Feeding a global population of 10 billion – the largest forecast by 2050 – will be extremely difficult, but scientists say that this is not impossible.
A radical new diet has the potential to improve public health, save countless lives, and protect our planet for future generations, according to a large group of researchers.
It all depends on whether humans can abandon the daily dose of animal products and switch to a more flexible meal plan – which is largely based on plants with modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy.
When more than three dozen international scientists come together to offer advice to the world, it's time to sit down and listen.
As the world's population continues to grow, experts have warned for years that a radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Otherwise, we may never find the Paris climate agreement or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
"Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience," writes Johan Rockström, climate resilience researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center.
"It is the greatest individual driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. Taken together, the result is terrible."
Bringing together scientists from around the world, the EAT-Lancet Commission has now developed what it calls "the planetary health diet."
The good news is that very little food you eat right now is off limits. Instead, it's all about moderation. For example, you can still enjoy a slice of juicy red meat, but only once a month or more. On the other hand, fish and chicken are more than once every few days.
For the rest of the time, the authors argue that nuts and legumes must meet their protein needs.
"Transitioning to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary changes," writes one of the researchers, Walter Willett, a specialist in epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University.
"Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and vegetables will have to double and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 percent."
Meeting these ambitious goals will not be easy. Not only will it require a more flexible diet, but it will also require drastic reductions in food losses and waste and major improvements in food production practices.
If we want to believe in the Commission's research, however, the revolutionary changes will be worth it. Based on dozens of studies, the authors predict that increasing consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.
These changes will not only protect our shared environment, as the authors estimate they will avoid approximately 11 million deaths a year, which accounts for nearly a quarter of all deaths among adults.
Naturally, there has been a setback since the report was released. The main rebuttals are mainly about public health benefits, and some argue that the report did not provide enough scientific evidence that vegetable-based diets are better for a person's nutrition.
The authors, however, argue that the data they have used – based on dozens of randomized controlled feeding studies – are sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action.
If the Commission simply wanted to protect the environment without worrying about public health, the authors say they would have insisted on a vegan or vegetarian diet. The flexi diet was essentially its way of compromising our need for sustained and sustained public health climate action.
The goals are certainly ambitious, but the authors say both are possible and necessary.
This study was published in The Lancet.