By Dawna Matthews:
Food, diet, nutrition, calories, what to eat, how much, in what combination — these are all recommendations we consider on some level each day. Different government organizations have been informing people on diet with recommendations regarding topics such as nutritional guidelines and serving sizes for quite some time. In European circles recently, a new double food pyramid has appeared, showing there is more involved than how food consumption affects your body and overall health: it illustrates how what you eat affects the environment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the food group categories for the American people in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the organization began to advise people about restricting their diet based on four food groups. It wasn’t until 1992 that the USDA, and Department of Health and Human Services created the first ever Food Guide Pyramid in an attempt to provide guidelines regarding what to eat for optimal nutrition. It was very loosely based on the the very first food pyramid developed in Sweden in 1972. The Swedish version had categories of “basic” essential foods for one’s health and well being, and a “supplementary” category. The North American version had been heavily influenced by the food industry and, until recently, suggested large portions of carbohydrates and separate categories of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and fats.
The Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment was initiated by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) out of Italy. They saw how a more accurate version was needed, much as the USDA did in 2010, and set out to redefine optimum nutrition and healthy eating as well as how food choices impact the world. The Double Food Pyramid illustrates a food pyramid on the left side and an environmental pyramid on the right. Based upon a Mediterranean lifestyle diet, it exhibits a larger strata of fruits and vegetables as the foundation, followed by separate layers which include grains and legumes, olive oil, dairy, meat and sweets. (http://www.barillacfn.com/en/bcfn4you/la-doppia-piramide/). The environmental side is inverted and displays the environmental impact of food from greatest to least impact. The environmental impact is based on calculations of greenhouse gas emissions, the measured amount of energy to raise livestock, grow grains and vegetables, as well as land use, water consumption, and transportation of these goods.
Once the data was collected and studied, the BCFN designed the inverted pyramid, placing the foods that impact the environment the most at the top, and on the slide down the pyramid places the foods with less and less effect on the environment. Interestingly enough, the foods with the greatest impact on the environment such as meat, seafood, and dairy should be eaten in smaller quantities and less frequently. Likewise, we should eat greater amounts of fruits and vegetables for health reasons, and they have the least effect on the environment.
It should come as no surprise that the foods which nourish us more also do less harm to the environment. Eating delicious foods for the health of our bodies as well as the health of the earth should be easy — and now we actually can see how they are related. Whenever you are considering what to cook for dinner, or what food works for you and your health, you can consider also the impact of the environment and know what’s good for you is also good for the planet.
For more information on the USDA food guidelines: