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Eating for the Planet

In 2020 a third of global food is wasted, if food waste was a country it would be the third highest greenhouse gas emitting nation behind China and the US.

Sandro Demaio

Localised food is better for us and it’s better for the planet. Instead of just planting trees, we should be planting fruit trees and perennial vegetables.

Damon Gameau

Is it possible to feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? 

Four years ago, this question was posed to a group of doctors and dieticians from all over the world, and their response became the Planetary Health Diet – a way of eating created by scientists to bring together the health needs of humans with what our planet can afford.

By exploring simple food principles, the Planetary Health Diet charts a way to solve major health issues, and balance human needs with our impact on the environment in the age of climate change. Join public health advocate and CEO of VicHealth Sandro Demaio for a keynote talk, followed by a panel discussion with Alexandra Jones from The George Institute for Global Health, clinical dietician Jennifer Cohen and director of That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau as they discuss how we can all eat better and contribute to a healthier world.

Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and supported by UNSW Medicine. This event is part of the UNSW x National Science Week program.


UNSW Centre for Ideas: Good evening and welcome to Eating for the Planet. This event is presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and supported by UNSW Medicine. Tonight we'll be hearing from the CEO of VicHealth Dr. Sandro Demaio, as he discusses the planetary diet, our current eating patterns and what we need to change. We'll then be joined by a panel of experts to delve further into these topics. So let's start by introducing Dr. Sandro Demaio, who's a medical doctor, and perhaps that's the least impressive part of his qualifications to be honest. He's a public health expert and advocate and has previously worked at the World Health Organization as the CEO of the Eat Foundation, and he co- founded the NCDFREE global social movement. He's also an author, having authored the Doctor’s Diet Cookbook, and he co-hosts Ask the Doctor on ABC. His current role is as the CEO of VicHealth, and perhaps at least as importantly, he's an incredibly nice guy. Welcome, Sandro, and we look forward to hearing your presentation tonight.

Sandro Demaio: Thanks very much. I would just like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land that I'm on tonight, here in Melbourne. The Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and their elders past, present and emerging. Thanks very much for having me. What a huge topic, one important topic and it couldn't be at a more important time. And what we're really talking about tonight is not just eating for the planet, but eating for all people and the planet and the future of both. If we look across, where we sit currently around the world, you know, there's an unfolding ecological disaster. While our minds might have been for a moment taking off this, from where we were in January, a stark contrast of focus for societies in Australia and indeed around the world. Unfortunately, these ecological disasters continue to occur. Ozone depletion, rising dead zones in our oceans, rising Co2 emissions, rising sea and land temperatures, deforestation, freshwater depletion, the list goes on, biodiversity and biomass loss. But even just in the last few weeks and months, the story has gotten even more concerning. We're seeing Arctic blazes in areas, we're seeing bushfires in areas that you know, previously, we would never have thought. The Arctic, Arctic tundra, and indeed rainforest even here in Australia. 2020 is likely to be the warmest year on record, you know, it would be a Groundhog Day type experience if it wasn't so frightening for the future of our entire planet and everyone who lives on it. And of course, the devastating scenes from here in Victoria and across the border in New South Wales back at the start of the year, which still are in the minds and the lives and have a devastating legacy for many in our community. But of course, there’s an ecological health disaster unfolding as well, 2 billion people 2.1 in fact continue to be overweight or obese, 600 million are obese. And yet one in five children, one in five children across the planet, on a world that has never aggregated… at the aggregate level been richer, continue to be permanently stunted for life, lifelong, because of a lack of nutrition and lack of optimal nutrition in the first five years. We had our global targets, 201, we set them as a planet, the SDGs the sustainable development goals, including the goal to have zero hunger, which was not just about zero hunger, but it was actually about eliminating malnutrition in all its forms. And sadly, the latest state of the world's children's report made it very clear last year, we're not on track. We're not on track to meet our targets for stunting. We're not on track to meet our targets for overweight and obesity. We are in fact failing millions, hundreds of millions of young people around the world and continuing to do so year on year. But the world faces an even more complex picture when it comes to malnutrition. I was co-lead of the lancet series on the double burden of malnutrition and a contributor to the UNICEF state the world's children's report last year, both of which really focused in on this concept that many countries, many communities, many individuals are now facing multiple burdens of malnutrition simultaneously. It's a much more complex crossover and interweb of malnutrition that's unfolding around the world. Gone are the days of the single simple and linear nutrition transition. We now see this much more complex overlap and a coexistence of 30% of stunting and yet 35 percent of overweight and obesity and adult women in Indonesia just north of us, 300 million people living on an archipelago. 

And we know that food is also critical to the wider SDG agenda. We don't have time tonight but it's it's inextricably linked to every single, almost every single SDG, and I would say probably the last few are just because I didn't have time to think it through before I presented tonight but you know, poverty, zero hunger, good food and health, food, you know, sorry, good health and wellbeing. Food is a leading contributor to the global burden of disease. We know that education and educational attainment and opportunity and performance are so inextricably linked to nutrition. We know women are the last to eat and the first not to eat, gender equality, we know that food and the food systems actually use 70% of global freshwater. SDG six, we know that consumption production is going to have to shift, we know that sustainable cities are going to have to change the way they produce, consume and waste food all the way through to partnerships, that goal number 16. Goal number 17 is going to be core to solving this issue. So we look forward to 2050. And tonight we think about, you know, how do we feed 9.6 billion people within planetary boundaries, leaving no one behind, the SDG agenda. Well, where we are in 2020 is a long, long way from this goal. In 2020, a third of global food is wasted. In fact, it's estimated that if food waste alone was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitting nation after China in the US. That the scale of the food we waste and the scale at which it produces carbon emissions, and needlessly produces carbon emissions as a result. Environmentally 20 to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production globally. 70% of freshwater use, it’s a major driver of extinction and a major threat to our global oceans. 

