Controversy Over Dietary Guidelines Continues

April 13th, 2015


Michele

Michele Simon, President of Eat Drink Politics.com and author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, stopped by our office this week. She’s working with My Plate, My Planet, and other groups supporting the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, that call for eating less red meat and less processed meat for both environmental and health reasons. Here are some excerpts from what she had to say:

On understanding the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

Every five years, a scientific committee is formed – organized by the government but not government people – mostly academics and scientific experts – who come together and spend two years researching the latest science to update what we know now about how to eat right. And this is a very intensive process. They have public hearings, a comment period, they really do their homework.

On why you should care:

While it’s true that most Americans don’t pay much attention to dietary advice from the government, the guidelines are still important as an education tool, and the government does put out many materials that come from these guidelines. For years it was the ‘Food Pyramid’, then it morphed into ‘My Plate’ showing that you should fill half your plate with fruits & vegetables – which was a big accomplishment for the government to say that in the last revision.

And just as important is how the government uses the guidelines as the basis for its food assistance program, which makes sense. If the federal government is going to use our tax dollars for things like school meals, they should be based on some kind of federal guidelines. That’s really why this is so important. It’s a federal policy-making tool, even though most people know it as the food pyramid or some government messaging that may not seem so relevant.

On why the committee’s recommendations are getting so much attention:

For the first time, the committee took up the issue of sustainability and from the get-go that caused some controversy. It shouldn’t be so crazy that when we’re talking about health, the idea of where our food comes from should matter. But the meat industry is very threatened by the idea that we should be connecting the sources of our food supply to the dietary guidelines.

So – no surprise to many of us – it turns out there’s a direct connection between meat production and the environment. The committee actually went further and said eating more of a plant-based diet and less animal food is what’s best for the environment AND our health. That’s not rocket science. Science has told us this for decades. But the scientific committee is addressing this issue in a very thoughtful way.

In addition to the recommendation that the guidelines take into account sustainability, they also squarely landed on red meat and processed meat being unhealthy. Specifically on a health basis. Everyone’s up in arms over the sustainability piece because the meat industry wants to say that’s not in the jurisdiction, or within the expertise of this committee. But what’s squarely in their expertise is health. And they were very plain that a diet with too much red meat and processed meat is bad for your health. It’s related to a number of poor health outcomes including heart disease, cancers, diabetes, etc.

On what YOU can do:

We’re in a comment period right now and it’s really important that our voices get heard. It’s not often that the federal government asks the public to tell them what you think. So, because there’s such an obvious connection between the message of eat less meat and the Meatless Monday campaign, I think everyone that supports Meatless Monday should support the scientific recommendations, specifically to eat less red meat and processed meat and in general to support a plant-based diet for our health and the health of the environment. You can use talking points from MyPlateMyPlanet.org and submit your comments at DietaryGuidelines.gov. I have made a short instructional video on how to submit comments. You can view it here: https://youtu.be/lUzaZStRUds. The deadline for comments is May 8. The more comments the government gets, the more support the Committee’s recommendations will have.

On how she feels about Meatless Monday:

I love Meatless Mondays because…as someone who’s been an advocate for a plant-based diet for many years I feel like people tend to get put off, scared by messaging telling them to give up meat for the rest of their lives. Asking for just one day a week is hard to argue with…I make this argument with my vegan friends – you’ll save more animals getting more people to cut down on their meat consumption than you will getting fewer people to cut out their meat consumption. Do the math, that’s what I say…

And the evidence shows that Monday is the day people are most willing to pay more attention to their health. Plus, people do like to get caught up in something with their friends like, “hey, we’re doing this together!”   And providing resources & support – people need that. Because we have a society of meat-eaters. It’s in the air. It’s everywhere you go. And by creating a campaign that gives people the support they need to cut out meat that one day a week they can feel like they’re part of something great and it’s not complete deprivation.

Also, it’s just got a nice ring to it: Meatless Monday!  So, I just think it’s brilliant.

We would like to thank Michele for taking the time to speak with us.  We will  keep you updated on her efforts to support the advisory committee’s recommendations.