Consumer-friendly Articles, Talks & Videos on Sustainable Diets and Sustainable Food Systems

🍎 These are consumer-friendly articles about sustainable food systems and diets that are from well-respected institutions and have solid references to back up claims.
What-is-a-plant-based-diet

The below are al articles from reputable sources that are usually citing credible scientific papers or institutions in their articles.  Some are about the ways to have a more sustainable diet and its impact on human and planetary health.  Others outline the change in micronutrient richness of our current food supply both from industrial agriculture and climate change.

Please note: While the post date says April 2021, these have been update through July 2023

  • 5 tips for sustainable eating (Harvard School of Public Health)
    • Consider that, for example, livestock production – which includes meat, milk and eggs – contributes 40 percent of global agricultural gross domestic product, and uses one-third of the world’s fresh water (1). As one article put it, “There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.”
  • 8 Tips to Make Your Eating Habits More Sustainable (Healthline)
    • Sustainable eating is simply a dietary pattern that considers both the body and the environmental impacts,” Best says. “This pattern seeks the least negative effects on both and food sources that improve health and the environment when able.”
    • Sustainable eating involves consuming food that has a low environmental impact. It’s largely plant-based and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and chronic diseases in humans.
  • 10 Steps to Climate-Friendly Eating 
    • A recent study of worldwide vege­table production found that if the output of greenhouse gases continues to grow at its current rate, harvest yields could drop 35 percent within the next 80 years, largely because of water shortages.
    • Small farms are more climate friendly than mega-monoculture operations. More-diverse crops help build topsoil, and it’s easier to manage pests and weeds without chemicals on a human-scale farm.
    • Yet cattle feeding on grassy pastures as opposed to dirt-packed feedlots not only produce far less methane, Salatin says, but they also contribute to soil bacteria that actually capture some methane from the atmosphere. Grass-finished beef does require more land than feedlot beef, but it uses less water. And the manure in the pastures helps rebuild topsoil, a carbon-sequestering resource that’s fast disappearing.
  • 70 Years of Nutritional Decline: Today’s Fruits and Vegetables are Lacking in Vitamins and Minerals (Gowing Life)
    • Research over the past 70 years shows a 6% decline in protein content, 9% decline in phosphorus, 15% decline in iron, 15% decline vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), 16% decline in calcium, 18% decline in vitamin A, and 38% decline in vitamin B (Riboflavin) in fruits and vegetables.
  • A Consensus on Food, Farming and Nature (WWF)
    • A healthy natural environment underpins food security. Farming does not just produce the food we eat but is also central to efforts to tackle the nature, climate, and public health crises.
    • Diversity – in nature, in farming systems and amongst those involved in farming – along with diversity in farm animals and crops, will enable resilience and innovation in the face of climate change and economic challenges.
    • It is vital to find common ground and show solidarity across farming, food, and environmental interests so that policy makers and supply chain actors can have the confidence to act in ways that will support a vibrant future for food, farming, and nature, in service of our citizens. 
  • Asking the Right Questions About GMOs: Do We Need GMOs To Feed the World? (T. COLIN CAMPBELL Center for Nutrition Studies)
    • As Dr. Latham puts it, without addressing rising temperatures, “It doesn’t matter what you do—GMOs, no GMOS—you’re going to be fried.”
    • GMOs that produce marginal gains in tolerance are no better off than organic crops when it comes to surviving the increasingly severe, unpredictable, and variable effects of climate change.
  • Can healthy food save the planet?  (EAT) 
    • The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brought together 37 world-leading scientists from across the globe to answer this question: Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? The answer is yes, but we it will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.
  • Can you eat to save the climate?) (World Economic Forum)
    • There’s a growing interest in climate-friendly foods, but consumers find it hard to know if the food choices they make are environmentally sustainable; (World Economic Forum)
    • From ready-made snacks to algae, cacti and grains, options for climate beneficial foods are increasing;
    • With better supply chain structures, food producers can have greater access to these ingredients too
  • A Decline in the Nutritional Value of Crops (NY Times)
    • Several studies of fruits, vegetables and grains have suggested a decline in nutritional value over time, but the reasons may not be as simple as soil depletion.
