By Verónica V. Zentella
Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.
-Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC)
Overweight and obesity
Among the many teachings that the pandemic is leaving us we can count, without a doubt and as Hugo López-Gatell has pointed out on numerous occasions, the consequences of poor diet; in Mexico, seven out of ten adults and one out of three children are overweight, which increases the risks for COVID-19.
The diet of Mexicans has changed dramatically in the last fifty years in which the consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes such as beans has been reduced; instead, consumption of sweets and sugary drinks has increased to such a degree that Mexico is the second country with the highest consumption of soft drinks per capita of the world. Sweetened beverages (soft drinks, bottled juices and teas, sports drinks and vitamin waters, among others) have not only been implicated as a significant cause of obesity and diabetes, but also of the development of cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis, as shown in the Sweet agony documentary. The ravages of scrap metal. Therefore, and according to The Power of the Consumer, our country leads the prevalence of deaths attributable to the consumption of sweetened beverages, with 24,100 deaths annually.
Food and environmental crisis
However, our diet, in addition to having a major impact on our health, also affects -and importantly- environmental deterioration. The type and quantity of food we consume have global repercussions in relation to climate change; also in the preservation of biodiversity, the use of land and sea; likewise, with the availability and quality of water, given that the food system is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This occurs because all foods carry, throughout their energy cycle (that is: cultivation and processing; transport and packaging; consumer packaging; transport; storage and distribution; refrigeration and display), a certain amount of GHG emissions.
However, not all foods represent the same amount of emissionsTherefore, through our food choices we can increase or decrease the direct and indirect emission of GHG. For this, it is important to understand that there is a correlation between the increase in malnutrition and environmental deterioration given that processed foods –Also known as Scrap-, In addition to being high in caloric density and low in nutrients (i.e. fattening and low in nutrients), they also use too much energy for their production and availability, which generates a large amount of direct and indirect GHG emissions as a result.
The current agri-food system is not sustainable since, on the one hand, it has generated and spread malnutrition in all its forms: malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity by offering highly industrialized foods (that is, processed and refined foods, devoid of fiber and nutrients, added with colorants, flavors and preservatives) that are characterized by their high content of sugar that become overweight and obese accompanied by micronutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, it depends on the use of fossil fuels, agrochemicals and pesticides, energy demand, long transportation routes, cheap labor, and loss of culture and biodiversity, as Ana De Luca wrote in her article.
As if this were not enough, in addition to promoting malnutrition and environmental deterioration, the current agri-food system is profoundly unfair, inequitable and unequal.
However, and facing this problem, Consumers can make a difference by choosing healthy diets, which are low in carbon and energy density, and high in micronutrients. Through our food choices we play a fundamental role since We have the power of refuse food Scrap and demand healthy, low-carbon foods.
Tips for choosing a sustainable diet
In order to choose a healthy, low-carbon diet, it is important to follow these guidelines:
Avoid drinking sugary drinks. In general, sweetened beverages are bottled in PET, which, in addition to presenting a significant caloric intake, implies an increase in the circulation of this type of solid waste.
Avoid processed foods. Processed food is high in fat, salt, and sugars. Additionally, processed foods (including canned ones) need more energy-efficient packaging and add to solid waste streams. Also, often, such processed food is not locally produced. This means that it had to have been transported, thus creating even more GHG emissions.
Choose local products. A sure way to avoid GHG emissions is to avoid or minimize the transport of food and its storage. It is best to get food directly from the source, or better yet, grow your own food through community, home or school gardens.
Avoid frozen food. The fewer refrigerated or frozen foods purchased, the less energy is needed to keep all refrigerators, freezers, and the use of refrigerated trucks.
Let’s learn from our mistakes, let’s opt for a sustainable diet!
Veronica V. Zentella She is a Doctor in Pedagogy from UNAM. Author and co-author of books and various articles, she works as a university teacher and teaches courses, workshops and diplomas to teachers of basic and higher education in Mexico.