Dietary changes could do a world of good to the environment.
More fruits and veggies, less milk and meat. Good for you and the climate. We’ve all heard that, but what’s next? Next comes the question of whether we can actually do it. The answer, sadly, is “not really.”
And it’s not only about your lifestyle. It’s also about how the global food system that we all share. According to new research published in PLOS ONE, if we go on with the current trajectory, in 2050 we simply won’t be producing enough fruits and veggies to fulfill the nutritional needs of humans around the planet.
Led by a research team from the University of Guelph in Canada, the study compared how recommended diets matched up with the amounts of food we’ll be producing by 2050 to feed 9.8 billion people, who will then likely inhabit the planet. It’ll be fine if we measure calories in themselves. Yet when we look into the type of food those calories will come from, the picture becomes far less encouraging.
A healthy and balanced diet for all people might become a distant dream in just a matter of decades, with way too much sugar, fat, and grains, and not nearly enough veggies and fruits, say researchers. Already we’re already out of balance with just one-third of the recommended fruits and vegetables available globally. Meanwhile, 150% of the required grain consumption is available, not to mention a three-fold excess in fat production.
To fix this, we will need both people and governments to act. Social preferences should send clear signals to the market, while government choices should also signal to the food business that fruits and veggies are to be emphasized. We’d also need to tackle nutritional guidelines as such by decreasing the number of recommended animal proteins and replacing them by equally good plant-based ones. Also, algae, insects and other nontraditional foods should be incorporated into our diets.
Yet such a transition will be worth it: around 51 million hectares of land (the area of Spain) will become available for other species to thrive on with little human interference. The change would also lead to a decrease of 12% in carbon emissions related to food production by 2050 from the current level, compared to a possible 40% increase if we carry on with current diets.
The massive amounts of food waste will be another critical challenge to tackle. Doing so could free up an additional 100 million hectares for purposes other than the production of food then wasted.