The latest entry in the perpetual quest to “fix” the food system, the EAT-Lancet Commission, has released its report urging nothing less than a Great Food Transformation, to be kicked off with a worldwide series of meetings held to herald our future. Not just our future diets, but given the breadth of change recommended by the Commission, they have designs on the economy of the future as well.
The EAT-Lancet commission is a 37-member group of experts on everything except producing food. It was put together with funding from the British Wellcome Trust and Norwegian billionaire and animal rights activist Gunhild Stordalen. The 47-page report published in the medical journal Lancet and produced by the 37 experts is typical of the conventional wisdom on food and farming: we eat too much meat, and the only way to save the planet from bovine-related climate change is to make sure everybody eats fruits, nuts, vegetables, and never, ever enjoys a good steak.
With its January 17th debut, the report has already caused much comment, mostly for its diet recommendations, which critics claim will leave followers short of a number of essential nutrients supplied in our present diets by animal products.
The authors are well aware that changing the diets of a few billion people will be a major challenge, but not to worry, they’ve also recommended a number of what they call hard public interventions to make us not only better fed but more environmentally responsible as well. Our future will be brighter and civilization’s survival assured, if only governments everywhere surrender their citizens’ sovereignty to the recommendations of the commission’s experts.
“Hard public interventions” include the removal of choice. Clearly, the best way to cut the consumption of bad things is to outlaw them. If that seems extreme, then we should, according to the authors, tax the things that are bad and subsidize good things. Of course, there is also much room for changing public opinion through persuasion. Or, as the authors call it, the “pariah status of key products and processes.” One imagines notices appearing on the front doors of public places warning that no hamburgers can be consumed within 25 feet. Since this is billionaire virtue signaling on a global scale, we must deal with the particular stubbornness of poor people. Or, as the authors put it: “Local authorities need powers to apply zoning regulations in low income areas to restrict unhealthy food outlets.”
The authors helpfully provide a series of public interventions that have made things better, highlighted by the largely successful push to decrease the incidence of cigarette smoking. They fail to mention a few less successful interventions, including the advent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid in 1980. Even back then we thought we knew that meat and eggs were bad, and fruit and vegetables were good. And what a success it has been! In 1980, when the first dietary guidelines came out, obesity affected 12.7% of the U.S. population. In the four decades since, obesity in the U.S. has increased to nearly 40% of the population. The guidelines were successful in one way: since the first recommendations came out, red meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped 40 percent.
There are a couple of historical instances of large-scale top down interventions in agriculture and diet. Perhaps the members of the Lancet Commission would be well-served to refresh their collective memories about their results. Both the Great Leap Forward and the forced collectivization of Ukraine by the USSR came with the promise of a greater future for mankind, but are not best remembered for achieving utopia. As the experts rightly point out: “the scale of change to the food system is unlikely to be successful if left to the individual or the whim of consumer choice.”
There will be no farmers involved in their prescriptions…… and no Kulaks either.