And we've already talked about the health consequences of global malnutrition unabated and in fact, accelerating. What's starting to emerge in some of these really concerning feedback loops like we're seeing with regards to climate. So we know that global hunger is again on the rise, but it's actually on a rise due to climate change and conflict. Climate change, for which the single biggest contributing sector is food production, and conflict which is closely associated particularly over the last few decades with food prices. So food in itself, the way we are consuming in some parts of the world is growing hunger across the entire planet. At the same time, we know that, you know, we talked about food waste, and the enormous environmental toll that has on the planet, second feedback loop. The third: 70% of global antibiotics are used in food. So while antimicrobial resistance looms large, and a seemingly major global health threat before COVID came along and continuing to be so. Yet another food related feedback loop is looming, the threats of global security and global health. And finally, food loss itself is a major barrier to income, and of course, therefore, to sustainable economic development and drives and entrenches poverty. 

And then finally, all of this on top of COVID, which has fundamentally changed every aspect of our global food system, from the way we trade food, from the way we price food, from who can pick food and the freedom of trade, the freedom of movement to allow us to be able to, you know, harvest food efficiently, all the way through to how we access it, how we cook it, how we use it in our homes, how we waste food, everything has shifted because of COVID and will influence the path to 2050. So the big question really is, you know, can we feed 9.6 billion people within planetary boundaries and still have a planet to hand on to future generations while really leaving no one behind the fundamentals of the SDG agenda. And the answer is yes, but. And rather than taking you through the findings of the EAT-Lancet Commission, 37 of the world's leading scientists over two years, I'm going to leave it to a group of German animation experts to explain the story in 90 seconds.

Animation Voice Over: You know, the saying, you are what you eat. But the way we currently eat is fact ruining our health, the health of others, and that of the planet. Unhealthy Food is now deadlier than alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined. 2.1 billion people are overweight, yet we eat more sugar, fat and red meat than ever. Still 821 million go to bed hungry every night. On top of that, our food is the main cause behind species extinction, and a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. So can we feed a growing population without destroying the planet and ourselves? Science had no clear answer to this question. That's why EAT gathered 37 of the world's best scientists to determine what a healthy and sustainable diet is, and how to get there. The result is the EAT-Lancet Commission, a scientific blueprint for a healthy and sustainable future. If we change the way we produce, consume, transport and waste food, we can feed everyone a healthy diet, while improving the health of our planet. What does this look like? Meat can stay on our plate. But plants need to be the new main course. We should eat a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, and a low amount of meat, dairy and seafood. We should choose unsaturated fats, and stay away from refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars. And we have no food to waste, it will take huge changes. But following this plan will lower our risk of cancer, strokes and diabetes, it could help avoid 11 million adult deaths per year. In fact, consuming and producing food more efficiently and mindfully will help to keep our planet flourishing. We have an answer now, we know the right cause for a better future. It's on us to actually take that step, our food can be the key to solving the biggest challenges we face, the food really can fix it.

Sandro Demaio: So I'll just take you through how the EAT-Lancet Commission, the process of it, because there's a lot of confusion that sits around it, and a few myths that we need to debunk. Again, I was not one of the 37 scientists, but I was very closely involved in the Commission and its launch. So the first step was that they, together with a group of scientists, including representatives from the Head of Nutrition from the World Health Organization, and some of experts from various institutions around the world, they defined what was a healthy reference diet based on the best available evidence. So the first point was, what does a body, a human body need to be healthy? That was the starting point. Then they extrapolated that by 10 billion people. The second was then, okay, what can the planet actually entertain? You know, how much nitrogen? How much water? How much phosphorus? How much of the extinction rate, how much of our greenhouse gas emissions, within our Paris Agreement restrictions, could be given to food production of the food production sector? So you then have these two hard endpoints. What do we need to produce to be able to feed 10 billion people and allow them to enjoy a good life, a long way from where we are today, on a deeply divided planet? And then, what can a planet entertain to be able to allow it to continue to prosper well beyond our current and future generations? The third was then to apply all sorts of modelling systems, modelling, to try and understand, you know, what would be the pathways, what are the trade offs, what would allow us to get within these two hard endpoints and finally, then outline key strategies that would get us from where we are today to 2050. 

So there were some critical pieces missing from that. And three, three critical pathways emerged, but five transformation opportunities. So the first was driving technological innovation for efficiency and equity. This was really about looking at the yield gaps around the world, the understanding that there will be different environments where food is more or less appropriate to be produced. We live in a globalised, interdependent world, our food systems are going to need to be in fact more globalised in 2050 than they are today, we'll need to produce food where it can be produced most efficiently. And we will need to try and work to close the yield gaps, the differences between what we can produce on certain soils in one environment versus another around the world. The second was to try and reorient agricultural priorities, you know, away from simply more calories in production, a very 20th century paradigm, to more around an understanding of people and planet. The third was around halving food loss and waste, already outlined in the SDGs. A fourth was strong and coordinated government governance of land and ocean and fundamentally the really tough one, shifting the world to healthier but also tasty diets. So while it's controversial, it continues to be controversial, but this is what the lancet diet looked like, half the plate is fruit and vegetables, large section of whole grains, lots of seeds, nuts, pulses, legumes and healthy oils. This is what importantly, I should say also that that reference diet was about 2500 calories, which is actually considerably less than many high income countries consume, countries that are struggling with various effects of, of overconsumption of unhealthy foods, but also a dramatic increase for in fact, many low and middle income countries around the world. If we compare the reference diet to North America, this is what you see. So the recommended planetary health diet would see fairly significant reductions in red meat consumption, starchy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and, and dairy, but quite considerable increases, and we would see the same in Australia, very big increases in fruits, vegetables, whole nuts, legumes, seeds. We've seen the same come out of the global burden of disease data, you know, since as well. But importantly, if we compare the reference diet to a South Asian diet, we see a very different picture, we actually see that, you know, for many people, billions of people on the planet who would actually be an increase red meat consumption and increase in eggs, poultry, dairy, and these are the countries that continue to suffer from high rates of stunting and higher rates of undernutrition. And there was a study that was, in fact, just published a few weeks ago in Nature Food. And this really speaks to the concept of equity and not equality on our road to Paris with regards to food. Because if planets around the world adopted the planetary health diet, on the left you'd see reductions, dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the change in diets. But in fact, you'd see an increase in greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas emissions from diets in all of the countries on the right that have a positive balance. And so the aggregate difference would be, the overall difference as a planet would be a decrease, but there would also be greater equity, you would see, in fact, some countries making way for others to really enter and have an equitable place in the food system, and as a result, reducing overall global malnutrition. 

