Eating Eat-Lancet Day 0: What’s a gram?

Not to be confused with your mother’s mother.


So, I got a food scale. Turns out I had no conception of how much a “gram” is, which is what the reference diet is in, so I spent a good 15 minutes just measuring different food items from around my kitchen.

For one, it’s really hard to translate these guidelines into actual meals. Also, not everything fits into a category…where do I put my millennial items of quinoa and coconut milk? Quinoa is technically a seed, but nutritionally is more like a grain. And coconut milk? Is it a fruit, is it a nut? The internet isn’t even sure. You chose to be specific EAT-Lancet, and specificity comes with obligations.

Though, a thought. As I’m looking at the coconut milk can I bought a while ago… I start thinking, what is actually more sustainable? Maybe I should be consuming more American produced dairy (considering especially the plight of US dairy farmers) instead of importing coconut milk from Thailand…Is that more sustainable? I do deeply care about US farmers, especially small producers who’s stories are often heart breaking and devastating.

This is a tough question, that highly depends not just on miles traveled, but how it was produced and what went into production. The coconut milk traveled over 8,600 miles (!!!). Now that was a reality check (thanks, Siri). Still, dairy production can be unsustainable in its own ways. All things considered though, I will stick with American dairy cows (sticking to brands that deal with small farmers and sustainable methods).

Also…really? 13 grams of eggs is about 1/4 egg a day. I like my eggs over easy…do they know how messy that would be? I’ll just stick to 1-2 eggs a week, but likely eaten all at once. Crazy, I know. 

This egg issues also brings up the meat issue. Let’s see…shopping for 49 grams of beef, 49 grams of pork, and 203 grams of poultry for the week? I’m already getting a headache. See below under the toggle “give me the breakdown” to see how I make it a bit simpler. 

A couple things I won’t think about- spices and coffee. I know these things take a lot of resources to make/produce and don’t just magically appear, but I also need to keep my sanity.

Prepping my lunch and dinner for tomorrow, where the real counting and measuring will begin. Turns out 232 grams of rice is kind of a lot. So where am pulling these numbers from? Check out the first post that gives a bit more background, or see below to see the reference diet.

This is the reference diet from the report, Food in the Anthropocene. 

So the total intake is 2500 kcal/day, which is a bit high for me, who should be sticking closer to a 2000 calorie diet. 

So, here’s how I adjusted it (no scientific method was used, so if a nutritionist weighs in on how a female in her mid 20s should be eating, that would be great)

  • Grains: 200g, instead of 232g
  • Meat: 32 g instead of a total of 43g (.5 lbs a week)
  • Milk: 214g instead of 250g (6 cups of milk a week)
  • Fish: 21 g instead of 28g (.25 lbs a week)
The rest were as is, allowing vegetables, fruit, and legumes to fall towards the higher end of the range. I’m also tracking what I eat through an application too, to see calories and nutrition.

So, while I changed the diet a bit for myself, here would be the numbers as is. 

You’ll notice I categorized some for the whole week, this is mostly because eating 13 grams of eggs or 7 grams of beef a day would be 1) unenjoyable and 2) extremely inconvenient. So I lumped it together for the week. I don’t believe this has major nutritional implications, but feel free to comment otherwise. 

So, let’s say you wanted to look at your meat intake for the year. And so you add 301 grams of meat to your shopping list for the week. Let’s say you stick with one type of meat for that week.

300 grams is about 2/3 (.67) lbs of meat per week. To stay within the EAT-Lancet ratio for the whole year, that would mean: 

  • Poultry: 34 weeks out of the year
  • Beef: 7-8 weeks out of the year
  • Pork: 7-8 weeks out of the year

Your weekly shopping list for fish would be 196 grams, or about .43 lbs. 

For milk, that would be around 7 cups of milk, or a little less than half a gallon (which has 8 cups). So, you would be buying a half gallon of milk every 8 days or so. 

For cheese lovers who would prefer to get their dairy in this form (ME). That’s about 175 grams of cheese a week (10:1 ratio, for those curious). This is about 6.173 ounces of cheese for the week (EVERY DECIMAL COUNTS HERE). On average, that’s about 10.3 slices of cheese a week. 

Eating Eat-Lancet: The Roots

Eating Eat-Lancet

Nutrition, aka how we get our nutrients to be healthy, cannot be removed from how those nutrients are produced. Far too often we look at nutrition and food production in isolation. So backwards. That would be like trying to diagnose a disease without looking at the symptoms. Tracking down a criminal without looking at the evidence. Trying to pass an exam without understanding the material. You get it.

As environmental threats and limitations increasingly put stress on our food system, we have to look at the kind of healthy diet we can have while also having a planet. As the population grows, it increases demands on the food system. So, we need to think about how much food, and in what quantities, we can sustainably feed the world and also meet nutritional requirements. This is what the EAT-Lancet report attempts to address, and it’s the first attempt of its kind.

