I have written a lot about the benefits of “real food,” especially as part of a Mediterranean-style diet. A large new study reaffirms the benefits of a Mediterranean diet and links the global burden of disease to a poor diet.

“While traditionally all the conversation about healthy diet has been focused on lowering the intake of unhealthy food,” says the study’s lead author, Ashkan Afshin of the University of Washington, “we have shown that, at the population level, a low intake of healthy foods is the more important factor.”

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the study, published in The Lancet, reviewed 15 risk factors, which include: 

  • Too Much: Sugar-sweetened drinks, salt, trans fats, red and processed meats
  • Too Little: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, calcium, nuts, seeds, beans, fish with omega-3 fatty acids

Other risk factors in global diets include too much salt and not enough fruits and whole grains. The study examined the numerous and serious challenges facing countries attempting to avoid poor diets.

Climate change threatens the world’s food supply
Just as we are starting to understand what we should or should not be eating, a large, new United Nations report alerts us to the fact that our food supply is in jeopardy. Climate change, including droughts, floods, wildfires and other abnormal weather patterns, is accelerating the danger of severe food shortages. Human interventions, such as draining wetlands in Indonesia and Malaysia, and massive logging in the Amazon rainforest, are having a huge impact. There are increasing pressures from global migration. A little-reported fact is that a severe dry period in Central America has left many without food, increasing the flow of migrants northward.

Iceland is preparing
The Black Swan Research Initiative’s signature iStopMM project is based in Iceland. As a result, we have become familiar with the country and its people. According to a recent report in The New York Times, massive glaciers in Iceland have been melting—so much so that the land is rising without the weight of the ice. The biggest fishing trawlers cannot get into port anymore. Shifting underground sediment is twisting sewer pipes. These are extraordinary, obvious changes.  

Taking this all very seriously, the people of Iceland elected environmentalist Katrin Jakobsdóttir as prime minister in 2017 in order to focus on tackling climate change. There are many problems, yet there are an equal number of possible solutions. The types of fish swimming in the warmer waters around Iceland have changed, and now include many mackerel—unheard of in the past. Melting ice has dramatically enlarged the Fjallsarlon lagoon, which is now a tourist attraction. 

To compensate for the environmental damage caused by the increase in flights to Iceland, the country is considering an inventive “carbon tax”—trees will be planted for every tourist and Icelander who flies in and out of the island. Ikea has been purchasing land close by the airport for the tree planting. 

It is wonderful to see a country mobilizing forces and preparing for the future. Iceland is not alone. Ethiopia recently planted 350 million (that is not a typo: 350 million) trees in a day to help tackle climate change. This really raises the bar for what the rich countries of the world should be doing! 

Planning required for expected food and health disruptions
Medical schools in the U.S. are pushing to train doctors about the health implications of climate change. Meanwhile, Dr. Rod Schoonover, a senior analyst for climate change at the U.S. State Department, resigned because a report he had written on the impact of global warming was ignored. A professor trained in physics and chemistry, Dr. Schoonover wrote that substantial changes in the atmosphere, oceans, freshwater, soil, ice masses, permafrost, and all the species associated with these zones will have an enormous impact. What is called “biodiversity loss” will pose an extreme challenge to the planet. He believes that these issues are real and critical, and he will continue his work. Just not at the State Department.

A role for resilience
In many parts of the world, the simple act of making a daily meal is both a challenge and a symbol of resilience. In the strip of land in the Middle East called Gaza, women rise to this challenge to create traditional and healthy dishes. Wafaa Saad, a mother of six, cooks poached and stuffed chicken, served on top of cinnamon-flecked rice, and saj, buttery griddle bread, with a dressing of smashed green chili peppers, garlic, and lemon juice, and maqlooba, a layered, spiced rice dish with chicken and eggplant. 

Trying to stay healthy is never easy, but our challenges are minor compared to so many. We should make that effort to achieve what is in our control and help others along the way.



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