Now, this all sounds very pie in the sky. But it was only a few weeks after the EAT-Lancet Commission launched, I remember in 2019, last year, seems like decades now in the context of COVID, as I call in from Melbourne. But it was only a few weeks after that Health Canada actually released the new dietary guidelines. You know, this obviously looks very familiar, half the plate is fruits and vegetables, quarter of the plate is protein based food, with an emphasis on plant based proteins. Still some meat of course, choosing whole grains, and then water as the drink of choice. So again, you see that it's starting to actually evolve and become part of the mainstream, from a, sort of, aspirational 2050 target to really the food on the plate in front of us in countries around the world. And we've seen others follow. But of course, there's a wider question here. And it's, you know, there are lots of things that were not covered in The Lancet Commission, the affordability of it, how we how we actually really allowed more of the population to afford these diets. You know, how do we manage the trade offs that big parts of the planet, actually we need them to retain their natural resources, we need them to be delivering ecosystem services to the planet to allow us to offset food production in other parts of the planet. But both of those processes both of those forms of land use need to be remunerated properly and respectfully to be able to reach our Paris agreements to be able to hand on a planet to future generations, but also to fit to feed a global planet, an interdependent planet on a single planet. This was the state of the world's children's report, the Innocenti Framework that Jess Fanzo, and many others worked on. And I think it really gives a great picture of then, you know, it's not just about the diet, it's not just about the environment, you know, the Brazilian guidelines and others that have spoken very strongly to the social and cultural elements. It's not just about adapting that diet to all of the different flavours and colours, and cultures, and climates around the world. It's not just about equity and the trade offs that you know, some countries need to probably reduce consumption of certain things to allow other countries and to allow our fellow people in other countries to get equitable access to a global food system, and to enjoy any semblance of the quality of life that we all too often take for granted in high income countries. But it's also about the wider food system. And understanding all of the dynamics around the wider food system, how they interplay across the diet to deliver in a future world. Now, of course, the dietary aspect was also balanced against those planetary boundary hard endpoints. So what can the climate actually afford to deliver towards global food production, we only have one planet, we only have one, you know, one body of water, one body of oxygen, one body of carbon dioxide, everything that comes with an opportunity cost and a trade off. And so these were the boundaries that were identified for global food production. The question then is how do we use technology, trade, you know, other aspects to produce food efficiently, but also equitably within these global planetary boundaries.And I suppose the final piece was really that, you know, it's going to take everything it's going to take… this, this is a graph that shows, it's a table that shows, you know, if we were to increase production, if we were to halve food loss and waste, and we were to transform global diets, it's only when we have all three working in unison, that we actually get to the levels of biodiversity loss, of phosphorus and nitrogen use, of water use, of cropland use, and of greenhouse gas emissions, that would really get us anywhere close to Paris and beyond. 

So as I said, finally, there were some things that weren't covered in The Lancet. There are lots of questions. You know, I think that the authors were very open. And scientists since have been very open that this really was about starting a global conversation that wasn't the endpoint, it was the really departure point. And there are lots of pieces that will need to be answered along the way to make sure that the global food system we have in 2050 is not just one that delivers for the planet, but it's also one that delivers for all people. It's equitable, it's sustainable, it's healthy, and it's respectable. And, and you know, what that journey looks like the timelines, the steps to get there, and of course, the regional, and adaptation and affordability and equity considerations will be, are all the questions the global community is now grappling with, and answering. And I would just say, next year, there'll be a United Nations Summit in September on food systems hosted by the Secretary General, the State of the World's children's report last year, focusing on food systems for the first time ever, and only the second time on nutrition. You know, these are signs that the world is… I think there is a convergence of opportunity at the policy level, at the consumer level, you know, at every level of the producer level of getting to this more sustainable future. Thank you very much.

Centre for Ideas: And to help us explore that a little bit further now, I'd like to introduce the panel that we have with us tonight, starting here in Sydney with Dr. Jennifer Cohen, who's a clinical dietitian, and a research fellow here at UNSW Sydney. She also works as the evaluation manager at Canteen Australia and has a particular focus on children's nutrition, which perhaps is important when we're talking about planetary health and the future. Impressively, Jen was recently named as the Australian dietician of the year. So congratulations. Next to Jen, I'd like to introduce Dr. Alexandra Jones, who's a senior research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, here in Sydney. She's a lawyer by training, and a researcher into food labelling, and also the role of law and policy and a whole range of other macro factors on food and health more broadly. Welcome, Ally. And last but certainly not least, Damon Gameau, who's joining us remotely, and who's an actor and a director, and star of several films and the director of That Sugar Film, movie that certainly made quite a splash and has won Best Documentary at the Australian actor awards, and was followed up by the publication of That Sugar Book, appropriately. He's also now moved more broadly into looking forward to the future and has a new film called 2040 that perhaps we might hear about, as the evening moves on. So welcome to all of you. And maybe I'll start us off here in the discussion by asking each of you for a perspective on what we've just heard from Sandro, perhaps starting with you, Jen. What do you think the implications of the work that Sandro has described are for individuals and families here in Australia?

