The EAT-Lancet commission’s report, “Food in the Anthropocene,” which recommends a near-vegan diet for the health of people and the planet, dropped with major fanfare and a large PR budget, in five cities world-wide. It was widely and uncritically reported in the mainstream press. Critiques of the report were also published, but received far less press, and have been largely dismissed as the howlings of the meat industry, whose ox was undeniably gored.
What’s the truth? First, it’s important to recognize that “Food in the Anthropocene” is more of a campaign than a scientific report. EAT was founded by billionaire vegan and animal rights activist, Gunhild Stordalen. Corporate funders include Bayer (owner of Monsanto), Cargill, PepsiCo, Syngenta, and Unilever—Big Food, Big Pharma, and Big Ag. Another backer, The Wellcome Trust, is based on the pharmaceutical fortune of the Wellcome family, who have been Seventh Day Adventists for three generations. Seventh Day Adventists are committed vegetarians. 80% of the authors of the report have publicly supported a vegan or vegetarian diet.
EAT-Lancet’s vegan-vegetarian diet, heavy on grains, extremely light on animal products (1.5 eggs per week, for instance, but eight teaspoons of sugar a day are allowable) is based on epidemiological studies. According to Psychology Today, 80% of nutritional epidemiological studies are proved wrong in clinical trials. The authors admit that the diet is inadequate for children, adolescents, pregnant women, and the elderly; it would also appear to be dangerous for diabetics and people trying to control their weight.
So much for the health of people. How about the planet?
The report talks a great deal about agricultural systems, yet seems to miss perhaps the major point. Grains are grown in a system of tillage which destroys soil microorganisms, which releases stored soil carbon into the atmosphere, and is largely responsible for the imbalance we are working to correct today.
Many farmers are now converting to no-till practices, in which seeds are drilled into the ground with minimal disturbance. However, most no-till systems use herbicide to control weeds. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-Up, is the most widely applied agricultural chemical in the world. Though supposedly short-lived and ‘harmless,’ glyphosate appears to damage the soil bacteria and fungi that collaborate with plants in sequestering carbon and building humus. Worse, glyphosate is currently sprayed on many grain crops just before harvest to desiccate them. Glyphosate residue is found in most nonorganic grain products. Increasingly, glyphosate is being recognized as a carcinogen, with a particular connection to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Eating grains and animals which eat grain (pigs and chickens) multiplies the ill-effects of tillage. Beef and lamb, in contrast, can be raised exclusively on grass; on lands that would be marginal to impossible for growing crops; in cleanliness and a freedom that approaches natural life; and while sequestering large amounts of carbon, and building soil fertility.
Thus, the agricultural science on which the EAT-Lancet report is based seems as suspect as the nutritional science. Current soil science is discovering the astonishing capacity of microbes to build soil rapidly, when well-fed by a continuous cover of diverse living plants. That’s the only thing that ever has built soil, and our entire food economy—and the climate–rests on ancient reserves from that work.
Plants feed microbes. Microbes build gorgeous, healthy soil, and feed the plants. We—humans and animals—eat the plants, return the nutrients, seed in more plants, and the soil gets better, deeper, more capable of nourishing the plants. A healthy, diverse community of plants becomes more capable of photosynthesizing by taking carbon out of the air, and the microbes build more carbon into soil glues and aggregates. Good soil becomes more capable of absorbing rainfall, and releasing moisture in dry times. The earth becomes fruitful and multiplies.
In contrast, the EAT-Lancet report offers a scarcity model of the world and reading it makes one feel hungry and peevish. The new science of soil shows that the world can be, and is, more abundant and fruitful than we have ever understood.
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Westminster West, VT since 1984, www.jessiehaas.com.
Another source on the environmental benefits of eating a vegan diet can be found at https://www.healthlisted.com/environmental-benefits-of-veganism/. This source was not used for the article but does a great job outlining the benefit of vegan diets and the environment.