“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200 000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.”
Those words, found on the main page for EAT-Lancet, are from comments by Tarmara Lucas and Richard Horton, editors for The Lancet. EAT-Lancet is a campaign to force a high-carb, plant-based diet on all or most of the world’s population. They have global aspirations. I don’t automatically have a problem with this, despite my dislike of technocratic paternalism, for I understand there are global problems that require global solutions (pollution, for example, knows no national boundary). But there is a long history of bad dietary advice being imposed on large populations. I’m not fond of dominator culture, no matter how good the intentions. We might be wise to be cautious before going down that road again.
Besides, there seems to be an inherent contradiction behind this advocacy. The report and the editorial both are praising basically what is the same old high-carb diet that governments around the world have been pushing since the late 1970s, a diet that is correlated with an epidemic of chronic diseases. The journal’s own editors seemingly admit that they see it as a forced choice between “a healthy diet” and “balancing planetary resources” — one or the other but not both. Or rather, since many of them don’t follow their own advice (more on that further down), it’s good health for the rich shoved onto the malnourished shoulders of the poor. This interpretation is indicated by how the report simultaneously acknowledges certain foods are healthy even as those very foods are supposed to be restricted. Then the authors suggest that vitamin supplementation or fortification might be necessary to make up for what is lacking. It’s not always clear, in the report, when a dietary suggestion is intended to promote human health or intended to promote planetary health. Are they really trying to save the world or simply hoping to prop up a collapsing global order?
The claims about a healthy diet are suspect. “The Achilles heel of the proposal?,” asks Tim Noakes and then continues, “Most must surely realise that this cannot be healthy in the long term.” For a key area of health, “Our brains NEED animal foods. They’re 2/3 fat and can’t function without DHA. It also needs Vitamins B12, K2, A & Iron. They’re ONLY in animal foods & without them we have major brain issues. The spread of veganism is pouring fuel on the mental health crisis fire” (Carnivore Aurelius). I suspect the EAT-Lancet proponents realize this and don’t care… or rather it’s not their primary concern. This is not a new situation, since malnourishment caused by dietary guidelines has been going on for generations at this point. This point is made by Nina Teicholz: “Americans have eaten more plants, fewer animal foods, and 34% less red meat since 1970. While, rates of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. How does it make sense that continuing on this path will improve health if it hasn’t so far?” (Not just an issue for Americans since the 1977 US Department Diet Guidelines were adopted widely throughout the world, based on extremely weak evidence and bad science.) Elsewhere, she adds: “There is no rational basis for that.” As usual, Dr. Jason Fung shares this take on the situation: “they know they’re going to succeed with the same advice. Insanity, literally.” In another tweet, Tim Noakes concludes with a rhetorical question: “Don’t humans ever learn?”
Official dietary recommendations have been a grand failure, one could easily argue, and we have no reason to expect different results, other than a continued worsening as ill health accumulates from one generation to the next. Then again, maybe it hasn’t failed in that maybe it’s purpose was never to promote public health in the first place. When something seems to fail and continues to get repeated, consider the possibility that it is serving some other purpose all too well. If so, the real agenda simply isn’t the one being publicly stated. Not to be conspiratorial, but human nature is what it is and that means people are good at rationalizing to themselves and others. It is largely irrelevant whether or not they sincerely believe they have good intentions.
Perhaps the covert motive is old school social control and social engineering, and quite possibly motivated by the genuine concern of paternalism. Promoting a single diet for all the world would mean more big government run by technocrats who work for plutocrats, all to make the world a better place and it just so happens to directly benefit certain people more than others. The ruling elite and the comfortable classes are starting to worry about the consequences of the capitalism that has slowly destroyed the world and, in their technocratic fantasy, they are hoping to manage the situation. That means getting the masses in line. There are too many useless eaters. And if the excess population (i.e., the takers) can’t be eliminated entirely without a lot of mess and complication (World War III, plague, eugenics, etc), their consumption habits could be manipulated and redirected so that they don’t use up the resources needed by the rich (i.e., the makers). Since the teeming masses are useless anyhow, it matters not that they’ll be further malnourished than they already are. Sure, an increasing number will die at a younger age and all the better, as it will keep the population down. (Yes, I’m being cynical, maybe more than is called for. But I don’t feel forgiving at the moment toward those who claim to have all the answers to complex problems. Let them experiment on themselves first and then get back to us later with the results.)