Jennifer Cohen: Yeah, great question and thank you for having me. I… exactly like Sandro said I think this is a great opportunity to start the discussion, and, and that can be discussion at a, you know, government level at a world level, but also individually in your own homes and your own families. And I think what's important, and this is already put out in Sandro’s presentation, that there is still a gap between, you know, what the recommendations are, or what's considered, you know, a healthier diet versus what we are doing as, you know, as Australians. And so I think for anyone watching this, it can be sometimes overwhelming when you get given these recommendations of, you know, 50% of your plate, fruit and vegetables and avoid processed foods, and a lot of the time that people get stuck on that, about where do I make the change, because the change has to be so significant. So for me, I think one of the, I guess, key messages for anyone listening is, you know, what, is pick somewhere to start. So a bit likely doing at a global level, which is, this is a starting point, and let's move forward, is pick somewhere to start that could be as small as I'm going to try and have vegetables at my breakfast for a change, rather than cereal, or I'm going to have one less meal with an ultra processed food or, you know, pick something, you know, it could be able to simple as if you have two sugars in your coffee, reduced down to one and a half teaspoons. I know they seem small, but it is about making very small, gradual changes over time. And I think we need to see that individually, at a government level, and then a global level as well.

Vlado Perkovic: Important comments, Jen. So start small and think about it as a journey that doesn't have to be all done at once. 

Jennifer Cohen: Definitely. 

Vlado Perkovic: Important. Ally, can I ask you, what do you think this means for us as a society and how we produce and manage food more broadly?

Alexandra Jones: That’s also a good question. I think that there's clearly not going to be a silver bullet policy that's going to fix this. I think the great thing about the report is that it sets out some targets. And then we're on a journey to get there that we need to start now. As Jen said, I think education is necessary, but it's not going to be sufficient to drive change, because you can't really just tell people to eat better, and then put them out in an environment where they're surrounded by unhealthy, unsustainable, cheap foods. So a lot of my work focuses at a population level. And we look at things like how can we use laws, taxes, subsidies, things that are going to change the environment overall. And we can see that in some countries they’re already using this to shift healthy diets. So somewhere like Chile has warning labels on junk foods, and that's good for individuals. But I think the interesting thing is what it does to companies, if it makes them change what they put in foods. And we can already see discussions happening now around things like a meat tax, for example, based off the health consequences of processed meats, particularly, say for cancer. But we could say that a meat tax potentially also has environmental benefits, I think we're going to have to really hone the design of the policy to make sure that we get both objectives right. We don't want a policy that points us to healthy foods that then damage the environment and vice versa. So there's a big task ahead, but I think we know where to start.

Vlado Perkovic: Okay, great. We might come to Damon in a moment. But I think we have a question online from a student, locally here in Alexandria, and maybe we might hear this question and then get you all to respond to that.

Ben: Hi, my name is Ben and I go to Alexandria Park Community school. My question is, what is the healthiest sugar and why?

Vlado Perkovic: So Sandro, good sugar, can you give us your perspective on that?

Sandro Demaio: As a doctor it's always safest to pass to the professionals, to the dieticians that are with us. I think any sugar that's in fruit, or a vegetable and intact in the whole form is pretty good. It's nature's way of getting us to eat fruit and vegetables. So you know, probably sticking to the stuff that's naturally found in the fresh whole things that we enjoy.

Vlado Perkovic: Jen?

Jennifer Cohen: I think that's a great answer. I'll let you have that. Good answer.

Sandro Demaio: Thank you. 

Vlado Perkovic: So a question here. Maybe I'll go to you, Ally for the next one. From Melissa on Facebook, which talks about helping people make healthier decisions at a consumer level. How can we help people to move towards a healthier diet?

Alexandra Jones: I think that what I've just said is that it's good to educate consumers, but it's really hard for people right now when they're walking around in an environment where everything is set up, whether it's the marketing, or what's available in the supermarket is going to point you in the wrong direction. So one opportunity I think we have now in Australia is we've just announced a refresh of the Australian dietary guidelines. What I would hope they end up looking like is something a bit more like the Canadian example that Sandro showed on the plate. I think two things about Canada's example are interesting. The first is that Health Canada said that they would not involve the food industry at all in development of the guidelines. And you can see that the end product is a bit different. There's nothing in a packet visually for example, and there's a lot less animal products on there. But these things, you know, if we got that in the Australian guidelines, if we looked at sustainability, which would be a new thing, that would be great. But if people really want to be healthier, we still need that to filter down into the policies, into the school food canteen, into the way we price foods, and that will make a difference for consumers.

Vlado Perkovic: Jen, from a dieticians perspective, working with people on their diets each day, how can we help them?

Jennifer Cohen: I think exactly what I said before, which is about encouraging small changes. I think there's a lot of, also, confusion out there and differing opinions of what is, you know, a healthy or an unhealthy diet. What should people do? And I think, you know, those questions are good, but a lot of the time it's along those lines, actually is going to say is, that a lot of the time, we want to blame individuals for their choices, that we say, well, you know, this is what you need to have, why aren't you making those changes? And I think we need to realise that exactly, like Alexandra said, it's not, you know, our food, you know, our, the society we live in, and the way food is produced the way food is provided to individuals, I think makes it very hard for, you know, society to make those choices. So I think a lot of the time there is yes, we need to look at individuals. But it's not about blaming individuals, it's about looking at that, sort of, food, environment food policy. So we do have a long way to go. I think we're gonna give more questions and answers from this.

Vlado Perkovic: And Sandro, you're, you've now got a job where you're responsible for this area, for Victoria, what's the approach that you think is most appropriate for us to help really move us towards better outcomes going forward?

