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Sustainable Is Also Healthy

January 13, 2016

In my recent Outside story about sustainable eating I didn’t get into the question of whether foods which are easier on the planet are also healthy (or healthier). So this Washington Post story, which looks at whether there is scientific consensus or disagreement, on a number of dietary choices, caught my eye.

Check out this summary chart. Looks to me as if there is pretty solid scientific consensus on the health benefits of a more plant-based, low environmental footprint diet.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 10.52.26 AM

It reinforces what I believe about plant-based foods. They are a three-fer: 1) Good for you; 2) Good for the planet; and 3) Good for animals.

I find that logic overwhelming, which leaves taste and habit as the only real barriers to a plant-based diet. And good recipes (and chefs like Dan Barber) can easily obliterate those barriers.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2016 11:58 am

    Tim, thanks for this post. To tell you the truth, as a Physician, I’ve peddled the lies of lean meats, switching to fish, taking out the yolk, etc for almost a decade. Recently, I began to examine the actual evidence for what constitutes a healthy diet. Turns out the only foods that are shown to be healthy are plant based whole foods. It amazes me how I never heard this in med school and I’ve been just been repeating the lie “everything in moderation” for years and years. After examining the evidence, I’ve switched to a whole food plant based diet. And after experiencing how amazing I feel eating this way, I will never go back. I’m now PLANT POWERED!

    • January 21, 2016 5:22 pm

      Plant powered! I like that enthusiasm. You should make an essay yourself from the lessons learned here– expand on this comment and run it in Health Section of NYT for instance.

      • January 24, 2016 2:04 am

        Would love to be a voice in the movement for Plant based eating. How does one even go about submitting an essay to NYT?

  2. Sally permalink
    January 18, 2016 10:56 pm

    I am often asked why I am vegetarian. Is it a moral choice? Is it about health? No. It’s about finding the thought of eating lumps of dead flesh utterly repugnant. After forty-five years of not eating animals, fish or fowl, I can’t even remember what it tasted like. I no longer regard it as a food item, any more than a car tyre or a lump of wood. Further, I think of killing another living being and eating it’s body as an utterly bizarre thing to do. This comment is an exception. I usually am very careful to say very little about my eating habits – nothing more boring that a vegetarian banging on about their lifestyle choices. However, I have found myself, on many occasions, been verbally harassed by a fellow diner who apparently finds my dietary choices personally threatening to themselves, and consequently demands that I justify the contents of my plate. Now, what’s that all about? Me thinks the carnivore doth protest too much!

  3. songsudablog permalink
    January 20, 2016 5:26 am

    thanks for this post

  4. Zeca Jacintho permalink
    February 12, 2016 11:39 am

    Hello Tim! I just read your article on Outside, and I enjoyed it a lot! But I am on the “other side”, I work in a group that produces grains, not organic. I see my coleages talking about organic as if it is the “other side”, and I find it quite sad, because I am sure we could use a lot of organic technics. On the other hand, I felt the same polarization on your article. It is easy to prove your point hearing just the ones that agree with you (that is what my peers do here). We stay on the surface if we don’t hear both sides.
    Well, that is my point – both side should hear each other more often, there are truths and good things in both sides, and to find our best solutions for the future we should work harder on hearing each other, and having exemption, as much as it is possible.

    • February 12, 2016 12:17 pm

      Hi Zeca: Thanks for your comment. I think that what guided my thinking more than speaking with one “side” or another was the scientific papers which show the environmental benefits of organic methods, especially with regard to soil health. I understand that growing methods that incorporate crop rotations and other organic practices–yet may not be certified because they use some small amount of synthetic fertilizer or pesticide–may well be better for the environment than some large-scale “certified” organic growers. However, apart from efforts like Whole Foods’ “Responsibly Grown” ratings there is no way for the consumer (at least in the US) to know how the produce they are purchasing is really grown. That being the case, I think that any consumer who cares about the planet should try to buy organic whenever it is feasible. It doesn’t guarantee good environmental stewardship, but it is more likely to mean that produce is grown in an environmentally-sensitive way than produce which is “conventional.” If you have any studies you’d like to share about the comparative environmental impacts of organic versus conventional growing methods which help illustrate your point I’d be happy to consider them. Best, Tim

      • Zeca Jacintho permalink
        February 12, 2016 4:24 pm

        Hello Tim! Thank you so much for your response. I agree with you completely. The organic culture keeps the soil alive, increasing aeration, water infiltration, depth of roots, drought resistance, I agree and I think it is perfect! Parallel to this, consuming locally is ideal for so many reasons we know !!

        My doubts arise when those ideal situations are not possible.

        In the Brazilian case, for example, which is one of the largest and most important food’s producer – we suffer a lot from pests, much more than in the US. The hot and humid weather is perfect for a huge variety of plants, insects and fungus. It’s brutal the explosion of life in every corner, because the climate here is very favorable to the development of all life, including fungus, parasites and competing plants. With this, the productivity in organic is probably 50% less than that properties that use pesticides. This makes the organic far more complex and unproductive here. On small farms can be reasonably functioning (with a lot of manpower). But small farms cannot compose the scale we need.
        Then, I give to your analysis the following assumptions – 1) organic farming in Brazil is more complex and unproductive in the US; and – 2) we need to keep production high, after all, today we are 7 billion mouths; and finally – 3) it would be perfect if we could keep everything organic.
        If you agree with the three assumptions, we find that we have no way out at the moment, but to use pesticides in extensive areas in Brasil, to keep on the great productivity that we need. At the moment we have no technology to cultivate such areas organically.
        Then it would be healthy, for dialogue purposes, if the “organic advocates” accept this fact uncritically, but with complicity.
        As would be healthy if the “defenders of inorganic” accept that it is desirable to incorporate plenty of organic practices. Ideally this should be done in unpolarized form, not passionate, to advance the dialog.
        I know this is difficult. But it would save many years of undesirable agricultural practices if we took the polarization of the conversation.

      • February 12, 2016 4:32 pm

        Very helpful, and illuminating, Zeca. I guess my answer to the tension between the lower productivity of organic and the need to feed 7 billion mouths is that we should stop wasting so much land and resources on mass livestock production (which is an environmental disaster all by itself) and make up for the reduced productivity of organic (or regenerative is perhaps a better word) agriculture by devoting more land and resources to it. Wouldn’t we have plenty of growing capacity for less productive organic if we didn’t waste so much of it on livestock production? But since I am married to a Brazilian I know that is not a solution many Brazilians would endorse…

  5. Zeca Jacintho permalink
    February 13, 2016 4:21 pm

    Yes Tim, perhaps that wont be very easy here🙂
    We have a long way for solution, but I’m glad to live in this time when so many nice things are happening!
    Thank you very much for your special attention Tim! And say hi to your wife, from Barretos-SP.
    Have a nice weekend there!

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