In a comment on my post below about looking for sustainable fish, my friend Bruna sent me a link to a video by Mark Bittman, a famous American food writer and NYT columnist, that I think we should all watch. None of it was news to me since many of the principal points were presented in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and more recently in his In Defense of Food. In a nutshell, it comes down to the fact that nearly every chronic disease we attribute to our “modern” lifestyle is in fact caused by the western diet. And what exactly is this western diet? It’s based more or less on overconsumption of meat and animal products, junk food, and what I’d call poor carbohydrates (stuff like white enriched bread, for instance).
In the past one hundred years, the world population doubled but consumption of meat multiplied five-fold. By consuming more meat, we started eating less plants and more calories and that’s where the problems began. But meat is a good wholesome food, isn’t it? It used to be. With the industrialization of meat production, animals are now raised unnaturaly on diets they cannot survive on for long. The only reason they live long enough to reach the required age (or weight) to be killed for our consumption is by the clever use of drugs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to see too many studies to figure out that eating very sick animals might not be that good for my constitution. So we should all just buy organic meat, right? Wrong. Bittman shows some of the reasons on the video, which I won’t get into here, but to me, even if the meat is perfectly healthy, the key – not only for our own health but also to the health of the planet – is to reduce the amount of meat we eat. I’m not saying we should all turn into vegetarians. I know I couldn’t. But we need to realize that the amount of meat (and of food in general) we eat on a daily basis is completely off the charts in terms of what is reasonable. Studies have shown that people who eat a little bit of meat enjoy the same health benefits of vegetarians. As Bittman and Pollan have repeated numerous times, there’s simply no good reason to eat as much meat as we do. Just to give you an idea, experts say we shouldn’t eat more than half a pound of meat per week. We currently eat that every day. In the US alone, 10 billion animals are slaughtered every year.
And I haven’t even touched upon the environmental impact of the overproduction of meat, which is shocking to say the least.
Most alarming of all is to see the western diet being exported all over the world as emerging nations see the consumption of industrialized food as sign of wealth and status. When I lived in Spain, the government of Catalunya was trying to promote the return to the Mediterranean diet, hailed as some of the healthiest in the world. Marketing and convenience had pushed locals to increasingly switch to eating more meats, white breads, deep fried food and processed, industrialized food. The numbers of chronic diseases were increasing at alarming rates all over Spain and it looks that the change in diet played a heavy role. It seems that the Chinese government is promoting the consuption of beef. In Brazil, a favourite past-time of parents is to take their children to McDonald’s.
Nobody is saying people should starve or eat bland food. Good food doesn’t need to be bland. And preparing food yourself doesn’t need to take all day. But we do need to pay closer attention to what we eat. As Bittman says, “it’s time we stop eating thoughtlessly”. Do watch the video.