The commissioners of the report recommend that governments use “choice editing” in order to “guide choice” (nudge theory) through incentives, disincentives, and default policy or, failing that, “restrict choice” and “eliminate choice” to enforce compliance. That is to say, “the scale of change to the food system is unlikely to be successful if left to the individual or whim of consumer choice. This change requires reframing at the population and systemic level. By contrast, hard policy interventions include laws fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration, and other economic and structural measures.” This interventionism, including “banning and pariah status of key products” along with “rationing on a population scale”, would be more authoritarian in its proposed strategy than prior guidelines. It’s misleading to call them ‘guidelines’ at all when the object is to eliminate choice because the masses are seen as being too stupid and weak to make the right choice.
No doubt, an austerity diet would never be willingly accepted by entire populations. In the blockade following World War II, the residents of Berlin were forced by circumstances into severe restriction of a subsistence diet based mostly on carbs while low in calories, protein and fat — not that far off from the official dietary recommendations. Writing in 1952, Dr. H. E. Magee, Senior Medical Officer of the UK Ministry of Health, concluded: “The Berlin diet was austere… and only the compelling force of hunger and the fear of political oppression would, I believe, make any civilized community continue to eat a similar diet for as long as the Berliners did” (Nutrition Lessons of the Berlin Blockade). Yet so many officials continue with the mentality that austerity diets are the way to go: calorie counting, portion control, etc. But Gary Taubes, In Why We Get Fat, makes the point that all this accomplishes is making people endlessly hungry with the perverse effect of a rebound effect of gaining weight, even if initially losing it. Other than a blockade or government enforcement, hunger always wins out. That is why the only successful diets are satiating, which generally means nutrient-density and high-fat.
As always, the rich want to tell the lower classes how to live and then to have them do as their told, by carrot or stick. “The EAT-Lancet Commission spent three years calculating the first scientific targets for a healthy, globally-sustainable diet,” wrote Nick McDermott. “But,” he noted, “the panel of experts admitted none of them were on it.” So, do as they say, not as they do. Also pointing out the hypocrisy were Nina Teicholz and Dr. Jason Fung, the former stating it bluntly about one of the rich advocates: “#EATlancet funders: Private plane jetting around the world, major carbon footprint lifestyle while telling others to save planet from global warming. Doesn’t sound right.” Connecting some dots, Jeroen Sluiter observed that this isn’t exactly new behavior for the paternalistic dietary elite: “This reminds me of how nutrition guidelines’ first villain, Ancel Keys, lectured all of us about the “dangers” of meat while frequently enjoying the most delicious roast beef with his wife Margaret.”
I was reminded of the exact same thing. In reference to Ancel Key’s “stringent vows of the dietary priesthood”, Sally Fallon Morell offers the following note (p. 157, Nourishing Diets): “Actually, Keys recommended the practice of renunciation for the general population but not for himself or those of his inner circle. The esteemed researcher Fred Kummerow, PhD, defender of eggs and butter in the human diet, once spied Keys and a colleague eating eggs and bacon at a conference for cardiologists. When Kummerow inquired whether Keys had changed his mind about dietary fats and cholesterol, Keys replied that such a restricted diet was “for others,” not for himself.” Keep in mind that Keys was the main figure that forced this dietary religion onto the American population and much of the rest of the world. With persuasive charisma, he righteously advocated that others should eat a high carb and fiber diet with restricted animal products: meat, fat, butter, eggs, etc. This became government policy and transformed the entire food sector. The eventual impact has been on possibly billions of people over multiple generations. Yet it wasn’t important enough for his own dietary habits.
