This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sustainable Diets

The National Academy Press has just released a volume summarizing an Institute of Medicine workshop held last Spring aimed at exploring how we humans (with a focus on Americans) can adopt a diet that sustains our health at the same time that it sustains the planet. The goal of the workshop was to explore ideas, not necessarily to reach consensus, and this summary volume should be required reading for everyone. 

For one thing, it lays out the long and tortuous route by which we (and, in our train, other countries) have promoted obesity and thus poorer ill. The list itself is a familiar one, including less exercise, more processed foods, larger portions, more snacks--but it is good to have it all packaged together and backed up by good literature.

Equally important, it lays out the ways in which our dietary habits impact the environment and, in turn, how environmental conditions--and environmental change--influence what can be grown and thus eaten. If you have read Chapter 11 of my book, you won't be surprised by one of the key takeaways--meat production is one of the most environmentally harmful aspects of our diet and current levels per person are almost certainly not sustainable as the population continues to grow throughout the rest of this century: 36 percent of all calories grown in agriculture go to feeding animals, and 44 percent of land used for agriculture is used for meat production. This is not going to work in the long run.

The toughest part of the whole project, though, is to convince people that they need to change their eating habits. Research presented at the workshop suggests that labeling food, including restaurant menu calorie counts, has little impact on behavior. Taxes and other punitive measures are unlikely to be enacted. So, some middle road measures may be required--extending meatless Mondays to meatless weekdays, for example. It was pointed out that food producers respond to their shareholders, not to the needs of consumers, but they would have to respond if demand changed. In other words, the impetus for diets that are healthy for people and the planet at the same time must come from the bottom up, through the classic diffusion of innovations. Native Foods, for example, has great food--pass it on.

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