A changing dietary landscape

From the age of 16 to 26 years old, I was an ovo-lacto-vegetarian. It wasn’t hard, in the sense that I ever felt tempted to eat meat. It was hard in the sense that there was often little choice of meals in the public domain (e.g. restaurants).

Now, there appear to be a plethora of choices in comparison. Even vegans might more easily find something to eat (feel free to comment with your own experiences).

I still have grave concerns about the way animals are treated but wonder if avoiding eating them is part of the solution to climate change and related ills. Thus, I am intrigued by the following graph.

Graph: which diet feeds the most people?

It suggests that the diet which can feed the most people is a plant-based diet with milk. Add in eggs and slightly fewer people can be fed. And at the other extreme is the current Western diet, which appears to feed about half as many people as a lacto-vegetarian diet.

Unfortunately, I haven’t so far been able to find details of the study which achieved these results. It is therefore hard for me to gauge whether the graph holds any truth or if it is simply propaganda.

Furthermore, feeding the world and feeding the world well are two different things. There is no consensus, as far as I can see, on which diet is the healthiest (apart from the fact that most people do not eat healthily).

One thing is certain, however: no matter how productive my forest garden is, it will never provide all my dietary needs.


About Helen

I have always been interesting in living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and used to do what I could. Now, I have come to realise that we have reached such a point in terms of environmental degradation that it is more important - perhaps - to focus on building resilience. I therefore do as much as I can to reuse, grow my own and encourage a supportive community, for example. I also keep reading and learning all the time.
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14 Responses to A changing dietary landscape

  1. Having been raised on meat and two veg it is only in my later years that I can appreciate salads and fish (other than fish and chips)

  2. Linda Penney says:

    I love my veggies when i can get them and even trying to grow them is hard but hubby is not that keen were possible i choose veggies when out in cafes and restaurants blessing to you and your daughter

  3. patsquared2 says:

    Last night I ate cucumbers, tomatoes, half an avocado and some anchovies. That was dinner. I simply don’t like to eat most of the Western diet – over-processed, stuffed with chemicals and additives like high fructose corn syrup and killing our children…slowly. When I dine out, it’s usually on veggies and, if they have wild harvested fish…fish. Mine is a combination of ethics and health. And I raise almost everything I eat from April to October, freeze some, make jams with some and can some so during the winter, I can again eat ethically and healthily. As you know, Helen, I am a 100% organic gardener and the value of that to me and my health has been amazing.

    • Helen says:

      Sounds like your diet is healthy and has a low carbon footprint indeed. How much land do you have – and when you say ‘raise’ does that mean you have any animals?

  4. That’s an interesting graph, Helen. I’ve been a lactose-ovo vegetarian since I turned 18 (I’m now 58). I love animals, and simply couldn’t face eating one. I’m also appalled by the treatment of animals in factory-farming, so I eat eggs that are raised humanely (free range, anti-biotic free). I agree that it is so much easier to eat out now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

    I do know that eating beef is a huge drain on our resources. I read once that it takes 9 pounds of soy to raise one pound of beef. Further, cattle crazing destroys the top soil. I think eating lower on the food chain is generally easier on our resources. It’s interesting to note that dairy and eggs with an otherwise vegetarian diet is considered the most productive. Great post.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Alys.

      The graph puts an interesting spin on things. I could personally go back to not eating meat as I definitely don’t eat a lot. I couldn’t however be vegan, not least because that seems to require a bit of contortionism to get the right nutrients. And I am dubious about having so much flown in to fill the gap that the U.K. climate couldn’t fill.

      I am surprised though that eggs seem to have a higher footprint than dairy, considering chickens can feed themselves without the grass issue. And surely lactating cows need a lot of grass?

      • It is perplexing, though I’m sure if we dig deeper the explanation might make more sense. I agree that eating locally plays a big role in sustainability. Keeping chickens in our suburban setting has grown in popularity around here in recent years. It’s a huge undertaking though, and not one I would consider with three cats in residence. I admire people that keep them, though and envy those fresh eggs.

        • Helen says:

          We’re not allowed to keep chickens on my estate but the gardens aren’t big enough, anyway. It would certainly be great to have such fresh eggs, though!

  5. jeffpermie says:

    Very nice article and for sharing your thoughts! Anyone interested should check out Worldfoodclock.com and see how much waste the western diet creates!
    In terms of the healthiest diet, the most known one is definitely Japanese, they often look in their 40’s when in fact they are well into their 80’s and still working! I have seen this on a couple occasions over the last few decades, I have friends who claim that the Mediterranean diet is the best (Biased because they are Italian) – I always respond with ”together with the coffee and cigarette?” 😉
    It’s a fact that Asians often always look much younger than they are and these people usually have a fish based diet. An interesting book published by Permanent Publications is ”Meat, a benign extravagance” by Simon Fairlie, I have the book but haven’t read it fully yet, it goes into how animals can still be a very important part of a sustainable future regarding agriculture etc.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Jeff!

      There is an issue with fish in that stocks are getting low. I’m also personally concerned with them drowning to death. However, there seems to be little doubt that fish is a healthy meat. And there are ways of integrating animals into agriculture which are less damaging for both them and the environment.

      Anyway, I look forward to reading Worldfoodclock.com

I love to read about your own experiences and any other feedback you have, so look forward to your comments below.

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