputies joined the Healy-Raes and Michael Fitzmaurice in calling this suggestion irresponsible, because it might be damaging to the farming community.

The ICMSA went as far as to call his comments “reckless in the extreme”. The IFA repeated the worn-out mantra that because our meat and dairy is produced in a more carbon-efficient way than most, we should produce it instead of others, and said it was a “ludicrous distraction” to suggest we should have “little or no meat and dairy”.

We know more, I suppose, than the Lancet Commission, with their 19 commissioners and 18 co-authors from 16 countries including experts in human health, agriculture, political science and environmental sustainability?

We can afford to ignore advice like this and go our own sweet way, can we?

No we can’t. As is clear from the report we need carrots and sticks to help us make the Great Food Transformation. The Government should be even now beginning to work on a strategy to move Ireland towards a healthy diet.

Hard measures should include pressure to reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to reward crop cultivation and custodianship of fallow land, instead of incentivising ranching.

Red meat should not be exempt from an increasing carbon tax, with the tax being immediately recycled as cash dividends to householders to help them make the food transition.

Soft measures are just as important and should include, as a matter of urgency, creative cooking classes in schools, the roll-out of healthy school dinners and the co-opting of our favourite chefs to help families make the change.

If I wrote cook books, I’d have already started The Live Longer and Save the Planet Cookbook

I don’t write cook books, however. I’m only a basic family cook, but I’ve been adhering to my version of the Lancet diet for a family of six people in the week since the report came out.

It’s not radical and it’s cheap.

I really like the fact that meat and dairy are not totally excluded because I don’t think food should be a religion or constitute your identity. Nor do I disrespect animals enough to think they are human and are going around thinking, as one vegan poster recently said: “I want to be called Mary-Kate, not dinner.”

Our weekly plan consists of four vegetarian dinners, one poultry, one fish and one red meat, if desired. Three of the vegetarian dinners contain beans or pulses: suggestions include red lentil curry with lots of cumin and curry powder and lime; the great Madhur Jaffrey’s sour chickpeas; red kidney beans with chilli, which is just chilli without the carne. Other veggie success stories in our house are pasta with tomatoes and olives and garlic and stuff, poached eggs (poaching in Middle Eastern spicy tomato sauce is the new frontier) and mushroom risotto.

When aubergines were cheap at the discounter’s I baked them with mozzarella and tomato sauce, following the helpful advice of Cork cookery writer, Lily Higgins.

This went down well once or twice, then bombed spectacularly, leaving browning aubergines lolling around in the bottom of the fridge. I also do her paella without the chorizo but I tend to throw in a few prawns and that breaks the veggie vow and puts off my eldest.

LET’S admit here and now that my vegetarian cooking is a work in progress.

It’s not easy to please six people, particularly now they’re teens and come in and out at all times.

However, it’s not impossible. The ingredients I’ve mentioned above are commonly used in Ireland. If you want confirmation of that, check the supermarket aisles.

The idea that Irish people come in for their dinner as one man and eat a lamb chop and six potatoes is nonsense. Most Irish people are already open-minded about food and experimenting widely. All they need is solid information, encouragement and guidance and Ireland could be moving towards the Planetary Health Diet within a short timeframe.

In truth, it’s a good news story which says we can feed 10 billion people without wrecking the planet.

Just as I’ve had to change my habits as a parent, to avoid harming my kids, the Government, which is the parent of the populace, must change its message to avoid harming us.

The so-called Planetary Health Diet is significantly healthier than the Business as Usual diet... a win for the planet

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