Way too many people can't afford a sustainable diet

The top sustainable diet is unaffordable for one-fifth of the population -- food systems need to change.

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It feels like for every week of 2019, there has been yet another report from climate scientists urging humanity to revamp the way we eat. Food is a huge part of global warming, and eating more sustainably could make a big difference in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

But sustainable eating recommendations simply aren’t affordable. A full fifth of the world’s population wouldn’t be able to afford to eat according to the guidelines established in the EAT-Lancet report, published with much fanfare in January of 2019.

Economic disparities, not the EAT-Lancet guidelines, are the problem. That’s according to a November 2019 study. Lead author Kalle Hirvonen told Inverse at the time he hoped the results would alert policy makers “towards fixing our broken food systems.”

This is #18 on Inverse’s 20 most incredible stories about our planet from 2019.

Under the guidelines, people would spend most of their household food budget on fruits and vegetables (an important part of a healthy diet).

Legumes and nuts ate up the next-highest proportion of budget, followed by meat, eggs, and fish; and finally, dairy.

But in different countries, there was a lot of variation in how these different foods affected household budgets. For example, animal-based foods took up the largest share of budgets in low-income countries, but the smallest in upper, middle-income countries.

Food costs didn’t vary too much between countries — something else is driving these differences, the researchers said.

“It’s really the large income disparities that generate our key finding that a large fraction of the people in lower income countries cannot afford the cost of an EAT Lancet diet,” Hirvonen said.

Eating education

As countries’ incomes grow, people tend to eat less healthily — and less sustainably. Diets transition away from starchy staples and towards over-consumption of meat and processed foods.

“It would be good for everyone if the nutrition transition in emerging economies took another path,” Hirvonen said. Like moving toward “balanced diets rich of fruits and vegetables.”

For people who can afford to eat sustainably, better public information on what makes a diet environmentally friendly, and healthy, can go a long way.

But in places where sustainable diets simply aren’t affordable, education alone won’t do the trick. We will have to make changes to global food systems. That shift is “among the most important global challenges of the 21st century,” the researchers said.

As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is revisiting the year’s 20 most incredible stories about our planet. Some are gross, some are fascinating, and others truly are incredible. This has been #18. Read the original article here.

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