Nonetheless, while a commendable effort, it has it’s issues- just like any “first” does. Some argue that the recommendations are too specific. And while they give ranges, this is a valid concern. Some argue that the diet is nutritionally deficient. Nonetheless- due to the global problems of obesity, hunger, and malnourishment-one can argue that if everyone ate according to these guidelines, many of these health issues would be solved. Even with a diet that isn’t perfect nutritionally. Because what is a healthy diet? There’s still a lot we don’t know.

Still, an example. This diet isn’t always sustainable when it comes to the vilification of red meat compared to poultry, something that doesn’t always reign true.  Cattle grazed under good management can provide valuable nutrition and restore the land, with more sustainable practices than industrial poultry production- which uses feed that could otherwise be fed to people.

Still, the main message of the report “eat less meat, eat more plants” is clear, and its what we should be doing.

However, eating sustainable is highly context specific. It really depends on where you live, what you have access to, and what you can afford. Its highly country and regionally specific. For example, if a country’s land wealth is in its grasslands, having more red meat in your diet than poultry- which would have to be produced industrially- would probably be better for the environment. So let’s say you stick to the recommended 43 g/day of meat, and all of that came from unprocessed red-meat. This is still likely a small enough amount that would be far from risking your health (though if there are any nutritionists out there reading this, please weigh in).

So, this journey is a goal to roughly translate these recommendations listed in the EAT-Lancet report, into a “sustainable diet”, but one that is based on context, in this case Washington, D.C. That being said, the plan is to take the ranges given in the report and apply them to what’s available- working to meet all nutritional requirements. The next post in this series, Day 0, gives more of a breakdown on what this will look like.

2 End goals:

  1. Use this journey to create a guide that helps others eat sustainably, within their own contexts.
  2. Allow for a discussion on how to eat for both nutrition and the planet.

9 Rules of Thumb

9 Rules of Thumb for a Sustainable Diet

Many of these will be explored in later posts. 

  1. Local is sustainable.
  2. Certified is better than conventional.
  3. Research certifications and labels.
  4. Seasonality is important.
  5. Cut back on meat.
  6. Reduce your waste.
  7. Know food safety.
  8. Think how your choices impact change.
  9. Be aware of food policy.

It’s important to note that these are “rules of thumb” not rules of law. These are based on research, expert opinions, and common themes. Even so,hey won’t apply always, everywhere.

See something important that’s missing? Don’t agree? Please comment! These are not set in stone, and will likely change and evolve!

Here’s diving into each one a little deeper with explanations and tips.

1. Local is sustainable

  • Local is almost always more sustainable, while food labelled or with certifications might not always be.
  • Local is becoming easier to access- many grocery stores are starting to offer local products if you don’t have access to a farmers markets.
  • Tip: want to enjoy those farmers market strawberries come winter time? Freeze them! They’ll be good for 12 months.

2. Certified is better than conventional

  • When you can’t buy local, a certified product is typically better than its conventionally produced counterpart.
  • Not all certifications are created equal. See the blog post on labels and certifications, and when they’re better than conventional and when they aren’t always

for these first two, see “local vs sustainable” post

3. Research certifications and labels.

  • Many labels don’t require certifications- if you are buying based off of those it’s critical to do the research.
  • In the works are some tools that assess some of these certifications, and where they stand in terms of sustainability.

4. Seasonality is important.

  • Focusing on the types of foods you’re eating alone can improve sustainability, instead of certifications/labels that are often expensive and confusing.
  • Seasonality can be big, and even shopping regionally can promote sustainability and the domestic economy. If something is not in season, buy frozen. This can still support local or regional farmers- as they often freeze what ripens on farm or if they have too much.
  • This rule of thumb is also critical for fish, as healthy fish stocks change rapidly, across seasons and regions of the world.
  • If you can, pay attention to the company- and do a quick google of their production practices. Are they in the news for doing some terrible things? Better to avoid.

5. Cut back on meat.

  • Cutting back or giving up meat is often the single most impactful thing you can do when trying to improve the environmental impact of your diet, and improves your health
  • However, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re replacing it with.
  • Also replacing beef with poultry or pork can reduce your environmental impact, but to a lesser extent.

6. Reduce your waste.

  • Bring grocery and produce bags to the store, use Tupperware and reusable bottles, compost food waste.

7.  Know food safety.

  • If you know you want have time to make something- know when you can freeze it. Or if you’re full and something is going bad, cook it up anyway and put it in the fridge or freezer.
  • Use by/sell by dates are confusing. Use your senses! They most often will tell you if its good or Localbad. Of course, if you’re still uncertain toss it (hopefully in the compost).

8. Think how your choices impact change.

  • Actively think about how your food was produced, who produced it, and where did it come from. This bit of reflection before putting something in your shopping cart can make a huge difference.
  • Be conscious of the decisions you’re making, and if they’re going towards the sustainable food systems you want to see. For example, cutting back on meat is good for the environment but if you’re just replacing that with intensively produced soy- you’re not thinking about system change.