  • EAT-Lancet Commission Brief for Everyone (EAT-Lancet) ( Note: They are currently working on a “2.0” version of the Eat Lancet Diet that is more culturally inclusive)
    • A diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet. It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact.
    • Today, agriculture occupies nearly 40% of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. Land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.
    • The food we eat, the ways we produce it, and the amounts wasted or lost have major impacts on human health and environmental sustainability. Getting it right with food will be an important way for countries to achieve the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • Eating less meat ‘like taking 8m cars off road’ (BBC)
    • Having big UK meat-eaters cut some of it out of their diet would be like taking 8 million cars off the road.
    • The Oxford University study is the first to pinpoint the difference high- and low-meat diets have on greenhouse gas emissions, researchers say.
  • Food and Climate Change: Healthy diets for a healthier planet (United Nations)
    • Where appropriate, shifting food systems towards plant-rich diets – with more plant protein (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, and grains), a reduced amount of animal-based foods (meat and dairy) and less saturated fats (butter, milk, cheese, meat, coconut oil and palm oil) – can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to current dietary patterns in most industrialized countries.
  • Food Systems and Agriculture (MIT)
    • Short webpage article about how climate affects agriculture and how the food system contributes to climate change
    • The planet’s growing population and food consumption will require food production to increase by 70% by 2050.2 At the same time, the production, storage, and transport of food causes greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.
  • Food systems account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions (United Nations)
    • China, Indonesia, the United States of America, Brazil, the European Union and India are the top emitters.
    • Production processes, which includes inputs such as fertilizers, are the leading contributor to overall food-system emissions, or 39 per cent of the total. Land use accounts for 38 per cent and distribution contributes 29 per cent, which is expected to continue growing. Methane from livestock raising and rice cultivation accounts for 35 per cent of food system greenhouse gas emissions and is broadly the same in both developed and developing countries.
    • Emissions from fluorinated greenhouse gases, used in refrigeration, for example, have had a “turbocharged effect on global warming”, according to the authors. Globally, the figure is around five percent of global food-system emissions, but is expected to increase.
    • Packaging also accounts for a similar share of the emissions, or some 5.4 per cent, which is more than transportation or other supply-chain factors.
  • Food waste makes up ‘half’ of global food system emissions  (Carbon Brief)
    • The new study, published in Nature Food, also explores a number of ways in which the emissions from food waste can be reduced, such as halving meat consumption and composting instead of disposing waste through landfills. 
    • The global food system emits around one-third of total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste causes approximately half of these emissions, the new study says.
    • The study finds that – combined – China, India, the US and Brazil generate just over 44% of the global supply-related emissions from food waste and 38% of the global waste-management-related emissions.
  • From farm to fork: How food systems can power climate action (United Nations)
    • Taking specific steps to transform national food supply systems can help countries achieve climate goals and limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, a new joint UN report on climate action has found. 
    • “Shifting to regenerative, carbon-absorbing production and adoption of healthy, predominantly plant-based diets that are affordable and accessible, as well as halving food waste and loss, are crucial actions that must be included in countries’ NDCs and integrated in their climate action plans with clear ambitions”
  • From silos to systems: 5 ways to take action at the food-health nexus (Global Alliance for the Future of Food)
    • Greater collaboration between those working at the intersection of public health, food, animal health, and planetary health is key. 
    • Those working in the health sector are better situated than most to articulate the many connections between food and health. Clinicians and public health professionals are at the frontline of care, guiding people to choices that will improve their quality of life, today and in the future.
    • Unfortunately, the negative health effects of climate change and our broken food system are not distributed evenly. Indigenous People are one of the groups most severely affected, despite communities holding an abundance of knowledge about how to grow, hunt, and harvest foods on their traditional lands.
  • Future of Food: Exploring Challenges to Global Food Systems (Columbia Climate School)
    • Great overview of issues with Global Food Systems
    • When food is wasted, so are the energy, land, and resources that were used to create it. Nearly 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions between 2007-2016 were derived from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. Apart from cultivation and livestock rearing, agriculture also adds emissions through land clearance for cultivation. Overfishing, soil erosion, and depletion and deterioration of aquifers threaten food security. At the same time, food production faces increasing risks from climate change — particularly droughts, increasing frequency of storms, and other extreme weather events. 
