The New Sustainable Food Pyramid 2015

In terms of health, today’s headlines focused on one story: that of a developing draft for new government-recommended dietary guidelines that will factor in environmental sustainability. If you grew up like I did, you were shown a food pyramid signifying which types and how much of each type of food we should eat on a daily basis. Somewhere around the middle of this chart – meaning multiple, daily installments are suggested – sits meat and dairy. Now, while it is essentially the vitamins in these food groups that our bodies need every day, like protein, Vitamin D, and calcium, the chart does not necessarily explain this. Rather, it often depicts slabs of meat like steaks and ham bones accompanied by a glass of milk and a block of cheese. While you and I may not read the pyramid for its face value, that’s not to say all Americans understand it the same way. Many, in fact most, read it quite literally. Believe it or not there are people who do consume 3 servings of meat – not just protein – a day, and same with dairy. Personally, that would give me instant heart failure. Environmentally, the results aren’t too different.

Courtesy of the USDA
Courtesy of the USDA

From our investigating, we know that food production, from seed to sow to store, is the most harmful contributor to environmental degradation and consequently climate change. From food scarcity to adulterated mass production of food, the majority of edible products on the shelf do little to benefit the human population as a whole in terms of health, yet business is booming. We have to eat, there’s no getting around it, it’s an innate instinct. When we have the opportunity to have food, we seize. So agribusinesses, with government backing, feed on this hunger. There will always be demand, and unlike other goods and services which survival is not reliant on, this chain succeeds when supply increases, too. The result: a food system where the focus is on producing as much food as possible, as quickly as possible, for as cheap as possible to the consumer, and as profitable as possible to the producer. To name names: the American beef industry.

2015, however, seems to be the year that the classic hearty American diet is finally scrutinized, and not just for our own hearts. On top of acknowledging that diets of the past are unsustainable for human health, the advisory panel for the Department of Agriculture is now bringing to light the impact this high cholesterol, high hormone, high fat, high additive, and highly unsanitary diet has on the environment. It is no coincidence that what harms our bodies harms the earth; just as it is no coincidence that the earth naturally produces things that nurture and heal our bodies. The proposed revisions to the government’s dietary guidelines reflect this concept. If approved, within a year the new food “pyramid” will look something like this:

What the new dietary guidelines will likely be modeled after, photo courtesy of Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition
What the new dietary guidelines will likely be modeled after in the new 2015 food pyramid, photo courtesy of Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition

Here, you can see that a plant-based diet is suggested over one centered around meat. It will also be recommended to consume protein in forms other than animal meat. What foods can provide this? Nuts, quinoa, beans, and even eggs, when raised humanely and sustainably, are okay for some non-meat eaters. While the guidelines in no way say to completely abstain from meat, they do acknowledge that farms producing strictly beef are the most harmful for human and environmental health, and that not eating this product can only help your diet, not hurt it.

Of course, there is already backlash from the meat industry as well as those in government who back that industry, financially, politically, and morally. However, whether or not we see these guidelines replace the current ones, know that they are guidelines for a reason; ultimately it is the individual who decides what goes into their body and what comes out of (and back into) the environment. Do your own research to find out what kind of diet works best for your lifestyle and your values. Make sure you are still getting the recommended daily doses of nutrients – there isn’t much debate in this matter. But, investigate new, creative, healthy ways to obtain what your body needs – you don’t need the government to tell you how to do that!

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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