This is the next installment in a multipart series about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In 1977, a committee led by Senator George McGovern mandated that the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) issue new guidelines every five years (Thanks, McGovern!)
In 2016 readers of the Karma Sense Wellness blog mandated that I analyze and document my impressions of the 2015 version of the guidelines.
Throughout the year I posted the following:
- An overview of the guidelines and their development process.
- An analysis of the guideline’s recommendations for eating fat.
- An analysis of the guideline’s recommendations for eating protein.
- A discussion of the guideline’s first ever position on added sugar.
- An analysis of the guideline’s recommendations for using artificial sweeteners.
- A survey of the many different types of artificial sweeteners.
- My recommendations on how to reconcile the constant waves of incredible bullcrap about added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
This post focuses on the guidelines recommendations as they relate to sustainability. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Self,” because everyone refers to him-or-herself that way, “Self, what the heck does sustainability have to do with dietary guidelines?” And if you are saying that, you have a future in the United States Congress. If you’re not saying that, then you have a kinship with a cult-like gang that goes by the utterly frightening handle, “scientists.” Let me explain.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans – The Development Process
Readers who’ve followed this series since the beginning know that the development process unfolds in the following three steps
- Phase 1 – The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) makes recommendations based on the latest in nutrition science. The DGAC consists of a collection of experts in a broad range of health-related fields.
- Phase 2 – The USDA and HHS open the DRAC recommendations for comment. The public either comments directly or hides behind their representatives in Congress. Agribusiness and food conglomerates are on the pay-to-play program which gives them access to the latter strategy.
- Phase 3- The USDA and HHS release the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
You may notice that with the exception of phase 1, this process is much like what the Underpants Gnomes do in South Park. As a reminder (and for those who don’t value the high-brow social commentary of that program), the Underpants Gnomes process is:
- Phase 1 – Collect Underpants. The difference here is that the DGAC collects nutrition research. The Underpants Gnomes collect underpants.
- Phase 2 – ? The Underpants Gnomes can’t remember what they’re supposed to do in Phase 2. This is no different from the process of developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in that our government can’t remember that they are supposed to support the will of the people.
- Phase 3- Profit. The Underpants Gnomes wish they could remember how the previous two phases lead to the desired results in Phase 3. Fortunately for the customers of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the process followed does indeed lead to profits for agribusiness and food conglomerates. Because these aren’t just the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These are the Dietary Guidelines for American Business.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 Process
The DGAC issued its recommendations in February 2015. Here’s a snippet of what they said about sustainability:
The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal- based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population. Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns. Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.
I added the bolding above to highlight the key parts.
More than 25,000 people filed comments. The guidelines impact almost every aspect of American life including the economy, public health, national security, energy policy and yes, the environment. I’m telling you, folks, food policy should be the front and center in most decisions our government makes.
Of those 25,000 comments, 75% were in favor of including wording on sustainability. But, 100% of the behind the scenes comments to Congress were against the sustainability wording. Here’s what The Hill reported:
In March, 71 GOP representatives and 30 Republican senators signed letters critical of the Advisory Committee Report, specifically attacking the recommendations against eating less red meat and lowering sodium on behalf of the cattle and restaurant industries, among others. Those same politicians received more than $3 million in donations from food-related donors from 2013 to 2014 alone. Senators who signed the letter received almost half a million dollars just from the beef and cattle industries, according to campaign contribution records from OpenSecrets.com.
Congress took it one step further by including the following language in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill:
None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.
Both the White House Office of Management and Budget and the DGAC disagreed with claims that sustainability is outside the scope of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Furthermore, previous versions of the guidelines include wording about physical activity and food safety, neither of which are directly related to nutrition or diet. Why are they OK while talk about sustainability is off the table?
Surprisingly, logical dissent did not prevail. The USDA and HHS eventually caved and withdrew all wording. Among the very people tasked with our protection, saving the planet is a taboo subject.
“Big Deal!”, You Say, In a Sarcastic Voice
I get it. Not all of us are convinced that our current rate of meat consumption is a threat to our very existence. Many of you have a fear that the government intends to take away your Pizzeria Uno Whole Hog Burger.
Your fears are unfounded. The “Eat More Plants” movement is not about taking away your meat. Even if it was, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are an ineffective way of doing so. For years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended a reduction in the consumption of saturated fat dietary cholesterol and sodium. Americans chose to ignore it. So what is Congress so afraid of?
Furthermore, the sustainability recommendations clearly state that they’re about lowering dependence on animal-based foods, not eliminating them. Science backs this up. A recent study found that plant-based diets that include meat are more sustainable than vegan or pure vegetarian diets.
But if this doesn’t convince you that there is a link to sustainability and your diet, consider this frightening thought. Ben & Jerry, two great Americans, estimate that due to climate change, 26 of their flavors are in jeopardy. All flavors that depend on nuts, chocolate or coffee will go Boom (Chocolatta)!
This travesty will not stand!
Do the Dietary Guidelines Make Karma Sense?
When it comes to the subject of sustainability, the Save the World Model dictates Karma Sense.
The Save the World model recognizes that each person has a different view of what a saved world looks like. I apologize tothose unfortunate souls who haven’t read The Karma Sense Eating Plan and are therefore ignorant about the model.
Just know that each circle in the model represents a constituency that may have importance to the individual. It would be hard to deny that a planet that is depleted of clean air, water and natural resources would be good for any of these constituencies.
Therefore, I rule that The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, do not make Karma Sense.
Want to Read Something That Does Make Karma Sense?
Purchase your copy of The Karma Sense Eating Plan by clicking on the links below. I donate all profits to Alice’s Kids. Alice’s Kids helps school-age children reach their full potential by enabling their participation in the opportunities available to them.
It’s a great way to learn the Save the World Model too!
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