Sandro Demaio: Apart from having Ally on speed dial? I think I mean, Ally summed it up really well, it's the, it's moving from just advice, to understanding that it is, in fact, affordability, it's accessibility, it's lowering those those major hurdles, and that requires policy change, we need to be looking at things like, you know, advertising of unhealthy foods, pricing policies, we need to empower consumers to the point of purchase through different labelling options. You know, I think the evidence is very clear, we don't, we don't have a lack of evidence, we probably just have a lack of clinical will, particularly, you know, a lot of these policies, the writing has been on the wall for many, many years. And, you know, it's, it's, it's probably convenient to perpetuate the myth that it's somehow individual collective individual responsibility, but that's absolutely not true. You know, I’m yet to meet any family who doesn't want to put good food on the table for their kids. But it's being able to afford it, it's being able to have the time to actually make it, it's about being able to access it. These are the issues, it's not being bombarded by advertising, you know, every corner or passing eight or 10 fast food outlets on the way to and from work. These are the types of issues we need to actually overcome. And certainly from our perspective, I mean, this is where we're putting our focus as an agency.

Vlado Perkovic: Thanks, Sandro. We've got a few questions coming through for Daymond. Just to let people know that we're, we've lost our connection to Damon for a moment, but we'll get him on as soon as we can, and throw some particularly curly questions to him. So watch out for those. Sandro, a question here about animal agriculture and products and the fact that they're associated with health and environmental issues. You know, should we be recommending that people consume any of them at all?

Sandro Demaio: First of all, we in Australia consume more meat, particularly red meat than even the dietary guidelines, the current dietary guidelines recommend. So we're already over consuming even based on our national dietary guidelines. The second element is that we're talking about a global change. So you know, this is not going to bring the end of agriculture in Australia. In fact, it's probably going to do the opposite because we produce some of the most efficiently produced meat in the world. And as I said before, There are 10s, or hundreds of millions of people currently locked out in global food systems. It's about us eating a little less in Australia to allow others around the world to enjoy a good life by eating a little more. So, you know, I don't think that the message from the Lancet Commission is that it’s safe to be vegan, if you want to, but it’s not what they're recommending. I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, but it's about being more conscious, it's about eating less, it's about eating higher quality, so the money we do spend we can actually spend on less meat and therefore, slightly better quality, when we do purchase it. And it's about enjoying it when we do, but also it's about, you know, ultimately, it's about consuming less than we currently do, in many high income countries. Because we only live on one planet, there's only so much land, water, air, soil that we can use to produce food for everyone. So if we can continue to over consume above what is recommended by the health agencies, way above what is recommended by the global health agencies, we're not only doing ourselves a disservice, but we're also locking millions of people out of the food system. So, you know, I think Australian agriculture has got a very strong place to play in the future of meat, and in producing the highest quality, most efficient meat. But Australians are probably going to have to give up some of it so that others in the global food system can enjoy life like we do. 

Vlado Perkovic: Thanks, Sandro, maybe Ally I'll ask you to extend that and think about what are the implications for industry in Australia, and particularly, people working in agriculture, if the planet as a whole moves more towards this sort of a diet? Do you have any thoughts?

Alexandra Jones: That's a good question. This is something that, you know, I can't pretend to be an expert on the production side. I mean, most of my work is on the shifting towards a healthier diet. But I think where you see these transitions, you can have just transitions. So, it's acknowledging that people, as we shift our diets, there will be shifts also in the people that make those foods. But there are ways that we can offset that. And we have a history of doing that in policy. If we raise a tax on meat, we could use some of the funds from that to transition the people that were growing the meat into another crop. So there are ways that we can do this. I don't think anyone's saying that businesses should go bust. It's the same that we're creating a market for renewable energy, we could create a market for healthier, more sustainable food, there would be jobs and opportunities in those new markets too, certainly no one's going to stop eating.

Vlado Perkovic: And potentially bigger opportunities for those organisations who embrace this change going forward. I think we've got Damon back with us here. Damon, thanks for joining us. I know we've had some technical challenges. But maybe could I ask you just to comment more broadly on the presentation that we heard from Sandro and the messages that it contains. Given your role as professional communicator, how do we help get these messages out most effectively amongst the broader community?

Damon Gameau: What's clear from Sandro's presentation is agriculture is incredibly deleterious to us right now. And so what that means is it also presents an opportunity to turn what is the problem into a really powerful solution. And I think some of the research emerging now around the way certain foods and crops can sequester carbon, how they can impact the water cycle, retaining water in our landscapes, then the health benefits to the wider public. I think these things need to be really strategically told, I think even using terms like meat tax is just going to shut down a lot of people. I think we’ve got to be very smart with how we tell our stories. Even, I think, that food plays a really powerful role in our climate change story. I find with 2040, that even people that didn't think climate change is real or weren’t interested in climate change. Were very interested in the soil regeneration story, the impacts that could have on foods and communities and farmers. Though I think now more than ever, we've got to be smart with how we communicate, and get out of this ivory tower notion of using terms that are clever to us like anthropogenic or negative emissions or even Paris targets. We've got to actually start communicating at a very human level, and talk about what people value, which is their security, it is their health, the future of their children. And food’s a huge, obviously, an entry point there. So I've spent the last five years just looking at a variety of ways that we can farm that will turn these things around, and it's been quite amazing, exciting to learn those things. Especially given that 80% of our crops are only utilising 4% of the plant family, so there are just hundreds and hundreds of species that we don't even know about yet that have huge nutritional benefits and are able to sequester a huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. So we really need to change the way we talk about our food. Currently extracting that we fight nature, use chemicals, we control it, we really need to work with nature, stop destroying the soil, stop using excess chemicals, and start to work with farmers. Bring them into the conversation. Don't ostracise them, because this is a beautiful opportunity for us to have a really powerful conversation about what we can achieve together.

