The report – The Case for Protein Diversity: Accelerating the adoption of more sustainable eating patterns in the UK – argues that a more diverse selection of protein-rich main ingredients will promote more sustainable diets with lower impacts on health and the environment. The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.
Exploring the impact on people and planet of common protein sources such as meat and dairy, and the potential of less common ones to be eaten more widely, the report concludes that the more options there are, the better for all concerned.
Tom Cumberlege, one of its authors, suggested it would be impossible for a global population that will have grown by 2 billion by 2050 to continue to eat meat and dairy products at current levels.
“This demand for protein is unsustainable and will put a serious strain on agricultural resources, contributing to issues such as climate change, deforestation, freshwater availability and soil degradation,” he said. “[We] need to think differently about how we meet our protein consumption, to ensure that we have a secure food supply for tomorrow and for generations to come.”
Given that meat is the most common source of dietary protein in the UK, the report says promoting a greater diversity of protein-rich main ingredients “is likely to involve a downward shift from current levels of meat consumption, as well as an overall reduction in protein intake”.
Barriers to encouraging Britain to be more creative with its cooking include cultural attitudes to food and a lack of confidence in the kitchen, but Cumberlege believes it will be possible to change the way people eat “quite significantly” over coming years.
“Encouraging people to eat a greater variety of protein-rich main ingredients can be a big step towards creating a secure, healthy and resilient food supply for the UK by 2030,” he said. “This will reduce the environmental impact of individual eating patterns, improve health and wellbeing, and ease the burden on the NHS.” It will depend on the authorities, public bodies, private companies and healthcare professionals singing from the same hymn sheet, however.
Among the report’s many recommendations are that Britons be encouraged to be more adventurous with their food, for example by rustling up one new meat free meal a week. Industry and government could do their bit by lowering the cost of healthy, environmentally friendly food, while campaigns could be launched to help educate people about the range of meat free main ingredients out there.