Eat for Good

Alyzah Kaharian |

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In 30 years when my grandson may be ready to start a family, he could be sharing the planet with 10 billion people, a 1/3 more than today. Imagine a 33% increase in your town’s population and how its neighborhoods, parks, roads, and schools would feel to you and your family. Explode that image and visualize the demands of 10 billion people on the earth’s resources for food, play, and work. It’s a daunting prospect.

Opportunities to invest in environmentally-friendly ways continue to grow. Investment managers continue to engage with companies about their ESG (environment, social, governance) strategies. But what if we could eat in a way that’s healthy for us and good for the environment? Similar to investing for good, how can we eat for good?

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In its recent report, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health addresses these questions, and uses it to launch a campaign for a “Great Food Transformation.” Unlike other dietary approaches that are both healthy and sustainable, this one sets quantitative guidelines.

In broad terms the Commission’s scientists recommend dietary shifts such that: “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

More specifically in such a diet, whole grains account for about 1/3 of calories; plant-based sources of protein about ¼, and fruits and vegetables another 1/10. These three groups together make up about 2/3 of calories.

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Their conclusions draw on research showing that such a diet is nutritious and healthy for most but not all of us. Exceptions include infants, pregnant women, those with medical conditions, for example Type 2 diabetes. Integrating environmental factors, the Commission scientists assume that: food production degrades the environment and undermines its sustainability; and world population will grow to 10 billion by 2050.

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3rd largest contributor globally to greenhouse gas emissions after the energy and transportation sectors. The digestive processes of livestock, primarily beef cattle, alone account for 37% of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane. Agriculture, forestry and other land use are the source of about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, the 2nd largest after the energy sector. In addition to livestock, deforestation and soil and nutrient management contribute to this 2nd place ranking.

A shift away from meat and dairy in favor of plant-based foods could relieve stresses on land and water use, reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and redirect grains for direct human consumption. Unique among carbon mitigation and adaptation strategies, environment-friendly land use and management can serve to develop carbon sinks to sequester carbon.

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No one takes on a change in diet and food preferences because of cosmic reasons like environmental sustainability. Even when motivated by personal health and emotions such as embarrassment, insecurity, and worry, our attempts to change dietary course often fall short. These considerations  can explain why a Great Food Transformation may sound impractical, or elicit a response of “not for me.”

But the stakes are high, especially for our children and their children. If we all lean incrementally towards more plant-based foods, less animal source foods, and less food waste, the aggregate impact could be substantial. Ultimately, whether by re-ordering our food choices, reducing our personal carbon footprint in other ways, directing charitable donations, opting for ESG investments, or some combination of these and other strategies, we all have ways to act now to stem global warming for our children’s future.  

Disclosure: This commentary is furnished for the use of Glen Eagle Advisors and its clients. It does not constitute the provision of investment advice to any person. It is not prepared with respect to the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person. Investors reading this commentary should consult with their Glen Eagle Advisors representative regarding the appropriateness of investing in any securities or adapting any investment strategies discussed or recommended in this commentary. The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is conferred by the CFA Institute.