When I signed up to eat the planetary health plate diet for 30 days, I forgot two small details: Super Bowl Sunday and Earther was dispatching me to northwest Florida for a story halfway through my first week. So I’ve had a chance to eat at home and away, and you’ll be shocked to learn the latter has been a bit of a challenge.
The planetary health plate is a diet put together by scientists as a general guide for how to feed a projected 10 billion humans in 2050 while also keeping the planet from keeling over. It consists largely of vegetables and whole grains, and I’m eating it for the next month to see what the future of food could be like. For the first half of the week, I filled my fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables and dipped into my pantry stocked with quinoa, brown rice, lentils, and a bunch of other whole grains and legumes. And I could hit the grocery store just a few blocks away for anything I didn’t have handy.
As a Masshole diehard Patriots fan (don’t @ me), I was constitutionally required to sit through every minute of an at times unwatchable Super Bowl game. The diet didn’t say anything about drinks so I knocked back a few Harpoon Dunkin Donuts porters because I am walking stereotype. But the normal nachos, wings, veggies and ranch dip, and other food accoutrements weren’t really going to work if I wanted to stay in my planetary lane. I decided to keep the veggies and swapped in hummus for ranch and made cauliflower wings, which in some ways I consider to be a superior wing. Coating florets with a batter of chickpea flour, cornstarch, and spices, and baking them yields something that tastes damn good when paired with buffalo sauce (here’s a rough approximation of what I do). Bonus: You can eat a lot of them. It was the best part of the Super Bowl, to be honest.
I spent the next few days eating salads and various bowls of vegetables and grains and staring at my cheese drawer longingly. And I saved the amazing lentil salad Claire Lower at Skillet came up with to help me on my quest for my last meal before leaving for Florida. It allowed me to crack into the cheese drawer, and got me ready to fly to south on Wednesday (and yes, flying is a whole other planetary health matter).
And that’s when things began to get challenging. My hotel is a just-off-the-highway spot with a morning breakfast buffet, which isn’t exactly a bastion for planet- and health-friendly foods. The smell of cheesy eggs, bacon and biscuits and gravy just about brought me to my knees walking down to the lobby in the morning. One approach to the planetary plate is to stockpile your small daily allowance like meats and dairy and then use whatever you’ve saved on one day, and I hadn’t had any meat outside of the sparing pancetta in the lentil salad or eggs period. So I could’ve hit the buffet, but overcooked hotel eggs and crispy bacon seemed like a waste of my allowance. I ended up grabbing a yogurt and found a juice bar that had a killer spinach and avocado smoothie.
My lunch and dinner situation were bigger issues. The story I’m here for involved two days of bushwhacking through very rough terrain in hot weather. This isn’t a scenario where I could cram a salad in my backpack at 8 a.m. and then crack it open at 1 p.m. without getting food poisoning. And with no sealable containers or kitchen to cook in, it’s not like I could whip up some rice and beans to carry with me.
I wound up bringing an orange, some trail mix, and a protein bar to keep me fueled in the woods on both days. That meant blowing through my allotment of nuts for a few days, and the whey protein counts against my dairy consumption. The snacks were enough to keep me fueled, but I was still pretty ready for a real dinner.
Normally if I’m working in the field and it’s physically demanding, I use it to justify ordering fries and a sandwich. The diet outlined by the EAT-Lancet Commission is meant to not just help the planet, but help humans stay in health’s good graces by avoiding excess fat, sugar, and processed foods in addition to meat. That meant avoiding most chains, which immediately reduced my options when it came to places open at 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday or Thursday. I did find a restaurant that had some veggie-heavy plates that sounded great, and I was pretty excited for about the roast carrots, squash, and goat cheese concoction I ordered until the guy next to me’s 8-oz steak and triple-fried frites arrived.
That traveling and eating the planetary health plate diet hasn’t been impossible. In some ways it’s been empowering to think about my food choices on the road (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself). As I sit here writing this on a down day, I’m weighing my lunch options and leaning toward a tempeh rueben on whole grain. And I may even eat a few of the fries that come with it.