The science backs Mostly Veganism

How to achieve planetary health? Everyone must become MeEGANs by 2050. Or so a recent report from the EAT Lancet Commission is claiming. There is a handy summary report linked here too.  (All quotes and page numbers in this blog come from the summary report.)

Here are some media discussions on the release and below is a discussion of the parts relevant to MeEGANism. (Media 1, Media 2, Media 3, Media 4).

[Check out especially Media 2 if you want a robust criticism of the science behind the article – my response at the end.]

Planetary health –  refers to the “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends” [pg. 7]. So it includes the health of all the humans living on planet earth and the environmental systems in which that depends. The Lancet article is mainly focused on sustainable food production.

The paper outlines 1 overriding goal (see orange image below), with 2 targets and 5 strategies  to get there (also listed at end).

The two targets are: 1) Healthy diets, and 2) Sustainable Food Production. So I will focus on the first target here as it is most relevant to MeEGANISM – ie: achieving 85% or more mostly veganism.

One Goal   (see orange image)

“A large body of work has emerged on the environmental impacts of various diets, with most studies concluding that a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.” [pgs. 5-6]

THE "One Goal"
quote from page. 11

Target 1 of 2Healthy Diets – this is summarised in this quote in orange writing which refers to the plate proportion diagram below, and in numbers in the Table 1 below – my analysis after that.

Firstly, I really don’t like the term Flexitarian because it indicates you can just eat what you want when ever. But to actually achieve this diet you are going to have to be pretty strict. Which is why I prefer MeEGANism, because it has clear goals in line with this article. I will write more on Flexitarianism vs MeEGANism soon and link it here eventually.

Secondly, the key thing here for a MeEGAN to look at is whether the recommended daily edible animal products (EAPs) proportion is below 15% or not, which is the MeEGAN threshold.

The context is an  average caloric expenditure per day of 2500. This will be more if you are bigger (typically women have a lower expenditure), have a faster metabolism or if you are active and do exercise. So 2500 is meant to be an average of what you need to eat to maintain a stable weight.

So here is what I think the EAP total is made of from Table 1 above (in calories):

Beef, Lamb, Pork – 30
Chicken and other poultry – 62
Eggs – 19
Fish – 40
Dairy  – 153
Lard – 36

TOTAL = 340 kcals per day from EAPs
Percentage = (340/2500) x 100 = about 14%

So this article is essentially advocating a Mostly Vegan diet (less than 15% EAPs%) for Planetary Health. Great news, we are on the right track and we have science to back us up now. Yay! FTW

If you are interested this equates to about one beef burger every 2 weeks and 1 breast of chicken, 2 small eggs and 1 serving of fish a week and 250ml (half a pint) of milk a day (1ml of water weighs 1g). Meaning you could eat a non-vegan evening meal with a modest amount of EAPs in it about 3 days of the week (or 12% of the time).

For me the milk allowance is the most surprising as I would have thought the environmental impact of feeding and transporting dairy would be as high as beef. But I guess if you include all dairy, like cheese and butter, in that allowance it seems more reasonable but still seems too high intuitively. 

Some interesting things to note: 

The Fish allowance is higher than Beef, Lamb and Pork ALL added together. Probably because it is a great source of Omega-3 & 6 oils.

The percentage of “Protein Sources” from EAPS is only 20%, if you exclude milk and 35% if you do include it. By far the greatest single entry in recommended “Protein Sources” is Nuts 40% and Legumes 39% – together that’s nearly 80% (65% including milk). However of course you are going to get protein from a lot of other plant based products elsewhere on the table, so the percentage EAPS can be reduced below this if desired and reduced to zero for a healthy fully vegan diet.

FYI a legume is – “Well-known legumes include alfalfacloverpeaschickpeaslentilslupin beanmesquitecarobsoybeanspeanuts and tamarind.”

And for completeness:

Strategy 1 – Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets.

Strategy 2 – Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food.

Strategy 3 – Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output.

Strategy 4 – Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans.

Strategy 5 – At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.

My response to Media 2Psychology Today article that is very disparaging of this report – For me the main criticism seems to rest on dismissing “nutrition epidemiology as mythology” because it can only indicate correlations and not cause and effect like a clinical study might be able to do. However given how strong some of the correlations have been in huge projects like the China Study (see also Forks Over Knives film) this claim seems disingenuous at best. If you have clear and strong correlations and clear and widespread anecdotal evidence, surely this is enough to guide our decisions when detailed widespread clinical trials are impractical or impossible when measuring lifestyle choices over decades.

It also seems very dismissive of some very qualified researchers and their methods, and at the end seems to reveal an anti-establishment agenda at some points and lacks appreciation of the associated environmental arguments. The ad-hominem attacks and dripping sarcasm are also come across as a bit desperate. The cognitive dissonance is strong – ironic really for an article in Psychology Today! Most of the other points made are a result of this being a general article designed to be relevant to the majority of the global population, so it is natural that there are certain exceptions where it does not apply. As long as these are exceptions then the central claims remain unscathed.

The lack of wider understanding is shown where she seems to agree we need to adapt our eating and farm production habits to save the planet, but then advocates a dietary free-for-all where everyone is free to eat what they want – but you can’t have both, that’s exactly where we are now and its not working. Obviously there is much more to said in response, but I recognise many of the common tropes for dismissing scientific findings that one doesn’t personally like similar to those used against global warming.

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