Vlado Perkovic: Thanks, Damon. Important comments there. So we've got some more interesting questions coming through online. And please do keep sending those through. Maybe a question. We've got an interesting question from Digby Hall, who asks about plant based meats. You know, what's their nutritional status? Are they a food which could help us move towards these, sort of, targets in our impossible burgers or whatever else it is that we eat?

Jennifer Cohen: That's actually another great question. And I think when we're, you know, that message about plant based eating is definitely a message that's been coming out in the last couple of years. And I know there's an increase in, you know, products we're seeing on supermarket shelves, which are plant based meats and plant based meals. And I mean, I think it's a great conversation. I think the danger of some of those, and again, that's a strong word, is that we're going still down the line of that, you know, that processed food or that ultra processed food. You know, there is some emerging research showing that food that's ultra processed. Now that's different to processed. So when you hear something that's a food that's processed, versus ultra processed. When we talk about ultra processed, there's foods that, you know, we're talking about your biscuits, and your cakes, but even things like some of your tinned soups and, you know, bottled sauces, they're ultra processed foods, and we know that those potentially have risk for our health. So what we're seeing with some of these, I guess, plant based meals, is, are they actually just going down that same line of being an ultra processed food? Now they do have some place in there, because there are some products that are potentially a better version of a plant based meal. But we have to be careful that we don't then go, okay, well, we're going to have this because we consider it healthier, because it's plant base. But the reality is, it's just another version of an ultra processed food just remodelled something differently. And again, when we're looking at processed foods, or ultra processed foods, you know, there's packaging involved with that. So that's, you know, there's that discussion around sustainability is there as well. So I think they potentially have a place, but I think you have to be very, very conscious of what you're buying when you are in the supermarket. And don't think just because it's plant based that that equals healthy. And I think we've learned that lesson before when there's a new trend that comes in, then, you know, food manufacturers tend to then sort of buy into that food trend, make new products, and then we consider it healthy. So there is a place but I think be very, very careful.

Vlado Perkovic: Coming back to Damon again, you mentioned you're talking about agriculture before really more at a commercial level. But there's an interesting question here for you about people growing their own food, and the role that that might play in this whole movement, and in helping people to take up healthier diets.

Damon Gameau: Yeah, I think that's been one of the most positive COVID stories was the panic buying of seeds around Australia. I mean, all of the press went to toilet paper. But I think the better story was that people were buying seeds right around the country and started growing their own food. If you look at the statistics, it's quite interesting that about 78% of our food globally comes from local producers. So big ag who produced the corn and soy and wheat and sugar, only account for about 20% of the food supply. And a lot of that is going to animals. And as we know a lot of that is not good for our health. So it's really about shifting those subsidies away from those big ag producers to support local farms, especially women. It’s really interesting research around when women get to control that food, how different it is. And that happens right around the world. So I think that, you know, here more than ever, we've seen the fragility of our system in this moment. The supply chains just aren’t working for us. We've seen about 700,000 pigs being euthanised every week, you know, because the restaurant is closed, and so millions of chickens being put down despite chickens still being brought into the country from overseas. So it's really exposed how inefficient our system is, and that we really need to look at this sort of localisation, this resilience that needs to kick in now around our communities, the local production, how can we grow our own food? And certainly from the screenings we've done around the country and the world, it's just such a common thing that comes through from people. They want more sovereignty on their food, they want food in their nature strips, they want a community garden. Like this is a great thing, children, they should be in all our schools. We should be releasing laws that allow people to grow food through their cities. We're seeing that in some European countries now they're growing fruit trees in Copenhagen. Adelaide is even looking at a program to grow fruit trees for their homeless people. I mean, we've done it before, like the victory gardens in the war, now is the time to do it. Localised food is better for us, it’s better for the planet. And, you know, we should, instead of just planting trees, we should be planting fruit trees and perennial vegetables. There are so many hundreds of vegetable trees around the world now that are just underutilised. What a wonderful time to actually boost them up. So we move away from this sort of mono crops, these rows and rows of just the one food, let's really look at diversity and growing lots of different foods that we haven't considered before. Because now's the time to do it.

Vlado Perkovic: So Sandro, a question here, from Rose, moving us from growing our food to how we sell it and deliver it, I guess. And specifically asking about the role of subscription food box services. Do you have a view on those? And are there any examples perhaps that might combine a social good aspect to the work that they do?

