I’ve now spent four weeks eating a diet that scientists crafted to demonstrate how all of humanity could eat sustainably in 2050. And over the past two days, things went off the rails. Sorry, Earth (also sorry, body).
The EAT-Lancet Commission put out a report in January outlining what a daily diet—dubbed the planetary health plate diet—could look like that allowed the 10 billion people projected to live on this planet by 2050 to live in harmony with the limited resources we have. It’s also meant to be healthy for the people eating it, too. And I’ve been organizing my meals around it meticulously in an effort to see what the future could look like. But I couldn’t get past my present situation this week. Here’s why.
In short, the editorial staff of Gizmodo Media Group is unionized, and we’ve been negotiating our next contract. This week was the deadline to get a deal done, which meant marathon sessions for our bargaining committee to meet with management and hammer something out. And as luck would have it, I am Earther’s representative on the committee.
Turns out bargaining a contract is a stressful, time consuming endeavor. And turns out, I can easily eat my feelings. I knew there wasn’t a sliver for pizza on the planetary health plate diet, but I also just wanted to eat the damn pizza at the office and so I did. And pasta. And the chocolates. And a quarter donut. (Okay, actually it was four quarters of four different donuts.) And also a donut muffin—I don’t even know what that means, but it tasted damn good. I did also have a kale-apple-ginger juice, so that was nice. But look, it was hard to keep up eating for the planet when I was fighting for worker’s rights.
And I think that highlights a few things about the planetary health plate diet. The first is that a lot of the stuff I couldn’t eat was because it was bad for me, not for the health of Earth. Donuts are a marginal cause of global warming at best, but the processed sugar, carbs, and fat are terrible for your health. Ditto for pizza. And after three-and-a-half weeks of eating mostly whole foods, eating all that processed food made me feel like butt, physically even if it wasn’t going to lead to ecosystem collapse. That’s not to say that the way we grow and process foods is great for the planet (it isn’t), but ultimately the biggest impact in breaking the diet was on myself.
The second thing it really clarified is that despite my best intentions to really investigate this diet, I just couldn’t bother when stress got to me. Sure, I could’ve made myself a salad or this amazing sounding recipe for black rice porridge Claire Lower at Skillet created, but at the end of the day, I grew up in an Italian family where comfort food is carbs, cheese, and salty, fatty goodness. Also, I was too tired to even look at my Instant Pot.
The architects of the planetary health plate note in their report that there will be regional differences in how people approach the diet, stating “ [l]ocal interpretation and adaptation of the universally-applicable planetary health diet is necessary and should reflect the culture, geography and demography of the population and individuals.” In my life, that means stress-eating carbs. Maybe the people of 2050 won’t have that problem because the food culture radically shifts, but my guess is that comfort foods will still exist, and people will still get stressed and want them. Hell, with the impacts of climate change they’ll face, stress is basically a given.
On Friday, I woke up smiling about our strong contract, made a smoothie, and took a big sip. Then I thought about what comes next for me and this diet as the-much needed nutrients coursed through my body.
My 30 days is almost up, and honestly, I think I’ll keep the diet up for the most part. For me, it wasn’t that hard, and I really value the health benefits side of eating more whole foods in general. I also really appreciate that it made me more mindful of my eating choices, and that in turn made me feel strangely at ease with both bad ones like pizza. It also changed my relationship with meat, something I wasn’t expecting but am definitely happy about.
I don’t view this diet as some kind of binary eat-to-reduce-emissions-or-the-planet-gets-it situation, and I don’t view this experiment or what I choose to eat in the future as some kind of talisman of environmental sacrifice or piety. Is it a signifier of my values? Sure. But it’s definitely not a signifier I’m above or below anyone else.
At the end of the day, there are larger systemic changes needed to rein in the planetary impacts of our food system. I can choose to eat hyper-local mushrooms or pasture raised pork from the Hudson River Valley, but industrial agriculture will continue to grind on, over-applying fertilizer, filling up lagoons with pig shit, destroying rainforests, and transporting food hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks. Rebuilding that system will require a lot more work, but as the report notes, it’s also “unprecedented opportunity” to improve nutrition, lift people out of poverty, and keep the planet in habitable shape.
I’ll definitely eat to that. Just no more donuts for awhile.