There is not enough to go around, but don’t worry, our benevolent overlords will never go without. As yet another put it with some historical context, “The elites will never eat this diet they prescribe to the masses. Meat for me. And wheat for thee. The elites with their superior bodies brains intellects and money will need special nutrition to maintain their hegemony and rightful place as leaders of the planet. Ask yourself why the silicon valley brainiacs are all on keto/carnivore. It’s a reenactment of feudal life w fatty meats for the elites & thin gruel for the peasants” (David Smith). A high-carb diet combined with low-protein and low-fat has always been a poverty diet, rarely eaten by choice other than by ascetic monks (and maybe its an acceptable diet for those who, with little physical activity, spend their time meditating and praying). Worse still, it’s unhealthy and, except when calories are pushed so low as to be a starvation diet, it’s fattening.
This general strategy has been done before. It’s a way of shifting the blame and the consequences elsewhere. It’s the same as promoting feel good policies such as encouraging recycling for households, which helps distract from the fact that the vast majority of waste comes from factories and other businesses. The rich use most of the resources and cause the most problems. Yet it’s the rest of us who are supposed to take responsibility, as consumer-citizens. What the rich pushing this agenda refuse to talk about is that the entire system is to blame, the very system they benefit the most from. The only way to solve the problem is to eliminate the socioeconomic order that creates people so rich and powerful that they dream of controlling the world. If sustainability is the genuine concern, we need to return to a smaller-scale decentralized way of living where solutions come from communities, not enforced by distant dictocrats.
But that would mean reducing inequality of wealth and power by bringing the resources and the decisions back to local populations. As Peter Kalmus wisely put it, “You cannot have billionaires and a livable Earth. The two cannot go together.” That isn’t what the billionaire, Gunhild Stordalen, funding this campaign wants, though (her organization is the EAT part of EAT-Lancet). She likes the inequality just fine the way it is, if not for the problem of all those poor people.
As Herman Melvile put it, “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” The rich are worrying about what will happen when the living conditions, including diets, improve for the rest of the global population. And there is reason to worry for, after all, it is a finite planet. But the upper classes should worry about themselves, with the externalized costs of their lifestyle (on a finite planet, externalizations that go around come around). Once the obstructionist elite get out of the way, I have no doubt that the rest of us can come up with innovative responses to these dire times. Locally-sourced food eaten in season, organic and GMO-free agriculture, community gardens and family farms, crop rotation and cattle pasturage, farmers markets and food co-ops, etc — these are the kinds of things that will save the world, assuming we aren’t already too late.
A local diet including animal foods will be a thousand times better for the planetary biosphere than turning all of earth’s available land into big ag industrial farming in order to support a plant-based diet. Even in the EAT-Lancet report, they agree that “animal production can also be essential for supporting livelihoods, grassland ecosystem services, poverty alleviation, and benefits of nutritional status.” They even go so far as to add that this is true “particularly in children and vulnerable populations.” Yet they attack all animal foods, which are the best sources of fat-soluble vitamins that Weston A. Price found were central to the healthiest populations. Somehow too much animal products are bad for you and the entire planet, not just red meat but also chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. Instead, we’re supposed to sustain ourselves on loads of carbs, as part of the decades of government-subsidized, chemically-doused, genetically-modified, and nutrient-depleted “Green Revolution”.
What they don’t explain is how the world’s poor are supposed to eat this way. It’s presented as emphasizing fruits and vegetables. But in many poor countries, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than animal foods. The authors of the report do admit that animal foods might be increased slightly for many demographics — as Dr. Georgia Ede put it: “Although their diet plan is intended for all “generally healthy individuals aged two years and older,” the authors admit it falls short of providing proper nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished—and that even those not within these special categories will need to take supplements to meet their basic requirements.” It’s not clear what this means, as this admission goes against their general recommendations. The proposal is vague on details with neither food lists nor meal plans. And the details shown don’t actually indicate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, as the plant-based foods mostly consist of carbs (according to Optimising Nutrition’s Should you EAT Lancet?, the calorie breakdown should be: 70% plant-based including sweeteners; with 46% carbs; only 3% vegetables & 5% fruits; & a remarkable 5% for sweeteners, about equal to allowance of meat).