Sandro Demaio: Yeah, sure. Thanks. It's a great question. But before I go to that one, I just love to take a step back to the production question. So I think Damon made some really good points. You know, smallholder farmers do produce most of the world's food. But having said that, they are most vulnerable. They're dependent on being able to produce the food, the food that they produce, feeds their families, and feeds their communities. And it's the economic lifeline that feeds them financially, in the context of climate change, in the context of all of the ecological challenges that are facing the planet. Smallholder farmers are going to be the most vulnerable, going forward, even in a, sort of, disaggregated or, or disseminated food production system, which you would think would be able to manage shocks better. They are facing unique and quite, you know, extreme challenges. And I think smallholder farmers we often think about the food system, Damon made a great point, we often think about the global players, we think about, sort of, you know, large mono crops, but actually the majority of the world's food, the majority of the foods private sector around the world, is actually smallholder farmers, it's, you know, it's small producers across the planet. The other point I would make is that food production, we're talking about food tonight, very much in the context of what it does for our bodies, what it does for the planet. But let's not forget that food is so much more than that. Food is its connection, it’s the way we interact with each other. It's our fondest memories as children, it's how we bond with those around us. It's so part of our culture, it's so part of, you know, Australia's culture for hundreds, for tens of thousands of years. And so producing food while you know, backyard veggie patches, you know, the evidence may suggest that they're not probably going to be able to sustain the future of, you know, large globalised, urbanised populations, they still have a really critical function, in addition to their food production, capabilities. They're obviously contributing, you know, a connection to the soil, the biological and immunological benefits that it brings to young people. They're allowing us to reconnect with food to understand the food system, to understand nature. They have huge mental health benefits, being in the garden, producing food, growing food, connecting with food, cooking food, sharing food. So it's much more than the benefits of just, does it make enough food to feed the planet, growing in your backyard? I think, you know, it needs to be this more nuanced hybrid conversation looking at the many benefits it brings. In terms of the second question you asked. It's a pet question, and I promise I didn't pay Vlado to ask this, but absolutely, look at one of the benefits we've seen across the you know, the small silver linings that we've seen across the Coronavirus period has been this huge surge in boxes, fresh food box deliveries. Well we actually have really two supply chains in Australia, one sits with our duopoly, the two big supermarkets and that's you know, hitting record targets. The other is the parallel supply chain that goes from the local, the big market, the big fresh food markets, the local markets, our local grocers, restaurants, you know the corner stores and that food chain, that food supply chain is really struggling. So one way that we as VicHealth have been trying to really preserve and protect that parallel supply chain of food that is so important to producers, to local small and medium enterprise and to communities across Victoria and across Australia is to support organisations that have been able to pivot the food provision into food boxes and other forms of reaching particularly vulnerable, low income and marginalised communities and families. One of those is Community Grocer. We're about to announce some further funding, but we funded them about two months ago to scale their work. And it's a social enterprise that does provide fresh food boxes in social housing, in low income communities. And it uses a cross subsidy, social enterprise approach through fresh food boxes. So you know, that's, that's innovation that is occurring in the food system in a matter of weeks responding to the situation. And it shows again, the resilience of our food system. It shows the resilience of small medium enterprise in our food system. And it shows the resilience of local food systems, as Damon already said,

Vlado Perkovic: Also when we’re thinking about supplying food, a key place that many of our most important citizens, though young, get their food is from schools and universities. And there's a question here from Julianna Costa about initiatives in Australia to restrict the availability of unhealthy foods, at schools and universities and maybe Ally, if you want to comment on this, are our schools and universities doing enough? And one of the things that work?

Alexandra Jones: So, every state in Australia would have a school canteen, guideline. Obviously in Australia, a lot of kids are bringing their food from home. So that's also a lot of responsibility on parents, which you know, it can be stressful, if those parents are time poor. It’d be interesting to know how kids are going at home at the moment, and whether they're eating better than when they take their lunchbox to school. But schools are doing a lot and it's a challenging environment. In the school canteen, they don't often have a lot of resources to prepare a lot of food there. Some schools have great Stephanie Alexander kitchen gardens, which, like Damon said, is a really great way for kids to get engaged with the garden. Here at UNSW I know we've been working on an initiative to improve the food environment. Seems a bit strange right now, because campus is very quiet. But you know, other universities in the US have, for example, removed sugary drinks, soft drink is just something that's not a necessary part of a healthy diet. And it comes in plastic bottles. We've been trying to do that here. It's challenging. I would also give a shout out to academics, including Cathy Sherry here who has put a garden into the law faculty, and all students who do the food law course maintain that garden normally. So I don't know how it's looking right now. Maybe I should go and check if there's anything to harvest.

Vlado Perkovic: And, Jen, your thoughts?

Jennifer Cohen: I was gonna add to that. And again, I can really only speak from a New South Wales Health perspective, because that's what I know. And I'm sure exactly each state has their own policy. But along those lines, with the, sort of, healthy canteen initiative, and the universities, is that at a hospital level, that there's now policies about, again, removing sugar sweetened beverages from a hospital. So, you know, you often went into, you know, even the children's hospitals here in Sydney, and there was vending machines with sugar sweetened beverages there. And so there's now policies where they're actually been removed from vending machines and from, you know, the cafes in the places that are selling those in the hospitals. So I think there's the same policy for the universities as well, and similar for schools. So, you know, these are good examples of, you know, initiatives that are coming from, I guess, the government, to help remove sugar sweetened beverages from, you know, from line of sight for a lot of people, to help to help people to make better choices. So there are definitely initiatives out there, but I can't speak to the other states, but I'm assuming they're there as well.

Vlado Perkovic: So we might move back to Damon now and get you to perhaps think about a couple of questions here first that I'm going to combine. One is asking about sustainable and alternative food sources that countries could shift towards excluding insects, from Rose, who obviously doesn't like insects, and hasn't had ants at Mexican restaurants. But the other question that I'm going to combine that with is from Luke, who asks about the role of native foods, and especially the foods that Aboriginal population have used to sustain themselves over 10s of millennia. Do you have any thoughts about things that we should look to grow more of, or move towards, if we're going to move towards this sustainable planetary diet?

Damon Gameau: I've been working with a group actually in Victoria at the moment called Odonata. And they are doing some eco corridors with fencing off the predators and bringing back some of the native Australian animals, Quolls and Bettongs. It's incredible that these animals have such soil engineers as well. When you let them go, they actually aerate and dig up the soil, but also they clear the foliage under the trees and the whole cycle starts again. But there is an enormous opportunity I think in our country to, you know, I was looking at the wattle trees the other day, and why we don't eat more wattle seeds, you know, they're very high in protein. They're a nitrogen fixer as well, they sequester huge amounts of carbon, they even have DNT. And then if you really want to go there. And then there's the Mulga tree as well, which has been used as a, sort of, combined with a wasp to make a certain apple there. It's a very sustainable wood, we should be using that, it's a perennial which grows back. So I think there's a huge opportunity now, especially as we rebuild after the fires, we've just seen how many species were lost, now's a chance to be really strategic with what we plant there and grow back if we are going to revegetate some of these landscapes. Let's grow pollinators so that we can give habitat for bees and these other insects to come back. I mean, we've got a chance to start again. And we don't want to waste this opportunity. And we have such a gift in this country, we're so unique. It's what's beautiful about this planet, is that each region has its own specialty, and Australia is blessed with the animals and the plants and the and the foods we should be eating, that the majority of us know nothing about. So I think now's a really great time to bring that conversation in. I know a lot of farmers, since the farmers have been reaching out to the Indigenous community doing fire ecology training, but also just tree management training and looking at really interesting modes of what they can do on their farms, which wouldn't have happened, I don’t think without the fires. So the more that we can promote those conversations, this is a really great opportunity to bring in that Indigenous wisdom, and that Indigenous knowledge which we should have a long time ago. And I'd urge anyone I've just finished reading Tyson Yunkaporta's book, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Change the World. And it is a profound read, just to see the lens that we've been looking at, especially with agriculture. And Bruce Pascoe’s book is the same. To suddenly start looking at this land in our country in a very unique way. And how these people survived and the foods they ate for so many years, now's the time to start introducing that, because that's what’s suited to our country. That's how we retain the water. That's how we sequester carbon. That's how we fireproof our country. So it's now or never really, the doors opened. And it's a great opportunity.