  • GMO Argument  (NANP)
    • Human intervention has practically resulted in the existence of most crops grown on farms today. Breeding seeds chosen from the best yielding plants for the purpose of having a better plant (which changes the plant genome in a way that does not occur naturally in nature) has been practiced by farmers for numerous years. However, these are not considered plant GMOs
    • Studies have shown that exposure to pesticides can lead to epigenetic changes in crops, altering the expression of genes involved in the plant’s defense mechanisms and potentially making the plant’s tissues more toxic (Rohila, 2018). This can have implications for human health, as people who consume these crops may be exposed to the toxins and other substances produced by the plants as a result of these epigenetic changes.
  • The Great Nutrient Collapse (The Agenda)
    • Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the protein in staple crops like rice, wheat, barley and potatoes, raising unknown risks to human health in the future.
  • Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture  (Beyond Pesticides)
    • Organic food contributes to better health through reduced pesticide exposure for all and increased nutritional quality. 
    • Looking only at pesticide residues in food as a measure of pesticide exposure ignores the fact that many foods that do not end up with high pesticide residues nonetheless involve toxic chemicals in production that put workers’ health at risk. Pesticide use in production and farmworker exposure is a necessary consideration in looking at the whole pesticide problem. 
    • A study published by The Organic Center reveals that organic food is higher in certain key areas such as total antioxidant capacity, total polyphenols, and two key flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, all of which are nutritionally significant
  • How can changing your food shop help biodiversity? (BBC)  

    • Deforestation is a big part of the problem. But there are other factors to consider. “We’re monocropping [growing a single crop year after year on the same land], we’re covering up major centres of biodiversity… we’re altering the climate, we’re changing everything that enables biodiversity to thrive and making it more fragile”.

    • “When a species goes extinct, it’s gone forever. Losing species isn’t just deeply sad, it’s also dangerous. It’s like throwing bits of an aeroplane out the window mid-flight – we don’t know what species are crucial parts of a functioning ecosystem. And when ecosystems start unravelling, we all suffer. We rely on nature for literally everything that matters: food, air, water. Our health depends on the planet’s health”

  • How Modern Food Can Regain Its Nutrients (BBC)
    • “First, our findings show that it isn’t a lack of micronutrients in the soil that is driving the lower nutrients in the crop. Those that are bioavailable, that is, in a form that the plant can absorb, don’t change with intensive farming methods.”
  • How Regenerative Farming Heals the Soil And makes healthier food than even organic farming. (Yes Magazine)
    • Regenerative Farming produces more nutrients in food
  • Increased consumption of ultra-processed food influences human health and environmental sustainability. (News Medical)
    • Reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods can help promote environmental sustainability by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
    • Moderate consumption of white meat or fish could be a viable alternative to UPF.
  • Meat, dairy and rice production will bust 1.5C climate target, shows study (The Guardian)
    • Emissions from food alone, ignoring the huge impact of fossil fuels, would push the world past the 1.5C limit.
    • 75% of this food-related heating was driven by foods that are high sources of methane, ie those coming from ruminant livestock such as cattle, and rice paddy fields. However, the scientists said the temperature rise could be cut by 55% by cutting meat consumption in rich countries to medically recommended levels, reducing emissions from livestock and their manure, and using renewable energy in the food system.
    • 57% of emissions from the food system arise from animal agriculture
    • If people adopted the healthy diet recommended by Harvard medical school, which allows a single serving of red meat a week, the rise could be cut by 0.2C. Such a diet would mean a big cut in meat eating in rich nations but could mean an increase in some poorer countries.
    • Only a third of the world’s countries have included policies to cut emissions from agriculture in the climate plans they have submitted under the UN Paris agreement.
  • Organic diets reduce glyphosate exposure for pregnant people: Study (Environmental Health News)
    • Past research has linked the herbicide to premature birth and low birth weights — both of which are associated with higher infant mortality and developing a range of diseases later in life.