In the harsh criticism offered by Optimising Nutrition: “You would be forgiven if you thought from their promotional materials that they were promoting more vegetables. But it’s not actually the case! However, I admit they are promoting primarily a ‘plant based diet’ if you count corn, soy and wheat (grown using large scale agricultural practices, mono-cropping and large doses of fertilisers and chemical pesticides) and the oils that you can extract them as ‘plant based’.” I eat more actual vegetables on my low-carb, high-fat paleo diet than is being recommended in the EAT-Lancet report. Just because a diet is ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy, considering most processed foods consist of plant-based ingredients. Even commercial whole wheat breads with some fiber and vitamins added back in to the denatured flour are basically junk food with good marketing. Heck, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup are both plant-based. The EAT-Lancet diet is basically the Standard American Diet (SAD), as it has fallen in line with decades of a Food Pyramid with carbs as the base — more from Optimising Nutrition:
“The thing that struck me was the EAT Lancet dietary guidance seems to largely be an extension of the current status quo that is maximising profits for the food industry and driving us to eat more than we need to. Other than the doubling down on the recommendation to reduce red meat and eggs, it largely seems like business-as-usual for the food industry. With Walter Willett at the helm, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this looks and feels like an extension of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the whole world, complete with talk of United Nations level sanctions to prevent excess meat consumption. […] it’s the added fats and oils (mostly from unsaturated fats) as well as flours and cereals (from rice, wheat and corn) that have exploded in our food system and tracked closely with the rise in obesity. The EAT Lancet guidelines will ensure that this runaway trend continues!”
The proposal, though, isn’t entirely worthless. But it most definitely is confusing and internally conflicted. Even if it genuinely were a diet high in healthy produce, it’s not clear why the dismissal of all animal foods, including eggs and dairy that are enjoyed by most vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. If feeding the world is the issue, it’s hard to beat an egg for cost effectiveness and it accomplishes this without need for the kind of subsidization we see with high-yield crops. When I was poor, I survived on eggs with the expensive ingredient being the few frozen vegetables I threw in for balance and variety. They are filling, both satisfying and satiating. Also, they make for a quick and easy meal, an advantage for the working poor with limited time and energy.
We are being told, though, that eggs are part of what is destroying the world and so must be severely limited, if not entirely eliminated, for the good of humanity. “While eggs are no longer thought to increase risk of heart disease, Willett said the report recommends limiting them because studies indicate a breakfast of whole grains, nuts and fruit would be healthier” (Candice Choi). So, there is nothing unhealthy about eggs, but since they are made of protein and fat, we should eat more carbs and sugar instead — “According to EAT Lancet, you can eat 8 tsp of sugar but only 1/4 egg per day” (Nina Teicholz). After all, everyone knows that American health has improved over the decades as more carbs and sugar were eaten… no, wait, it’s the complete opposite with worsening health. That is plain fucked up! Explain to me again why eggs, one of the cheapest and healthiest food sources, are being targeted as a danger to human existence in somehow contributing or linked to overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change. What exactly is the connection? Am I missing something?
Whatever the explanation, eating less of such things as eggs, we are supposed to eat more of such things as vegetables, at least in taking at face value how this diet is being sold. Let’s pretend for a moment that the Eat-Lancet diet is accurately described as vegetable-focused and that, as a sweeping recommendation, it is fully justified. Consider that, as Diana Rodgers explains, “Fresh produce is not grown year round in all locations, not available to everyone, and by calorie, weight, and micronutrients, more expensive than meat. Oh, and lettuce has three times the GHG emissions of bacon and fruit has the largest water and energy footprint per calorie. I didn’t see this mentioned in the EAT Lancet report.” We forget that our cheap vegetables in the West are actually rather uncommon for much of the world, excluding root vegetables which are more widely available. I’d guess we only have such a broad variety of cheap vegetables here in the West because its part of the government-subsidization of high-yield farming, which by the way has simultaneously depleted our soil and so produced nutrient-deficient food. I’m all in favor of subsidizing vegetables and much else, but I’d rather see the subsidization of sustainable farming in general that promotes nutrient-dense foods, not limited to plants. Anyway, how is telling poor people to eat more expensive and, in some cases, problematic foods going to help the world’s population that is struggling with poverty and inequality?
