Healthier and less polluting

Submitted by AWL on 12 August, 2020 - 8:00 Author: Zack Muddle
Climate protest

A study led by Oxford University academics and published on 15 May has highlighted the successive gaps between most people’s diets and national or WHO [World Health Organisation] dietary guidelines; and between these guidelines and multiple international targets which governments have signed up to.

Across the 85 countries considered, with national guidelines, if those guides or WHO ones were followed, then (the study reckons) “premature mortality” would fall by almost one sixth and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by almost a seventh. More ambitious “EAT-Lancet recommendations” would give over a third greater reduction in premature mortality, and over three times more cut in emissions.

The study recommends reforming national and WHO dietary guidelines, moving towards predominantly plant-based diets, in particular limiting beef and dairy, and increasing intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

The central job for environmentalists is to confront “fossil capital”. To shift into “blaming” individuals, consumers, the bulk of humanity, the working classes, is self-defeating. Obsessional preoccupation with diets and veganism falls into such a trap.

But the change we need must include planting many billions of trees to remove many billions of tonnes of CO2 already in the atmosphere or certain to arrive there soon (see Solidarity 529). The trees will take gigantic expanses of land, much of which is currently used for agriculture. Animal agriculture is much less efficient, in meals provided per land used, than plant-based food.

The current shift is in the opposite direction: widespread deforestation for agriculture, primarily to make animal products. Agriculture, and especially animal agriculture, have many other environmentally destructive impacts, and the need for enormous reductions in animal products internationally, on environmental grounds, is demonstrated by the scientific literature (

In fact a shift towards greater meat-eating is underway.

Changing direction requires social measures as well as more public health education: buying or expropriating land for reforestation, and thus increasing relative prices for meat and other animal products compared to plant products; research into and subsidies for plant-based foods; public measures to require availability of plant-based foods in nurseries, schools, canteens, shops, etc.

Of course some aspects of a socialist environmentalist programme will take longer than others to win the case for. But we want to “transform the “commanding heights” of the food industry.” (

Empowering people, empowering the working-class, is central to socialist politics, to the politics that will win the environmental changes we need.

"Populations” cannot be herded into dietary changes by censorious instruction. The social changes in agriculture, food, tree planting, etc. will have to be implemented deliberately by the organised working class. Empowering the working-class, individually and collectively, in consumption, is also important.

We want better food, tasty food, socially-consumed not stress-eaten food — which can also be environmentally sustainable, and even healthy.

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