Diet and Environment: How did the USDA Miss the Connection?

connection between diet and environment

A recent article on Grist let us know that new federal diet guidelines have been released, though there is little to celebrate. And while the guidelines themselves might be slightly misguided (as the US government is in bed with meat and dairy lobbies), many were hoping this time around the guidelines would look at the environmental impact of our diet and how it relates to climate change. Alas, the connection between diet and environment was missed again.

“USDA nutritionist Eve Essery Stoody told Vice News that the federal food recommendations will be, as always, based on how diet affects human health, not the health of the planet.”

But as we face rising levels of climate change, health issues of epidemic proportions and shortages of food and water, there is EVERY reason to assume that the health of the planet IS human health! Yet the USDA did not take the climate impact of our diet into consideration when creating the diet guidelines. Interestingly, if we actually followed the USDA guidelines as written, there would be a 12% increase in dietary-related greenhouse gas emissions. As said by Tufts University professor Miriam Nelson, “in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.” But we all know that the agribusiness is not cool with ditching the beef and dairy, regardless of the climate impact.

connection between diet and environment

These standards will not be revised again until 2020. This means we have six more years of heart disease, diabetes, constipation along with contaminated water, animal cruelty and other devastating environment impacts of a diet focused on animal foods. In fact, despite overwhelming evidence that beef and other animal foods are related to ill health and a range of lifestyle diseases, the beef industry is still asking for money to promote more meat consumption with a revised ‘checkoff’ program, totally dismissing the connection between diet and environment.

But here’s how to get out of it: simply don’t follow the USDA guidelines! While it would have been awesome for the government to acknowledge the health and environmental issues with animal foods, most of us can ignore it (although it does factor into things like school lunch programs and food stamps).

There is a new-ish guideline that illustrates how you can eat best for your body and for the planet, named the Double Pyramid Diet. This is exactly what needs to be written into the USDA guidelines, but more importantly, shared with everyone who cares about the environment. As you can see in the double pyramid, the foods that are best for our bodies are also the best for the planet. See how that’s a win-win?

food double pyramid

Having a diet based on foods that are healthful (vegetables, grains and legumes) is also the most beneficial for the planet, as these foods have lower impact with reduced water usage, reduced pollution and more. Likewise, the foods that are least healthy (meats and dairy, and processed foods) come with the most impact: polluted waters, soil, unhealthy animals and a huge mess of greenhouse gas emissions.

We have hundreds of recipes here on VWJ that can help you eat lower on the pyramid and chew your way to a healthier planet. Check out our sister site Eat Drink Better for hundreds more recipes and lots of good food news to inspire you to make these changes. Let’s get started, shall we?


This post may contain some affiliate links. Currently I am affiliated with Avocado and Mountain Rose Herbs, and Amazon Affilaites to support my favorite supplements and superfoods. If you purchase something from these links I make a small commission that supports my work and keeps the site running. Thanks for supporting Vibrant Wellness Journal! 


About Andrea Bertoli 597 Articles
A vegan chef, cookbook author, wellness educator, writer, surfer, and yogi based in Honolulu. Follow my delicious adventures on Instagram

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