Friday, October 3, 2014


Human health has been the primary concern during the last few decades of food and nutrition research and from time to time pearls of wisdom used to be offered by this expert community for the benefit of the citizens and policy makers. Alas, where this has taken the world to as the extent of health related problems and deterioration of the environment due to mindless/reckless exploitation of the resources of this planet is mind boggling. Though there is a late realization that increased meat consumption and ever expanding demand for meat products could cause a plethora of health afflictions, at the ground level there is no evidence that meat consumption rate is coming down. On the contrary many countries on the threshold of economic development have population with higher purchasing capacity and bigger aspirations whose appetite for meat foods is continuously growing! Americans are in the forefront as far as industrial production of meat foods, especially beef products is concerned while addiction to pork is galloping in the new economic super power country, China. Millions of farms across the world raise meat animals like poultry birds, cows, buffaloes, pigs and sheep/goats whose population is in billions, slaughtered every day to satiate the hunger for meat from the carnivorous segment of global population numbering over 6 billion out of the 7 billion people inhabiting this planet. If environmental scientists are to be believed these animals constitute the largest threat as far as green house gas emission is concerned. What is reprehensible is the prevarication among policy makers regarding any positive policy orchestration that will discourage people from eating animal derived foods. Against such a background comes the refreshing news that American authorities are considering seriously to enunciate policies that will guide their citizens to change over to a diet containing more and more plant foods and reduce meat consumption to the minimum. Here is a take on this.
"Every five years the federal government issues dietary guidelines to provide practical advice for healthy eating. There have been instructions to eat more whole grains and less saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. The 2015 update for the first time may tell Americans to pay attention to how their food is grown, not just what's in it. In July the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a 14-member panel appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, circulated a draft document that suggests Americans reduce their consumption of meat and dairy and eat more plant-based foods. The draft was based on studies showing that lowering meat consumption cuts greenhouse gas emissions, lessening the contribution our eating habits make to climate change. Final guidelines are due to be issued in late 2015. Earlier versions of the dietary guidelines, which form the basis for federal food and nutrition programs like subsidized school lunches, have encouraged Americans to eat leaner meat, but not to eat less meat altogether. "A dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based food and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impacts—energy, land, and water use—than the current average American diet," Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University nutrition professor who chairs the advisory panel's subcommittee on food sustainability and safety, said at a public meeting in September. Members of the advisory panel declined to be interviewed. The panel's embrace of sustainability has drawn fierce opposition from conservatives. The House Appropriations Committee instructed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is responsible for approving the final guidelines along with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to make sure the committee doesn't "pursue an environmental agenda." Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank focused on environmental issues, recently issued a five-page report titled "Meet the 'green' radicals who want to plan your menu." Some in the meat industry also oppose the proposed dietary guideline change. "We agree that more plant foods should be consumed, but not at the expense of nutrient-dense protein," Betsy Booren, vice president for scientific affairs at the American Meat Institute, said in a statement after the draft came out in July. Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition professor and critic of the food industry's influence on policy, applauded the advisory panel for making the connection between environmental protection and healthy eating. "We don't have an agricultural policy linked to health policy," says Nestle, who served on the dietary guidelines panel in 1995. "We should."

As with any other issues, the confrontation between herbivores and carnivores is also a controversial area, each side marshaling data to justify their stand. Added to this is the powerful meat lobby which stands to lose if there is a tectonic shift in food consumption behavior of the population in favor of plant foods. There are also a few nutrition apologists who are sticking to their unsubstantiated stand that non-plant foods do not provide good nutrition and ensure healthy growth of children which is a slap in the face of more than a billion population who are vegetarians by culture, faith, religion and conviction. India which is predominantly a vegetarian country by nature and economic compulsions survived for centuries with minimum adverse impact on health of its population. Their abstinence from meat eating has in no way diminished their talents or mental agility even a wee bit as Gujarati Jains, Marwadis of Rajasthan and Iyer population of Tamilnadu have produced some of the best performers in fields like business, administration and other human endeavors. Now that a nation like the US with almost 100% of the population carnivores is turning around and appreciating the virtues of plant foods in preference to meat foods, it is time the world wakes up to follow its example and save this planet from slow annihilation!   


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