Healthy eating
Healthy eating

What Have You Eaten Today?

Our country has pledged to build a zero-carbon economy by 2070. The Indian government has marked agriculture in its nationally determined contribution. This brings a huge challenge and opportunity for the country.

Nidhi Joshi | Nov 23, 2021

Many member countries had made commitments at COP26 to reduce carbon emissions. The top four emitters of greenhouse gases, China, the USA, India, and Russia, refocused their nationally-determined contributions. COP26 is talking about climate and its protection. Scientists and leaders have discussed how to curb the emissions of harmful gases, which increase the earth's temperature and contribute to "Global Warming." Increasing global temperature by 1.5°C brings a global fear among the scientific community and climate activists. Why do we all need to pay attention or have a look at these high-level conferences? All those scientific meetings might not gain the common man's attention because of their own complexity of life and priorities. But things we are getting across daily might bring the relevance of these scientific gatherings to us.

My laptop's taskbar shows air quality is poor. Hazardous air quality brought back the same lockdown days for Delhi NCR people with online work and schooling. La Nino is there in the news, which makes me purchase woolens for these winters. Schools and colleges are closed in Chennai due to unpredictable rainfall in November. Vegetables are going as high as ₹100 per kg. There could be more things that we all are going across. I think all this could make us give thought to these meetings. Most of us believe that how we are at fault for these changes in our environment. Heavy smoke and discharges from industries, companies, and vehicles doing all this. We just become the listener or readers of the news articles. Things become out of sight-out of mind.

But it's every part of this nature that makes a positive or negative impact on climate. Our own action that we might not consider harmful to nature pushes a continuum of events that disturbs the balance of our planet. One of such actions discussed in COP26 is our food choices and dietary behaviour. We may think about how what we eat or drink has something to do with climate, and if it is true, do they really have the same impact as industry and transportation? All these assumptions are correct; all foods are more or less climate-friendly. It's the particular food eaten more by us and produced more than the other foods by the producers.

Heavy industries, machinery, and the transportation sector add more carbon emissions daily than food systems. But the processes that bring foods to our plate culminate with the above sectors. Let me give you an example, fertilizers manufacturing, its transport to market and to farmer's field, and emission of nitrous oxide following its application on the soil. Here we can see the culmination of the four sectors and their respective contribution towards carbon release. There are several cycles and processes that food goes through. Those steps can potentially influence greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, planets, and our own health.

As we see unpredictable events in our environment, do we really need to think about COP26, our diets, and food choices? However, health is the most critical priority for all of us. There is a crystal-clear linkage between climate, food choices, and health. Inclination towards fast foods and ready-to-eat foods has raised countless options in the market. All these foods go through "ultra-processing," thus using up more resources and losing vital nutrients. Being rich in carbs, salt, sugar, and trans-fats negatively influence our health, with a higher incidence of lifestyle diseases. Thus, a focus on good health could bring the health of the planet to the priority list.

Our country has pledged to build a zero-carbon economy by 2070. The Indian government has marked agriculture in its nationally determined contribution. This brings a huge challenge and opportunity for all the countrymen, with the most diverse and second-largest population on earth. A diverse range of food groups is cultivated in various parts of our country. But we did not find the same diversity in our plates. Why our dietary choices are so limited? It may be due to higher preference and availability of wheat and rice at lesser prices and its simultaneous production over other crops like Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi. And why a significant part of our population cannot afford a healthy and nutritious meal? Why we are seeing more people with diabetes and heart problems? There are many more questions, and their solutions also exist. There are several players in the food system, and each has a significant role to play. Have you ever thought of your part, and what you choose and how you handle your daily meals can create a ripple of change that can make a vision of "Sustainable diets for all" true in its greatest sense?

(Nidhi Joshi is a PhD scholar, and Dr. Rita Singh Raghuvanshi is a professor in the Department of Food and Nutrition, Govind Ballabh Pant University Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.)