The incredible, inedible diet
The Lancet’s ‘healthy and sustainable’ diet is ludicrous.
This week, the Lancet, one of the world’s leading general medical journals, published the results of the EAT-Lancet Commission. Its aim was to formulate dietary guidelines that would both provide for good health and sustainably feed the 10 billion people expected to be living on Earth in 2050. The problem is that the resulting diet is ridiculous and would never be followed (voluntarily) by the vast majority of people.
The EAT-Lancet Commission boasts an all-star cast of nutrition and environmental researchers, people who have had a bee in their bonnets about how we eat for years. These Avengers Assembled of food bollocks have merrily sat down together, thrown in all their pet prejudices and projects, and come up with a guide for healthy, sustainable living. And like any vision for how we should all live designed by a committee of the great and good, it’s absolute nonsense – and dangerous nonsense, at that.
Basically, we are told that we should in the future live on grains, fruit and vegetables. Oh, and we can have a bit of milk and cheese, but that’s about it. Our daily ration of pork and beef is an astonishingly minute seven grams of each. We get a whole ounce (28 grams) of chicken per day and a wondrous 1.5 eggs per week each. My Irish forebears will be spinning in their graves at the news that the potato ration is just 50 grams per day. Whoop.
In short, you could probably manage a bacon sandwich or a hamburger every week. A chicken breast twice a week. The rest of the time, your protein would be coming from lentils and chickpeas. Your daily sugar ration would be more than wiped out by a can of Coke. As the old joke goes, you might not live longer, but it’ll certainly seem longer. And with all the fibre in our diets, we certainly wouldn’t need fracking to produce natural gas.
Complex debates about what is the best diet for health – or indeed, whether a range of diets are likely to be more or less equally good for health – are swept aside in this near-vegan nirvana. For example, plenty of people swear by a low-carbohydrate diet that is rich in animal foods like meat and dairy, and would argue that getting most of your calories from grains is a bad idea. Regardless of whether that is right or wrong, it is clear that nutrition is far from a settled science.
Equally, the assumption that living a vegan or near-vegan lifestyle is the best thing for the planet is far shakier than we are led to believe in public discussion right now. One point is that much of the world’s farmland is not suitable for growing crops, only for pasture. Are we to give up the potential of food production from cows, sheep and goats, helpfully converting indigestible grass into meat and milk? How is that ‘sustainable’?
Moreover, the whole attitude of sustainability thinking is wrong. Rather than asking ‘This is what we want, now how to do we get it without creating big problems?’, we are told that we should adapt our consumption to assuage the fears of a coterie of experts. One of the unique qualities of human beings is our ability to identify and solve problems for the benefit of all. This report says we should give up trying.
This report, like so many before it, will not persuade many (if any) people to change their diets. But the danger here is that rent-a-risk researchers will get the ear of a government minister or two. Suddenly we will have taxes and regulations rammed down our throats on the basis that we need to adopt this ‘scientifically approved’ diet. We shouldn’t swallow this rubbish.
Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.
Listen to Rob on the latest episode of Last Orders, our nanny-state podcast.
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