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The intersection of food, sustainability and politics

Tim Fitzsimons Apr 14, 2015
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The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee isn’t usually a group that stirs up great controversy in Washington, but its 2015 draft report shocked policymakers because it desecrated the sacred cow. Or at least, it suggested that the average American’s 113 pounds of red meat consumed per year could have a negative health and environmental impact. 

It even suggested that a vegan diet could result in ideal health and environmental outcomes. “Sustainability is not something that’s within the purview of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,” says Eric Mittenthal, of the North American Meat Institute. “That should be looked at by experts in sustainability.”

Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and vice chair of the committee, said they didn’t consider politics — just science.

“The…report did indicate that lean red meat could be a perfectly acceptable component of the diet,” she says. “Lean” is the only category of red meat the committee recommends.

Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition professor and author of “Food Politics,” said she thinks it’s about time the committee consider the American diet’s impact on the world. Calling the draft guidelines “groundbreaking,” Nestle said they were scientifically sound. 

“The committee said the healthiest diet has a lot of plant foods in it,” Nestle says. “And guess what? The most sustainable diet you can possibly eat is exactly the same.”

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