    • The chemical also has low acute toxicity, fostering “a perhaps unwarranted feeling of safety.” Rather than lab animals or agricultural workers immediately sickening or dying after high levels of exposure, she said, the potential health effects, such as increased cancer risk, are longer term and more subtle.
    • The benefits of an organic diet go beyond protecting the diner’s health. “Even if I can’t say with complete certainty that an eating an organic diet is going to provide a health benefit to me,” Hyland said, “we know that farming without pesticides is definitely better for farmworkers.
  • People Who Eat Environmentally Friendly Foods Have 25% Lower Mortality Risk (Healio)
    • Bui and colleagues sought to develop a simple tool that public health practitioners and policymakers could use to create strategies that address the climate crisis and public health.
    • People who consumed more environmentally friendly foods were less likely to die over a 30-year follow-up period than those who did not.
    • Women in the highest PHDI quintiles had an added benefit of a lower risk for death from infectious diseases.
    • A sustainable dietary pattern should not only be healthy but also consistent within planetary boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental parameters.”
  • Pesticides: Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai 
    • Glyphosate is a widely-used weed killer, exposure to which is associated with a number of health risks.
    • Pesticides repel or kill unwanted pests such as insects, rodents, fungi and weeds. All pesticides have the potential to be toxic to humans.
    • Foods are a major source of exposure to both nutritional factors that support good health as well as chemicals that contribute to disease risk. For this reason, dietary exposures are a significant part of the exposome.
  • Plant-based diets could save millions of lives and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions (Oxford Martin School)
    • A global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US) , Oxford Martin School researchers have found.
  • Plant-Based Diet: Healthier for Us and Our Planet (NRDC)
    • To keep the increase of climate warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) from pre-industrial levels, the United Nations’ Special Report on Climate Change and Land emphasizes the importance of a less resource-intensive diet. If global temperature rises to 2°C (compared to 1.5°C) it will exacerbate unsustainable agriculture through: reduced cereal crop yield, spread of disease, and water and nutrition shortage for livestock. [1]
    • The broken food system is driven by consumer demand—so we have the power to change it. The good news is that the American diet has already, over the course of the past 45 years, been shifting towards less eggs, milk, and beef.[2] By further reducing consumption, supporting environmentally and socially conscious products, and abandoning purchases such as red meat or unsustainably caught seafood, we can radically shape the future health of the planet.
  • Reduction in Meat Consumption Key to Climate Crisis Resolution, Study Finds  (Green Queen)
    • The new research, conducted by Oxford University, scrutinized the actual diets of 55,000 U.K. residents. The study incorporated data from 38,000 farms across 119 countries to account for varying environmental impacts of specific foods produced in different methods and regions.
    • The study revealed that the contents of the diet carried greater environmental weight than the location or production method. Prior research demonstrated that even the most eco-friendly meat — organic pork — inflicts eight times more climate damage than the most environmentally harmful plant, oilseed.
    • The researchers also found that diets with low meat content (less than 50g per day = 1.7 ounces) halved the environmental impact compared to high-meat diets.
    • The study indicated that in order to attain sustainability in global food production, individuals in wealthier nations would need to drastically curtail their meat and dairy consumption. Technological advancements and reducing food waste alone will not sufficiently minimize the environmental impact of our food system.
  • The Same Deadly Vitamin Deficiency Is Ravaging All Kinds of Animals (The Atlantic)
    • Thiamine, a nutrient no organism can live without, is mysteriously lacking in some marine ecosystems.
  • Sustainable Diet: How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Food (Earth.org)
    • This article aims to provide a clear guide for consumers to understand what factors determine the carbon footprint of specific food and to distinguish greenwashing from authentic and sustainable food products
  • Sustainable Diets: What You Need to Know in 12 Charts (World Resources Institute)
    • Global average per person protein consumption exceeded dietary requirements in all regions in 2009, with each person consuming on average about 68 grams per day— one-third higher than the average daily adult requirement. In wealthy countries, protein consumption was higher still. For example, the average American man eats nearly 100 grams of protein per day, almost double the amount of protein he needs (56 g).
    • Beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas and lentils…When it comes to resource use and environmental impacts, the type of food eaten matters as much, if not more, than how that food is produced.
  • Talking about Food Sustainability (FOOD SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY)
    • A recent Chatham House report showed that a 15% reduction in poultry and pork consumption in Europe would have cancelled out the impact of the grain shortages caused by the conflict in Ukraine[5].
    • Ultimately consumer purchasing and consumption needs to shift towards more sustainable options, but how to encourage this remains a subject of research and debate.The average person makes around 200 food-related decisions a day, and 95% are sub-conscious
    • Creating a healthy, sustainable food environment involves making healthy, sustainable options more available, accessible, affordable and appealing by adapting the choice architecture. This can involve making practical changes to shop and restaurant layouts and adapting marketing strategies.
    • A study exploring the role of advertising in promoting meat consumption found that exposure to meat advertising was associated with greater intention to consume meat products[13].Creating sustainable, long-term behaviour change will require engaging hearts and minds and influencing public opinion as well as influencing automatic decision-making.
    • The most impactful action individuals can take to reduce the environmental impact of their diet is to rebalance their protein intaketowards plant-based foods, favouring legumes and pulses and eating less animal-sourced foods (meat, dairy and eggs).
  • Vanishing Nutrients, It’s a hazard of climate change you probably haven’t heard of (Scientific American)
    • Is it possible to starve yourself of nutrients while simultaneously gaining weight? It turns out the answer is yes. According to a growing body of research, rising carbon dioxide levels are making our food less nutritious, robbing key crops of vitamins essential to human development.
  • What is a FoodPrint and Why Should I Care about Mine? (FoodPrint.org)
    • Your “foodprint” is the result of everything it takes to get your food from the farm to your plate. Many of those processes are invisible to the public. But it doesn’t take much to learn a little bit more about where your food comes from and how it got to you, or to learn how to choose products and practices that do less harm to the environment, animals and people.
  • What is regenerative agriculture?  (TABLE Explainer)
    • For some, regenerative agriculture is primarily an approach to farming that places great emphasis on the importance of fostering ‘soil health’, reintegrating livestock and arable farming, minimising tillage, and optimising the carbon sink potential of agricultural soils. For others, the goals of regenerative agriculture go beyond sets of practices that can be applied on the farm to encapsulate a fundamentally different way of thinking about humanity’s relationship with the natural world, and producers’ relations with consumers.
    • The ultimate goal, for these actors, is to use the food system to close the rift between the human and natural, and to achieve a mutually symbiotic state of flourishing. Across these approaches, there is also some ambiguity about whether regenerative agriculture is primarily about the attainment of outcomes, or the adoption of specified practices.
    • note that regenerative agriculture has deeper and broader origins that this: that it might be a new phrase for a set of farming practices that were developed and have long been practiced by peasant and Indigenous practices.
  • Which food is better for the planet? (Washington Post)
    • Agriculture is both a major cause and a casualty of water scarcity around the globe.
    • “It’s more efficient to grow plants for humans to eat than it is to use them for animal feed. “
    • “Wheat is cultivated across hundreds of millions of acres globally, causing a massive ecological footprint”
    • “Agriculture and fishing typically displace native animals and plants from their habitats. The new research quantifies this habitat disturbance”
  • Why Eating Your Way To Net Zero Is Easier Than You Think (The Flexitarian)
    • World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) new Eating for Net Zero report aims to demonstrate that we can have a healthy and sustainable diet without needing to go completely vegetarian or vegan.
  • Why Have Strawberries Lost Their Taste? (The Guardian)
    • With the consistent unfairness of life, it turns out that making soft fruit tough enough to withstand air-freighting is not compatible with making them flavoursome.
  • Why Our Future Depends on Healthy Soil (EatingWell)
    • In partnership with General Mills and nonprofits (including Soil Health Partnership and Soil Health Institute), The Nature Conservancy launched a $20 million plan to work with farmers and ranchers to improve the health of their soil. “Our goal is to see at least half of all U.S. row-crop lands (primarily wheat, corn and soy) using better soil-health practices by 2025.”

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