9. Be aware of food policy.

  • Many governments have local food policy or agricultural policy councils: subscribe to their mailing lists, go to a meeting, or get involved.
  • Do you know the Farm Bill? It’s the single most influential agricultural legislation in the US. Call your congressmen & congresswomen and let them know it’s important!


Local vs Sustainable

(estimated reading time: 6-7 min)

Not the first thing you typically want to do but let’s just really quickly go over a couple definitions.

  • Local food: grown close to where you buy and consume it.
  • Sustainable food: low impact on the environment, respects workers

The two are not always the same. Local food can also be produced with harsh chemicals and environmentally destructive practices, while “sustainable” food may not be produced close to where you are.

Plot twist: while “sustainable” food, even when travelling far, can sometimes still be sustainable, local farms will almost always be the more sustainable option.

Let’s rephrase: Local is almost always more sustainable, while food labelled with certifications might not always be.

This is for two different reasons.

One. Local farmers are usually produce on a much smaller scale, and even if they have no certifications or may use some harsh chemicals, they are not likely using them to the extent that there is great harm done to the environment. Also, small-scale farmers, especially those who produce a diverse number of products, are tied closely with the land- often understanding these systems far better than we ever will. Also, investing in small scale farms promotes the kind of scaled back farming systems we want to see more of. This supports the incomes of farmers who are working hard, doing what they love and are passionate about. Still not sure? Have a talk with the farmer who produces your food.

Two. “Sustainable” labels are not a thing. There is actually no way to control or regulate the word “sustainable” because it is a complex and dynamic concept, and so too many definitions exist. So, while you can purchase products that are labeled with different certifications, it’s extremely hard to determine where it falls on the “sustainability” scale. This is something the project will aim to tackle at a later stage.

Of course, when lacking access to farmers markets, a good practice to follow is that certified products are typically better for the environment compared to the same product produced conventionally. This is simply because certifications hold farmers and their production practices to higher standards.

So, here’s a recap with two rules of thumb:

  1. Local is almost always more sustainable, while labelled food might not always be.
  2. When you can’t buy local, a certified product is typically better than its conventionally produced counterpart.

As with anything though- not always, and not everywhere. Number 2 is especially dicey and goes back to the issues of labels. Hence, why it’s a rule of thumb, and not a rule of law. Also a question that you may have- what is the difference between a certification and a label? Post to follow.

Note, a huge exemption: fish. You’ll have to be careful with this one, because the rules for fish are always changing. A future post will look at this issue.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In the works is an updated map of all Washington, D.C. farmers markets including days they’re open, times, when the season ends, and forms of payment and benefits they accept. This will help make it easier to track down that local farmer for all your questions 😉.

Mission: Enough with the labels.

(estimated reading time: 5 min) 

This first post explains the inspiration and thus mission of project.

Healthy, nutritious food that is good for your body, the environment, and the animal should be something that everyone can access. It should be something we can all talk about.

However, we have overwhelmed ourselves with labels: organic, fair trade, natural, hormone-free, grass-fed, gluten-free, sustainable, environmentally friendly, ecological, fresh, local, raw, eco, etc.

Even worse, we have gone even further, putting these labels on ourselves: vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian, freegetarian, and others that we can’t even keep up with.

What is most bothersome is that while we’ve been label-izing everything, we’ve lost sight of the one goal we’ve had since the beginning: changing our food system.

Moving from label to label ignores the fundamental and dramatic shifts that need to happen- it perpetuates an old system by simply replacing one product with hopefully a better one.

And yes, “sustainable” is a word that gets thrown out a lot, and put on labels without a second thought. However, above all others- this is the one word we should stand by. Because it implies a system that is holistic, resilient, and cyclical. It implies systems that are intertwined environmentally, social, and economically. Three legs of a stool which when missing one, topples over.

Yet, for all the critically beneficial things sustainability could do for us, our food system is far behind from achieving the fundamental changes that need to happen. The reasons can be boiled down to one:

We have been investing in the wrong kind of food system.

And while markets have been slowly changing, organic food has gotten cheaper, farmers markets are popping up everywhere in urban areas, these emerging products remain out of reach for billions of people (yes, billions), due to lack of access either financially or physically. This is because we continue to put subsidies, investments, policies, and incentives into systems that are not environmentally, socially, or economically sustainable in the long run.

Capitalism has allowed us to overrun ourselves with confusion, making it impossible to really understand what a sustainable diet and food system could really look like.

This is what this project aims to do- bring us all to the table. By offering a tool to make the most of your purchasing power and knowledge, you can help invest and steer the ship towards a sustainable food system. This, through the farmers, companies and politicians that are actively building it for us, and not just labeling that they are.

It’s time to put an end to all the confusing labels, and really bring to light the changes that you can easily make to contribute to the kind of food system that will work better for all of us.

Keep a look out for the next blog post that will outline this project!