The Mediterranean diet will save the planet

In this article we will see why the Mediterranean diet will save the planet.
We report the interview to David Tilman, winner of  numerous awards, including II Robert H. MacArthur Award for ecology in 1998 and II Prize Balzan in 2014. He was born in 1949 in Aurora (in Illinois USA), he graduated at the Michigan University and he teaches ecology at the California University Santa Barbara – Minnesota . It was drawn since his childhood by ecological studies because he thought he could transform the ecology in predictive science. His main interests are competing in the ecosystem and biodiversity. 

Interview by David Tilman about how The Mediterranean diet will save the planet

Feeding and nature

The Mediterranean diet will save the planet
Western food style has negative effects on health, but also on the environment. For this reason it would be better if everyone ate Italian. So said the leading ecologist in the world.

Your article in the Nature Magazine has caused strong reactions in the scientific world, what did you find in your research?

I and my co-author Michael Clark, examined the impact of many populations diets on the human health and the ecosystem. We tried to clarify the link between diet, health and environment. And we have been able to show that the Western diet is particularly bad for the natural environment: agricultural activities emit 25% of greenhouse gases, pollute water with chemicals, and use to raise animals and grow crops about 50% of the planet’s ice-free earth. In recent years, moreover, we had what nutritionists call “the great food transition ” that is, the worldwide shift of diets. From a vegetarian nutrition based on very little meat it switched to a diet rich in meat and calories “empty” (ie not associated with vitamins, minerals or other important substances).

But, then, how should we eat, in your opinion?

You Italian? You should continue in the same way.

What do you mean?

We have studied the health impact on environment of three “alternative” diets, the vegetarian, the fish based and the Mediterranean, still widespread in Italy. All the three have a positive effect on health. In societies studied using for example one of the three diets there is a decrease in diabetes type II, cancer and mortality due to coronary heart disease.

This for the health. And for the environment?

Also for the environment, the effect is positive, because healthy diets do not need the same surface of the omnivorous one, which would require in the future from 370 to 740 million hectares more to breed the cattle. With other diets, agricultural land would have no expansion and therefore also the biodiversity would not diminish. With a Mediterranean diet, greenhouse gases emissions would eventually be slightly lower than those of 2009, and for the other two would even have an “absorption”.

What happens if we Italians would give up the Mediterranean diet?

If all the inhabitants of the Earth would become omnivores, in 2050 we would have a 32% increase in greenhouse gases compared to 2009. We take into account that multiply farms to meet meat consumption has led to deforestation to create pastures and increasing emissions of gas emissions from farms. The production of ruminants meat (such as sheep or cows) emits 25O times more greenhouse gases than the production of legumes. Eggs, milk and fish have lower emissions than meat. Deforestation also causes a decrease of the natural environment and therefore the number of animal and plant species, the biodiversity; a process that causes instability of ecosystems.
As for the man, however, the consequences result in non-infectious diseases, such as diabetes type II, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. If we consume fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil we earn about 10 years life.

It will be difficult to convince all the inhabitants of the earth to eat “Italian”. How, then, could we prevent that the human diet damage the environment?

Maybe you could prevent nutritional transition, for example by ensuring that even with the industrialization and the movement to the cities, people do not get used to eating only junk food. You Italians, I insist, are very lucky, because the Mediterranean diet, made of fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil and as snacks (if you want) dried fruit, adds about ten years to life.

Marco Ferrari, on Focus 01/2015


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