My home is in the rolling hills of California, where black bears and mountain lions roam — coexisting with coastal Tule elk, elephant seals, tiger salamanders and California condors. Besides being wine country, this place is one of the country’s greatest food hubs. It’s also the land of “sustainable” menus full of unsustainable items, like giant slabs of beef and dishes laden with cheese and eggs.
Often these items are marketed as if they’re hand produced by small family farms, but they turn out to be mass produced at local but industrial-scale animal factories that are tearing up the land, polluting local watersheds, and aggravating the climate crisis. This deception wouldn’t be possible if the federal government provided clear guidance on nutrition and sustainability.
To build a food system that’s wildlife friendly, the United States needs sustainable food policy at every level. That’s why the Center is leading efforts to transform the dietary guidelines — guidelines we’ll fight for because they’re about more than personal health. By prioritizing sustainability alongside nutrition, food policy can help people reduce chronic disease, mitigate the environmental impacts of food production, and adapt to the effects of climate change while meeting nutrient needs.
The Center’s recent analysis showed that the country has fallen far behind other G20 nations in incorporating sustainability into the national dietary guidelines.
Yet the agencies that release those guidelines refuse to meaningfully address sustainability. Amidst climate change, drought, and diet-related health crises, the government should be leading our nation’s food policy with dietary guidelines that are healthy and sustainable.
We know the most environmentally harmful foods. We know which foods get the most financial support from the government, and which foods use the most land, use the most water, and create the most pollution (from slaughter and other sources). And we know that average Americans eat way too much of the worst foods for the planet — four times the global average in beef alone.
But the fact that these food habits, heavily driven by broken policies, are unsustainable isn’t reflected in the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, even though they guide food policy for publicly supported menus coast to coast — from school cafeterias to federal, state, and local nutrition programs.
The guidelines are supposed to protect public health and food security. But both of these things are worsened by climate disaster and species loss. The country’s climate resilience is weakened by the overconsumption of environmentally harmful foods. And our lack of access to healthy and nutritious food reduces our ability to mitigate climate disasters and increases the pressure diet-related disease puts on our overburdened healthcare system. U.S. residents badly need federal agencies to highlight that connection explicitly.
Most importantly, we need guidance at the federal level that doesn’t lead us toward industry-sponsored false solutions like eating more meat and dairy.
People in the United States want diets that are healthier for our families, better for wildlife, and better for our planet. We need a strong, sustainable public food policy to get us there.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that's asking for public feedback on what we’d like to see in the next iteration of dietary guidelines.
Tell the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that sustainability and food policy must go hand in hand.
When it comes to sustainable food, nutrition, the biodiversity crisis, and the climate emergency, we know what to do. We just need to do it.
What does sustainable food policy mean to you? Write to me anytime with questions at EarthFriendlyDiet@BiologicalDiversity.org.
For the wild,