“And what are the things individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint?,” as also brought up by Rodgers. “According to a recent meta-analysis, having one less child (in industrialized nations), which was shown by far to have the biggest impact, followed by living “car-free”, avoiding one round-trip trans-Atlantic flight, and buying “green” energy have much more of an effect on our carbon footprint than our dietary choices.” Most people in the West are already having fewer children. And most people in the rest of the world already live without cars. We know that the birthrate goes down when life conditions are improved, but this dietary regime would worsen life conditions through austerity politics and so would make people feel more desperate than they already are. As for transportation, many things could lessen the externalized costs of that, from funding public transportation to the relevant option of increasing local farming. More mass farming to support this top-down dietary scheme would require more mass transportation and inevitably would create more pollution.
One might note that Eat-Lancet is specifically partnered with big ag companies, such as Monsanto that has poisoned the world’s population with Roundup (i.e., glyphosate). Other companies involved are those developing meat alternatives produced from the industrially-farmed crops of big ag. And don’t worry about how this carb-laden diet will harm your health with the majority of the American population already some combination of insulin sensitive, pre-diabetic, and diabetic — they’ve got this covered: “The drug company Novo Nordisk supports Eat-Lancet. Smart. Insulin is 85% of their revenue” (P. D. Mangan). I’m beginning to see a pattern here in the vested interests behind this proposal. Just to throw out a crazy idea, maybe transnational corporations are the problem, not the answer.
The whole health and sustainability claim is a red herring and an unhelpful distraction. The Eat-Lancet commissioners and others of their ilk don’t feel they have to justify their position, not really. They throw out some halfhearted rationalizations, but they fall apart under casual scrutiny. Furthermore, there is far from being a consensus among the experts. The Associated Press offered some dissenting voices, such as “John Ioannidis, chair of disease prevention at Stanford University, said he welcomed the growing attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health.” Ioannidis was quoted as saying, “The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be.” That is to put it mildly. We are in the middle of a replication crisis in numerous fields of science and, as Ioannidis has shown, food-related research is among the worse. When he says the evidence is not strong enough, people should pay attention.
For emphasis, consider what kind of scientists are involved in this project. The lead researcher and author behind the EAT-Lancet report is Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department. He was recently rebuked in science journal Nature (editorial and feature article) for his unscientific behavior. Willett has many potential conflicts of interest with, according to Nina Teicholz, “many 100Ks in funding by a host of companies selling/promoting plant-based diet.” This is the guy, by the way, who inherited the mantle from Ancel Keys, of which some would consider very low praise, as Keys too has regularly been accused of an unscientific approach to diet and nutrition.
Let me return to nutrient-density in my concluding thoughts. Feeding the whole world is the easy part. But if we want humanity, all of humanity, to thrive and not merely survive, this is what it comes down to — as I previously wrote (A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!): “We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.”
From that piece, I suggested that nutrient-density, especially if combined with low-carb, might decrease food consumption worldwide. And for damn sure, it would improve health for those already eating so little. “What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!” This is very much an issue of inequality, as at least some of the EAT-Lancet commissioners acknowledge — Dr. Lawrence Haddad says, “Most conflict is driven by inequality, or at least a sense of inequality. Work by UNICEF and others shows that inequality in terms of malnutrition is actually rising faster within countries than it is between countries. So inequality within countries in terms of things like stunting and anaemia is either not improving or is actually worsening – and we know that inequality is a big driver of violence conflict.” The EAT-Lancet report itself mentions this in passing, mostly limited to a single paragraph:
“Wars and disasters cause food insecurity and highlight the issues faced when nutrition is inadequate and food becomes scarce. Wars and natural disasters also provide opportunities from which the food system can be transformed. However, only at the end of World War 2 was a global effort and commitment introduced to redirect the food system.258 New institutions were created or revised at the global level such as WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Bank, which allied with new and renewed national Ministries of agriculture and health to stop pre-war food problems caused by market distortions, environmentally-damaging farming, and social inequalities.259 However, the negative consequences of the post-war food revolution are now becoming increasingly clear (ie, negative environmental and health consequences, as outlined in this Commission).”
