The cost of westernised diets

It comes as a surprise to many that I am a vegetarian just as some 600 million people in India, which is as big as Europe and thrice as big as Brazil. My parents are strict Brahmins: they do not eat garlic, onions, eggs, meat of any kind and fish. I have been brought up in that environment all my life. I never missed meat as I there were plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes in South India, such as Dosa, Vada, Upma, Pongal, Sambar, Vatra Kuzhambu and the list goes on.

I have been in the west since 2001 and often I found it difficult to find vegetarian food in Denmark or France or now in Brazil where I am doing my postdoc. I vastly enjoyed my stay in the UK for eight years as it is a haven for vegetarians and vegan.

I learnt to cook in Denmark and ever since I have always enjoyed cooking a variety of food and sharing it with my friends. I will be doing my postdoc on Bioethanol at Unicamp. Although I love Brazil, I have a small grumble. People eat a lot of meat. It bewilders me that the government is investing a lot on Bioethanol but at the same time not considering other ways in which they could be reducing the green house gases, such as reducing the meat consumption and production.

‘The cost of westernised diets’ is published today in the Journal Nature and the researchers point out that:

Our analyses demonstrate that there are plausible solutions to the diet–environment–health trilemma, diets already chosen by many people that, if widely adopted, would offer global environmental and public health benefits. Clearly, to appeal to specific segments of the global population, other such diets should also be developed. The health benefits of adopting such diets could be substantial. Chronic diet-related non-communicable diseases are affecting an increasing number of children and adults in all but the poorest nations. Nations ranging from China and India to Mexico, Nigeria and Tunisia are in the midst of this increasing disease incidenceunless the nutrition transition that is under way is changed, diabetes, chronic heart disease and other diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases will become the dominant global disease burden, often affecting even the poorer members of poorer nations for whom appropriate health care is unavailable.

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Abstract: Diets link environmental and human health. Rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats. By 2050 these dietary trends, if unchecked, would be a major contributor to an estimated 80 per cent increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing. Moreover, these dietary shifts are greatly increasing the incidence of type II diabetes, coronary heart disease and other chronic non-communicable diseases that lower global life expectancies. Alternative diets that offer substantial health benefits could, if widely adopted, reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions, and help prevent such diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases. The implementation of dietary solutions to the tightly linked diet–environment–health trilemma is a global challenge, and opportunity, of great environmental and public health importance.

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