Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Overeating, food waste, obesity and climate change.


It is well documented that the beef and dairy industries contribute to rising level of atmospheric greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane and these increases are responsible for the planet's current Climate Emergency.  Eating a plant based diet (vegan) will do a huge amount to reduce CO2 and methane emissions but this alone will not save the world as some vegans will have you believe. It is not as simple as switching your beef burger for a veggie burger and to truly tackle Climate Change we need to make major changes to how we produce and prepare our food and we need to tackle one main issue urgently:

The world's population over-eats and/or wastes way too much food





The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that the average kilocalorie (kcal) consumption per person in the US is 3,800 calories.1  Whilst differences in gender, age and activity levels will alter the exact amount each person should consume, on average daily consumption should be around 1,800 -2,150 kcal.

Not all these calories are eaten. These are figures for kcals entering the household and a good chunk of these will be food that is wasted, food that is never eaten and gets thrown out either before or after preparation.  From an environmental point of view it doesn't really matter if the kcals are eaten in excess or wasted - they have still been produced over and above what is needed.  CO2 and methane will have been added to the atmosphere for no reason, materials wasted in packaging and energy expended in production, transportation, refrigeration, cooking etc.  All WASTED.

And it is not just the US. Of the 172 countries listed in the report 1, 152 have a population that is consuming on average more than 2,150 kcal per person per day.  The UK average is 3,450 (20th in the world) and France is 3,530 (12th).

This has not always been the case and back in the 1850s kcal intake was much lower.  Whilst there has always been some people throughout history who have over-consumed the most rapid increase globally has been seen in the last 50 years and it is estimated to only get worse especially as developing countries become more affluent and industrialised. Look at the rapid increase in kcal intake in China since 1950.


Fig. 1 Food consumption in the US, France, UK and China (1800 - 2013) 2



The above figures are taken from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The World Health Organization has looked at recent figures since 1964 as can be seen below.  This time the figures only include eaten food, not food wasted.  Add in wasted food at today's levels and the figures would be even higher for 2015 and the future estimations.

Fig. 2 Global and regional food consumption per person (kcal per person per day) 3

 

1964-66
2015
Estimated for 2030
World
2358
2940
3050
Industrialised Countries
2947
2850
2980
Developing Countries
2054
2850
2980

We are living in a world where on average many people are consuming (eating or wasting) TWICE the amount of kcals they need which leads to a large amount of unnecessary environmental damage - increased CO2 and methane levels, more landfill, more packaging, more energy use etc.  It is leading to increasing levels of obesity which itself has an impact on the environment - larger people need larger clothes, their cars use more fuel and they are more likely to suffer health problems with the associated treatments having an impact on the environment (medication, sterile packaging, hospital stays etc etc).

This is not sustainable but obesity is not an easy subject to tackle.

Overeating and obesity are emotive subjects.  People will give you any number of reasons why they eat what they do and will often say it is their right to eat what the want. Sophie Hagen, a Danish comedian, has recently talked about how she is happy with her weight and fat should not be seen as bad.4 In one way she is right - no-one has a right to categorise a fat person as a bad person, no more than a person who drives a diesel car is a bad person or someone who leaves all their electrical items on is a bad person - but being fat, like driving a diesel car or wasting electricity are all bad for the environment.  The bottom line is that our population as a whole needs to completely change the way we eat to bring food consumption back to a sustainable level - a diet for life where overeating and food waste are a thing of the past.  

If everyone were to eat the right level of calories and from nutrient rich "real" food (not heavily processed) and were to not waste food we would see a reduction in environmental damage (greenhouse gas emissions, packaging, energy usage).  Sophie also talks about the fact that being thin in associated with beautiful and fat is associated with being ugly, lazy, stupid and bad.  This has to stop.  Body size and beauty should never be connected and Sophie is right about not categorising fat people as bad because castigation is never the right way to go about addressing an issue, what-ever that issue is.  Tell people to stop overeating is like telling people to not think about lump of lard.  You're thinking about a lump of lard aren't you, now?  Negativity needs to be replaced with positive messages.