I’ll give them credit for bringing it up at all, however inadequately. They do admit that our food system has failed. That makes it all the more unfortunate that they are demanding more of the same. As others have noted, the diet they have fashioned for the world is severely lacking in nutrition. And they offer no convincing suggestions in how to reverse this problem. It won’t help to eat more plant-based foods, if they are grown through chemical-dependent high-yield farming that is depleting the soil of minerals and killing the microbes. The idea of nutrient-dense foods is simply not on their radar. That is because a large portion of nutrient-dense foods don’t come from plants and, furthermore, aren’t compliant with industrial farming and food production. That isn’t to say we should be eating massive amounts of meat, but animal foods have been the key element to every health population. Even among vegetarians, the healthiest are those with access to high quality dairy and eggs, along with those eating food from traditional farming that includes many insects mixed in with grains and such.
None of that, as far as I can tell, is discussed in the EAT-Lancet report. The authors offer no helpful advice, no long-term vision that can move us in a positive direction. Their ideology is getting ahead of the science. A sense of urgency is important. But impatience, especially the EAT Foundation’s self-described “impatient disruption”, won’t serve us well. It was careless hubris that got us here. It’s time we learn to respect the precautionary principle, to think carefully before collectively acting or rather before the ruling elite goes forward with yet another harebrained scheme. If as a society we want to direct our sense of urgency toward where it counts, that wouldn’t be hard to do: “World: Stop wasting a third of the food produced. Stop wrapping it in needless packaging. Stop transporting food half way round the world. Stop selling food at below-cost prices. Stop undercutting our produce with low standard alternatives. Then I’ll discuss how much meat I eat” (David Hill). It would mean drastically transforming our political and economic system. Capitalism and corporatism, as we know it, must end for the sake of humanity and the planet.
* * *
The Big Fat Surprise
by Nina Teicholz
“We Cannot Afford to Wait”
In the late 1970s in America, the idea that a plant-based diet might be the best for health as well as the most historically authentic was just entering the popular consciousness. Active efforts to demonize saturated fat had been underway for more than fifteen years by that time, and we’ve seen how the McGovern committee’s staff were in short order persuaded by these ideas. Even so, the draft report that Mottern wrote for the McGovern committee sparked an uproar—predictably—from the meat, dairy, and egg producers. They sent representatives to McGovern’s office and insisted that he hold additional hearings. Under pressure from these lobbies, McGovern’s staff carved out an exception for lean meats, which Americans could be advised to eat. Thus, Dietary Goals recommended that Americans increase poultry and fish while cutting back on red meat, butterfat, eggs, and whole milk. In the language of macronutrients, this meant advising Americans to reduce total fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sugar, and salt while increasing carbohydrate consumption to between 55 percent and 60 percent of daily calories.
While Mottern would have liked the final report to advise against meat altogether, some of the senators on the committee were not so unequivocally confident about their ability to weigh in on matters of nutritional science. The ranking minority member, Charles H. Percy from Illinois, wrote in the final Dietary Goals report that he and two other senators had “serious reservations” about the “divergence of scientific opinion on whether dietary change can help the heart.” They described the “polarity” of views among well-known scientists such as Jerry Stamler and Pete Ahrens and noted that leaders in government, including no less than the head of the NHLBI as well as the undersecretary of health, Theodore Cooper, had urged restraint before making recommendations to the general public.
Yet this hesitation turned out to be too little too late to stop the momentum that Mottern’s report had set in motion. Dietary Goals revived the same argument that Keys and Stamler had used before: that now was the time to take action on an urgent public health problem. “We cannot afford to await the ultimate proof before correcting trends we believe to be detrimental,” said the Senate report.
So it was that Dietary Goals , compiled by one interested layperson, Mottern, without any formal review, became arguably the most influential document in the history of diet and disease. Following publication of Dietary Goals by the highest elective body in the land, an entire government and then a nation swiveled into gear behind its dietary advice. “It has stood the test of time, and I feel very proud of it, as does McGovern,” Marshall Matz, general counsel of the McGovern committee, told me thirty years later.