Vlado Perkovic: Thank you, Sandro, can I ask you, perhaps for your view on that, and maybe also thinking about what role Australia might play in supporting other countries in moving down this path from a broader, sort of, agricultural perspective?

Sandro Demaio: Yeah, sure. No, I look, I think, I think David again, made some really good points. You know, the simplest, you look at the global burden of disease data, you look at the Lancet diet, really, it's about increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption. It's about taking up more of our plate with veggies. Most Australians, almost every Australian, doesn't eat anywhere near as many vegetables as we should, or could. We're a great producer, we grow the freshest tastiest veggies in the world here in Australia, and we export a huge amount of them. But we you know, a big, I think if you, you know, if you really want to shift your diet to be closer to what is good for the planet, and good for your body, probably the single simplest thing you can do is take up more of your plate with veggies, and then naturally that will offset, start to offset some of the other things. In terms of the role… of course, there's more nuance, but you know, single line. In terms of the role of Australia, I mean, I think we've got a huge opportunity as a nation, we are a big food production producing nation, we've got incredibly fertile soils, we've got some of the most sustainable and progressive soil management and production methods in the world. We've got great climates for producing everything from you know, apples in Tasmania, up to tropical fruit in northern Australia. And also meat, meat production, you know, there are lots of parts of the world where it's highly inefficient to produce meat. It comes at a massive economic and environmental cost. And it makes a lot more sense to produce it where you can produce it, the clear message from scientists, including scientists working more in the environmental space is, you know, produce food where it can be produced most efficiently. Let's increase global trade, trade by oceans on a ship is incredibly efficient, far more efficient than producing any hot houses locally. And, and finally, you know, we have to understand that we live on one planet. So what I eat here in Australia does have an impact on what other people can afford to eat, on the lives that they will lead and on the nutrition that they can achieve because we have one planet, one global food system, and if I take too much, it leaves less for others. So it's really understanding that it is one closed loop, it is one one global food system. And finally, we have to really take seriously the ecosystem services. I know it sounds, you know, a bit jargonistic but the concept that, you know, if it's part of a world, if a country, a low, middle income developing country decides to put aside a large part of their rainforest that is the lungs of the planet, and is integral to stabilising the future of the climate here on planet Earth, they still deserve to be able to live a respectable life, they should still be able to afford to buy food for their family, they should be remunerated for those ecosystem services in the same way that if someone produces food somewhere else, and chops the land, clears the land and produces food, where it can be produced most efficiently. You know, they are remunerated for that food, we need to remunerate people for the ecosystem functions that we need to survive as a planet as well. And until we do that, until we see that we are living on one planet with one closed loop system, and that by taking too much, we take from others, you know, we're not going to get to where we need to be in terms of global food systems and global diets.

Vlado Perkovic: Thanks, Sandro. We're just about out of time. And I might give you the last quick question here. That comes from Katherine. And she's asking about the Health Star Rating System, which obviously is very important to many people in Australia and something that they use to help guide their food choices. Do you think it should be revised with a sustainability component included?

Sandro Demaio: Yeah, look, I think there are some steps that clearly we can take to strengthen the system as it stands at the moment, when making it mandatory and making it more comprehensive. It's a great start. And yeah, I think if we can integrate, there are systems around the world, there is research that shows that we can integrate both health and sustainability dimensions to really empower consumers to have better information at the point of consumption, just like we have, we now mandate, you know that people should understand where food comes from, that the place of origin is on products, I think understanding the toll that it has, how it's produced, the fact that everyone in the supply chain was treated fairly and respectfully, and that by consuming that product, you're not taking food from people half a planet away, I think that would be a very good step forward for, you know, for the Australian policy space, I think it's the right thing to do. And I think most people would probably support it as well.

Vlado Perkovic: Thank you, Sandro. So it's been a fascinating evening. We've heard a lot about the importance of the food, what we eat, and how we grow and develop and eat it. In not just our own personal health, but the health of the planet. We've heard a lot about the things that we as a country, but also that we individually can do to help move us towards better food, both from a personal and a planetary perspective. And the fact that it's really important to start with little steps, and we don't have to be perfect straight away. And I think that's a really important message for us individually and as a nation. And Sandro has also reminded us that we can sprinkle a little bit of joy across all of this as we take advantage of exploring some of the wonderful foods that Damon in particular has highlighted during the conversation tonight. So I hope you've all taken something away from this session tonight. I know I certainly have. Thank you very much for joining us. Thanks to Sandro for speaking to us and thanks to Jen, Ally and Damon for their contributions to our fabulous discussion. I'd like to thank you all for dialling in. If you'd like to hear about more events, please do subscribe to the UNSW Centre for Ideas newsletter. And until next time I wish you all a good night.

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