Our planet cannot support an increasing population that also overeats.  We no longer have the luxury of being able to eat what we want, whenever we want to.  Our diets have to change. Now instead of NOT thinking about that lump of lard how about thinking of all the positives about not overeating - less money spent of food, better health prospects ... and less environmental impact.

We live in a world where it is not politically correct to call people fat or obese or anything that specifically draws attention to their weight.  But their size is often a result of overeating so for the sake of the planet, let's concentrate on that term - overeating. Let's make overeating the bad guy, not being fat.

I will outline in a later post ways the world can become sustainable with regard to the food we all eat.  In the meantime can I ask if you had previously connected how much food you eat or waste with Climate Change and would you be willing to change what and how much you eat for the benefit of the planet?

How overeating contributes to climate change


Sources:

1. List of countries by food energy intake:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_food_energy_intake#cite_note-4

2. Food per Person:
https://ourworldindata.org/food-per-person#empirical-view

3. Global and regional food consumption patterns and trends:
https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/3_foodconsumption/en/

4. Sophie Hagen: Fat is a neutral word - I want us to reclaim it
https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/apr/22/sofie-hagen-fat-is-a-neutral-word-i-want-us-to-reclaim-it

21 comments :

  1. What we eat and drink is definitely contributing to Climate Change!

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    1. Thank you Melanie but there are plenty of things we can do to limit the impact and I will be blogging about these later.

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  2. It all seems so obvious, just eat less! But as someone who has always struggled with their weight that is sooooo much easier said than done. Add that to a global scale and it practically seems impossible. But I agree with everything you said and we all have to change our habits NOW, not next year. I'm fascinated to see that France eats/wastes more than UK. I would never have expected that from my observations of life here.

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    1. It is obvious isn't it but not easy? Likewise I have always had to watch my weight and know I eat more than I really need to - I have however lost weight recently which I attribute to 2 dietary changes - one is eating more vegetarian food and the other is cutting back on carbs such as potatoes and pasta. I imagine both have resulted in lowering my kcal intake and hence I was able to lose the weight. But I know major dietary changes for most people are not easy to achieve. So watch out for my next post where I will write about what we can all do to reduce the impact our food has on the environment.

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  3. Can you be any more sanctimonious? You equate overeating to food waste. In effect it may be the same, but it is not the same. Food overeaten is not wasted. You're a typical vegan, lecturing people on how to live their lives. I'm unfollowing, I can't bear this preaching crap, and now you're turning on people.

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    1. Wendy, if you are unfollowing you will probably never see this reply but for other readers I will add it.

      I am not vegan, nor a vegetarian and I am as much opposed to the extreme vegan movement as I can only suppose you are also. Veganism comes with it's own set of environmental issues that I have already blogged about. However I do believe that eating a more plant based diet (vegetarian and vegan) will be necessary in the future. However what we eat (plant or animal based) is only part of the problem - the fact that most of the world's population eats too much and also (as a separate issue) wastes vast amounts of food, MUST be addressed as it is unsustainable. I am not equating excess food consumption with waste - the two are separate things ie kcals eaten over and above the recommended level is one thing AND kcals in the food that is bought into a household but thrown away before it is eaten, either before or after cooking, is another. Current estimates put this at 30% of all food bought and up to 50% of all food produced if you add in loses from farm to factory to shop.

      I am not lecturing people on how to live their lives which is why I am pains to point out that we should not be fat shaming people nor do I tell people to turn vegan. I will be blogging later about how the world may go about changing its kcal intake - because put quite simply the world cannot support an estimate population of 9.7 billion who are all consuming (ie eating and wasting) twice the food they actually need to exist. Switching to vegan and still consuming twice the necessary calories is still unsustainable. If you think I am being sanctimonious and turning on people for pointing out what is a fact then I am truly sorry you feel that way. It was not my intention.

