Saturday 23 February 2019

Editorial: 'Dangers show it's time for a rethink of our food system'

In the developed world, we throw away enough food annually to make sure no child ought to go to bed hungry. Stock photo: Getty
In the developed world, we throw away enough food annually to make sure no child ought to go to bed hungry. Stock photo: Getty
Editorial

Editorial

It was John F Kennedy who pointed out: "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

That was half a century ago. Today, despite unprecedented global growth, one billion people do not have enough to eat.

In the developed world, we throw away enough food annually to make sure no child ought to go to bed hungry.

So we didn't really need a shocking report from the 'Lancet' medical journal to tell us the global food system is unsustainable, or that we are courting climate catastrophe; its arguments are grimly compelling nonetheless.

Food production is exerting the greatest pressure on the Earth's ecology and stability.

The writer Margaret Meade firmly believed it would be easier to get a man to change his religion than his diet.

And she may well be right, if Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae is anything to go by.

This week he doubled down on his dismissal of "ridiculous" suggestions that people should stop eating meat to help tackle climate change.

But 20 influential food scientists are convinced meat consumption in western countries such as Ireland may need to drop by 90pc.

They argue our system simultaneously leaves billions of people either underfed or overweight. Yet most of us wouldn't give a hill of beans for the half-a-rasher a day and no potatoes menu they served up.

The case for iron rations and a radical reduction in meat and dairy in favour of plant-based alternatives is pressing, if the boffins are to have their way.

To get the necessary intake of calories, one would be expected to eat almost 18 times as much dry beans, soy and nuts.

The report even recommends the introduction of a meat tax to change our diets. Small wonder our farmers are less than gruntled. An IFA spokesman said we have very efficient food production systems in Ireland.

"Proteins from beef and dairy are an important part of a balanced diet," he added.

If it is true the global food system accounts for about a third of all carbon emissions, we do need to think again.

One expert welcomed the report on the grounds it exposed "the full agenda of nanny state campaigners".

Others may laugh it off, in the manner of the man eating a steak in his local restaurant. When a random woman said: "Y'know, you'd be much better off being a vegetarian."

"Are you crazy?" he asked. "The cow was a vegetarian and look what happened to it."

We must look at our options realistically. Changing behaviours is never easy; since the industrial revolution we managed to close our minds to the massive imbalances on our planet; now it appears they are coming back to bite us.

Irish Independent

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