Proof of the report’s substantiality, according to Matz, is that its basic recommendations—to reduce saturated fat and overall fat while increasing carbohydrates—have endured down to today. But such logic is circular. What if the US Congress had said exactly the opposite: to eat meat and eggs and nothing else? Perhaps that advice, supported by the power of the federal government, would have lived on equally well. In the decades since the publication of Dietary Goals , Americans have seen the obesity and diabetes epidemics explode—a hint, perhaps, that something is wrong with our diet. Based on these facts, the government might have deemed it appropriate to reconsider these goals, but it has nevertheless stayed the course because governments are governments, the least nimble of institutions, and unable easily to change direction.
* * *
One hundred and eleven years ago a scientist in St. Petersberg Russia fed rabbits meat, eggs, and dairy. Not unexpectedly for a herbivorous animal, it built up in the blood vessels. It also built up in the ligaments, the tendons, the muscles, and everywhere else in the rabbits body without any evolved mechanism for excretion. This yellow goop in the rabbit’s aortas looked just like human atherosclerosis, which had only been described four years earlier. This started science down a misguided pathway of focusing on fat as the cause of hardening of the arteries. A pathway that future historians will likely call the greatest tragedy in terms of years of life lost in the history of humanity.
Initially it was eating cholesterol that was blamed for causing of hardening of the arteries. Then in the 1950s an American physiologist, who had such an affinity for hard compacted refined carbohydrates that he designed soldiers rations featuring it, expanded the blame from cholesterol to all fat, especially animal fat. Carbohydrates should be increased and fat excluded, that was the battle cry! In the 1970s this unproven theory drew the attention of the US senate, and within a few short years blaming fat for atherosclerosis became a worldwide revolution. This time period, interesting, also marks the beginning of the obesity epidemic that has gripped the world’s developed countries. Tragically, what everyone seemed to have missed was the fact that there was no conclusive scientific evidence for this theory, and over time much of that thinking has actually been proven wrong. I have little doubt that issuing these guidelines without conclusive scientific evidence will eventually be viewed as the most significant blunder in the history of science.
I am an ICU doctor. I see the carnage that this cavalier and misguided attitude towards food guidelines has caused every single day, up close and personal. The tears of families suffering loss. The premature death of those who should have had long lives. Parents burying their adult sons and daughters. Atherosclerosis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, when grouped together represent the top conditions for admission to adult ICUs everywhere on earth where our unhealthy Western Diet is consumed. And approximately one in five don’t survive their ICU stay. But what makes me the most angry is the fact that those people who draft these misguided non-scientific food guidelines, with their biased agendas and misrepresented studies, sit in government offices and ivory towers completely remote from the devastating impact of their work. Is it any wonder that the doctors of the world represent a large portion of those leading the charge against our current misguided food guidelines. Doctors are not remote to the problem or blind to the devastation. It is here every single day at work.
This has to stop. Food guidelines need to be based on rigorous science. How many more thousands of people have to die.
Enough is enough.
* * *
* * *
Billionaire Vegan Tells Us all How to Eat
by Tim Rees
Eat Lancet, a template for sustaining irony
by Stefhan Gordon
Does Lancet want to hand control of our diets to the state?
by Kate Andrews
Tax, ban, regulate: the radical ‘planetary health diet’ explained
by Christopher Snowden
Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher
Two-pager Scientific Evidence on Red Meat and Health
from The Nutrition Coalition
I think you’ll find it’s a little bit more complicated than that…
by Malcolm Tucker
Why we should resist the vegan putsch
by Joanna Blythman
The EAT Lancet diet is nutritionally deficient
by Zoë Harcombe
EAT-Lancet Diet – inadequate protein for older adults
by Joy Kiddie
EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust
Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner
20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat
by Diana Rodgers
Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin
Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy
The EAT-Lancet Commission’s controversial campaign
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen
Why we shouldn’t all be vegan
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen
Considerations on the EAT-Lancet Commission Report
from CARNI Sostenibili
The Eat-Lancet Commission: The World’s Biggest Lie
by Angela A. Stanton
Is the EAT-Lancet (Vegan) Rule-Book Hijacking Our Health?
by Belinda Fettke
EAT-Lancet’s Plant-based Planet: 10 Things You Need to Know
by Georgia Ede
Should you EAT Lancet?
from Optimising Nutrition