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  4. I have to say that this is quite a complex topic. Totally agree that how we eat and how we shop is contributing to climate change. The thing is it’s all about processed food vs simple ingredients , bonus if they are local. Now, first of all processed foods are unfortunately full of addictive ingredients that make us crave for more . Secondly our lifestyles demand us to shop on the go so a quick ready meal is the easier time saving option. Thirdly we are used to have it all and have it now and that’s why we buy a lot and so waste a lot and get angry if our shop doesn’t have something in stock that’s why they buy a lot and waste a lot. And yes in the meantime we tend towards obesity. My point of criticism though is that this topic deserves more than being crammed together in a single blog post....

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    1. Thank you and you are totally right, it is a complex issue and I have another blog post brewing that takes this important subject even further. In fact I have so much to write it may well end up being more than one more post!

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    2. Glad to hear that and looking forward to read more of your thoughts!

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  5. This is very complex indeed, but worth thinking about how our societal eating habits (beyond just the basics of eating meat and diary). I had never thought of the relationship between waste and obesity before.

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  6. Things like this are such an interesting but complex topic and there's a lot to think about. I like learning more about topics I don't know too much about.

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  7. I'm totally agree with your point of view. I believe people needs examples of well behave. Since last July I've start eating almost only fruits for many many reasons. It's not a path to begin in 1 day but from step by step. I'm working as extra in tv shows where the food is always free and people around me are curious about how much and what I eat but from that I have the opportunity to explain something about food waste, healthy concern and planet sustainability. Hopefully somebody later can start thinking about their habits.

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  8. This is a very interesting post. It reminds me of the first international development course I took as an undergrade. In the first week, we read, "While people in the developing world are dying from not enough food, people in the developed world are dying from too much food."

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  9. Another great post full of important information that needs to be shared with the world. There are so many people that ignore what’s going on, it’s only going to improve when the planet is at it’s worse unfortunately, let’s hope it’s not too late.

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  10. It's definitely a very complex matter. I think we can all begin to make small changes and eventually these will snowball into societal change when it comes to eating. #GoingGreen

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  11. I appreciate the research you put into the piece. The solutions can seem so simple... But really difficult to put in place and to enforce

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    1. I know! It is such an emotive subject and complicated subject and I almost didn't publish this post. But as Angela said in an earlier comment, "While people in the developing world are dying from not enough food, people in the developed world are dying from too much food." and the earth simply cannot sustain 10 billion people eating/wasting excessive amounts of food.

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  12. Mhm this is a tricky one. I do like my food. I think a huge contributor is the unnecessary mountain of wasted food - food thrown out unnecessarily as some stupid date has been reached even though the food is still perfectly edible, food forgotten about in the fridge etc. Yeah there are quantity and processed also but this is a little tricky... I think a big step would already be to bring people closer to what food is, how it grows, how much work and energy goes into growing it and away from the packaged industrialised supermarket fare... #goinggreen

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  13. Hi Rosie,
    Obesity us definitely a big problem in our society today. Overeating not only harms our health but our environment. It hard to come up with a simple answer to the problem. People that are over weight and obesite sometimes struggle with it and can't seem to get it their weight under control. Their no simple answer - people are addicted to food and it one of the hardest addictions to overcome for some since you have to. I think many times it starts are childhood and what we are taught, or people eat for comfort and of course their is food on TV tempting people and every where you look. I will share this article because I feel your message us very important for our health and environment. #GoingGreen Linky. Have a healthy, happy & blessed day.

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    1. Thank you Marla and you are so right in saying it is not an easy topic to even start to try and address - but I do have some thoughts and will get these into another blog post sometime.

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  14. We used to over eat as a family. The food was not wasted, it was eaten and IF I have got the gist of your post correct then we have made a simple change to try and stop overeating. We still make things in the same family sized casserole/oven dishes. We used to clear the dish in one sitting whereas now we have a smaller portion and box up others for the freezer. Eventually we get enough 'boxes' of the same meal to enjoy as a family on a later date. So the same amount of resources and calories have potentiality fed a family of five for two meals rather than one. Food waste is something different altogether and we don't really have a lot of waste as any scraps and leftovers that won't keep go to our chickens. Thank you for trying to tackle and explain a subject that many find difficult to admit to and/or change.An interesting read. #GoingGreen

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