Food pundits have been busy sharing views on food trends for 2020. One that dominated 2019 and is likely to persist is variously described as plant-based or flexitarian eating. For some, it’s a response to concerns about climate change, while for others, perhaps it’s just a fashionable way to eat.
Though sometimes confused with veganism, a flexitarian or plant-based diet – predominantly plants but still containing animal protein – is essentially the diet depicted in the Government’s Eatwell Guide.
It’s great news that more people are thinking about the implications of their food choices, for themselves and the planet, but the outcomes can be incoherent and contradictory.
Increased availability of foods labelled as vegan has transformed choice for those who want to avoid or restrict animal-derived foods, but a vegan label is not automatically a shortcut to identifying healthy choices. We also need to contrast the content of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre with the levels of salt, sugars and fat.
Healthy and sustainable
Evidence shows that eating in a way that is good for health and also sustainable for the planet is complex, with the potential for unintended consequences. Opinions are often polarised, and some tough decisions need to be made by all stakeholders, including individuals.
Are we really doing the right thing if we replace locally sourced grass-fed meat, produced with high welfare standards and potentially on land that has limited use for other forms of agriculture, with grains or other plant-derived foods that travel from the Southern Hemisphere, potentially from deforested land or exported to the detriment of indigenous populations? Or, from a health perspective, switch to novel meat substitutes (eg. lab meat) that may be less nutritious?
These and many other issues need to be grappled with, as a way forward is established.