BY MARJORIE STEWART
Last month Canada’s new food guide, ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ was released a few days after the report Food for the Anthropocene from a British/Norwegian commission of more than 30 world scientists. Both come down heavily in favour of mostly plant-based diets, the first for the health of Canadians, the second for the health of all people and the planet.
Both recommend meal plates that are half fruit and vegetables and one-quarter each plant-based proteins and whole grains. Neither outlaws meat, fish and dairy completely. The anthropocene (era of humans) diet tells Asians to eat less fish, Africans less starchy vegetables and North Americans less meat and dairy. ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ promotes water as the beverage of choice and home-cooking to avoid over-processed foods. The new guide is receiving high praise, not only for shunning industry-commissioned reports but also for its practical advice (see www.canada.ca/foodguide).
While both reports would replace failing and destructive systems of fisheries and agriculture, there remain formidable obstacles to the reforms advocated.
Human urban populations and domesticated animals are overwhelmingly overbalancing planetary life. The first animals we domesticated were ourselves, when we adopted agriculture to feed settled groups. Today, the world’s biomass is almost entirely composed of domestic animals (feedstock and pets) and humans. There is more than twice as great a mass of domestic animals as the mass of humanity and because of this displacement only about three per cent of animal life on earth is wild, with species rapidly disappearing. This kind of global imbalance cannot be managed unless we make dramatic changes in the way we live and eat.
The recent phenomena of corporate trade globalization and the concentration of monetary wealth prevent economic balance. Economics 101 teaches the theory of comparative advantage, in which it is assumed that if regions produce as much as they can of goods in which they have a natural advantage, they will be able to trade advantageously to acquire the rest of what they need, resulting in economic balance.
How does this fit with today’s aspirations to acquire all kinds of foods at any time in any place? In terms of food systems, can every region expect the rest of the world to keep providing foods in the quantities and variety of today’s supermarkets? If salmon are being over-fished and whales are dying and we are supposed to restore the balance of stocks, and if de-forestation results in increased global warming, what does B.C. have to trade?
The only way out of all the unnecessary complexity is to look back at life before our dependence on foods we cannot produce locally and prepare ourselves for great transformations in the way we live, starting with the way we eat.
I was feeling quite despondent about my own bad habits and food cravings until I started looking at the approved foods for plant-based diets and realized how many of them I enjoy: squash, asparagus, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard, pasta, oatmeal, lentils, beans, peas, green beans, dried beans, onions, tomatoes, leeks, mushrooms, artisan breads and all the foods I can buy at our farmers’ markets from people who live locally and grow organically.
Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at email@example.com.