Helping Save our Planet by Transforming the Food System

August 11, 2021

by Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America

CEO’s Corner

Child holding the globe shaped as an apple The UN’s report on Climate has made one thing clear: it’s critical that we shift our focus on doing something before it’s too late. And one of the most obvious things we can do is to reform our food system so that healthy, low-carbon footprint foods are easier to grow, store and that they are more affordable and accessible to everyone.

The brightest spot amongst this unsettling news is that the foods most beneficial to our health – namely vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts – are also among the foods producing the least amount of carbon as documented in the EAT Lancet report, Food Planet Health. EAT convened 37 scientists from 16 countries to answer a big question: “if we want all 10 billion people on the globe to be healthy in 2050, on a planet that survives and thrives, what should we plant, grow, harvest, process, sell, and eat?”

The answer was unanimous and clear: we must grow, harvest, process, sell and eat more (drum roll…) vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts. Doing so, would prevent 11 million deaths per year, representing almost a quarter of deaths globally.

Eating vegetables and fruit has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the incidence of death from cardiovascular disease and from several types of cancers, including breast, mouth, esophageal, lung, stomach, and colorectal, reducing diet-related healthcare costs. According to a recently released report from the Rockefeller Foundation, the true cost of food in the US is $3.2 trillion. That’s three times higher than direct supply chain expenses.  

If we want to act on this heavy burden of knowledge, the path is clear. As EAT has argued, we must: 

  1. Seek National and International commitment to shift toward healthy diets. The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit is a great opportunity for this critical action.

  2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food. The Biden administration has a real opportunity to do this.

  3. Intensify food production to produce high-quality output. Quality is ever more important. PHA sees in our own programs, like Good Food for All, that when communities receive high-quality produce, they are more likely to eat it and to desire it going forward. 

In so many cases, we lack the information or knowledge that would allow us to take action. But we know exactly how to lower the carbon footprint of food. Businesses can offer plant forward meals; governments can provide guidelines that favor foods that are friendly to people and the planet; while consumers can choose to eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes and less of the other stuff.  

At this point, it is no more than a matter of will. Please join PHA as we work to transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity, and help stabilize our shifting climate on the way. 

Support PHA’s work to improve our planet by improving food equity with a tax-deductible gift today.

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