Food & Health, Sustainable Kitchen

  • Date Posted: 21 Apr, 2021

Healthy for Me and Healthy for the Planet – The Double Pyramid Strategy

For the last decade, at least, food trend forecasters have annually included some form of environmentally responsible cooking as well as healthy ingredients in their line-ups of trends du jour. But with meat now grown in laboratories from animal stem cells and plant based “meat” made from vegetable proteins, it is clear that the concern for the environment and personal health is beyond trend. It has become – and should be – a genuine concern.

Zero waste, food miles or “locavoring”, farm to fork, nose to tail and sustainable fish have become trendy buzzwords used by many chefs, but they all relate to a very real crisis, the impact of which seems to be understood by very few. The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) best explains the extent of the crisis in the introduction their report, One Health Approach to Food: The Double Pyramid connecting Food Culture, Health and Climate, released last week.

“More than five years since the global commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 690 million people lack sufficient food and economic projections suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished, as the outbreak has exacerbated the global food flaws and insufficiencies, impacting the most vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted globally each year, utilizing 38% of total energy consumption in the global food system. Child and adult overweight and obesity are increasing in almost all countries, and on a global level the cost of a healthy diet is 60% higher than the cost of a nutrient adequate diet, and almost 5 times the cost of an energy sufficient diet.”

It is not news that current food systems pose major challenges and the message from all speakers at the launch of the report seem to echo Brent Loken, WWF Global Food Lead Scientist’s, view that it is possible to change but …“I am more worried about if we can make the change in the time we need. The next decade is the most important and incremental changes are not enough.”

The Double Pyramid

One step towards significant changes is the Double Pyramid approach. This approach consists of the well-known food pyramid that indicates the quantities of different food groups that are required for a healthy diet, with an added reversed pyramid representing what is healthy for the planet. Side-by-side these two pyramids are a very convincing tool to explain that health and the environment are inextricably linked. “The evidence confirms that a balanced diet can promote our health while reducing our carbon footprint,” confirmed Barbara Buchner, Global Managing Director at the Climate Policy Initiative and panellist at the Double Pyramid launch.


Adding Culture to Health and Climate

The pyramids were already launched in 2009, but recently re-introduced to the world through the lens of culture. Elisabette Moro writes in the report that during the ten years that she studied the Mediterranean diet and anthropology, it was clear that tradition was very important to scientists since the 1940’s as they realised that nutrition was not merely a biological act, but also a cultural act.

“In the folds of this cultural heritage lies a series of secrets, tricks, associations, rules that have been laid down over time and have validated the empirical experience, turning into a philosophy of life and a recipe for health. Because in traditional customs we find a way to enhance the seasonality of agricultural products through a wide repertoire of recipes that ensures we can always serve new and varied dishes. Furthermore, local cultures have spontaneously enhanced biodiversity, appreciating the fact that different cultivars of the same plant enrich flavours and increase the pleasure of eating,” writes Moro.

The Barilla Foundation thus decided to adapt the Double Pyramid to the different food cultures in order to promote a greater awareness of healthy and sustainable diets in different geographical contexts: Nordic countries and Canada; USA; South Asia; East Asia; Africa; Latin America; Mediterranean countries.

Contributing to the project the Prue Leith Culinary Institute, as a partner of ALMA La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, has been tasked with the development of recipes for Africa. “It has been challenging but incredibly interesting. Trying to represent the entire continent in 14 recipes, is not easy, but we are trying our best to showcase not only how healthy and sustainable African food is, but also how beautiful and delicious it is. We have phenomenal flavours and textures – so much to be proud of, ” said Debby Laatz, Academic Head and nutrition lecturer responsible for compiling the Prue Leith recipes for this project.

The challenge that chefs face today is that they can no longer only consider food in terms of taste, design and plating or quality, but they have to consider it as a whole. This means giving thought to how healthy it is, is it safe, fairness and the impact that its production, processing, distribution, and consumption has on the planet. As food celebrities and influencers in recent years chefs can make a significant contribution, not only by cooking sustainably and healthy, but using their celebrity status to actively promote it. “Companies bombard kids with junk food ads all the time. We have to do the same thing with healthy and sustainable foods” suggested Loken.

Download the full BCFN report and cultural recipes here. 

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