Where's Waldo - a comment on Canada's new food guide

We have been favoured once again with a new, updated version of “Canada’s Food Guide” and its cousin the U.S. Food Guide. They are so very similar as to suggest a form of "group think" that now plagues public discourse in so many areas. Sweden has also come out with a very similar guide.

Each of these guides (View the Canadian guide here) seek to downplay and limit the proportion of animal products in our diets. Finding the bits of meat on the plate of the guide made me think of the “Where’s Waldo” search so popular a few years back. Meat, eggs, milk, and other dairy products are downplayed and are likely to be further downplayed depending on the developing trend of group think.

The guide is nutritionally suspect inasmuch as it represents a major trade off between high quality animal sourced protein and carbohydrates. Protein is at once the most important macro nutrient in the human diet and in many countries the one in shortest supply.

But the guide is (what’s the right word?) silly and mindless on another level. I use the word “silly” because even the authors must realize that the diet they propose is not sustainable on a global scale. Let me explain why this is so.

Anyone preparing a meal for a family, a country or a planet would be wise to first consider what’s in the larder. On a planetary scale the larder contains about 400 million tonnes of meat and eggs and about 500 million tonnes of milk and milk products. Can we reduce these products by half or more without creating serious protein shortages and other unintended consequences? “Easy!”, must think the activists. The land that is now taken up with producing animal feed and pastures can be re deployed to producing human food.

Now why didn’t I think of that? Well, in fact I did. But I hit a snag. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations; three out of every four acres of Agricultural land on earth is classified as “Pasture or Forest”. These huge areas are so designated because pasturage is their highest use. More intensive agriculture than grazing must be carried out on better land. So, does anyone really think that, in a world with nearly 8 billion people to feed, we can withdraw, or even curtail the use of these vast pasture lands to produce animal protein?

The special gift that ruminants represent to the human population is their ability to upgrade low quality cellulose material, indigestible by humans, into the highest quality protein foods on the planet.

It is obvious that anyone can live and thrive on a vegetarian diet, and equally obvious that one must respect the choice to do so. But I contend that, while anyone can live a vegetarian life, EVERYONE can’t. With our planet more populous than ever before we need to make the best possible use of our shrinking farmland and pastures are a huge and indispensable food producing resource for livestock production.

Many will mock the protests coming from the livestock sector over these most recent editions of the food guide They will claim that livestock producers are simply and selfishly defending their own interests, careless of their impact on human health. ALMOST exactly so—but not quite. First most livestock producers are well aware of the nutritional qualities of livestock products. And quite obviously livestock producers pursue their own best interests but that is the reason food is so abundant and relatively cheap. The pursuit of profit in farming is often very difficult but the output is FOOD.

My point to livestock producers is that these zealots will never win because humans need and want animal protein. They will however continue to plague and pester as they are so obviously doing now.

I have written more extensively on this issue and my article, "In Defence of Animal Agriculture."