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The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy
Teachers College, Columbia University
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The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

Incorporating Sustainability in Federal Nutrition Guidelines

Published: 4/22/2014

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For the first time, the USDA is officially considering sustainability as it crafts the next version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that will be released in 2015. The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University just submitted expert comments to the USDA detailing why eating in a way that supports the health of people and the planet is a crucial consideration for our nation's dietary guidance. 

These comments build on the legacy of one of the U.S.'s preeminent food and nutrition scholars, Dr. Joan Gussow, Professor Emeritus of the Program in Nutrition at Teachers College.

"It’s thrilling to see the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy in my own nutrition program respond to the first ever official request for ways of incorporating environmental sustainability into national Dietary Guidelines.  Almost 30 years ago, a colleague and I wrote about the necessity to do just that.  Better late than never as far as the planet is concerned!" says Dr. Gussow.
 
The Dietary Guidelines are the principal means of nutrition education for Americans; they serve as the basis for education in classrooms, community centers, grocery stores, and hospitals, and are the starting point for federal food policies, such as food assistance program regulations. They offer great opportunities to help people think broadly about food.  To help the USDA begin to consider how to incorporate sustainability issues into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Center proposes the following five recommendations:

I. EAT MOSTLY PLANT FOODS AND REDUCE CONSUMPTION OF ANIMAL FOODS 

Encourage consumers to choose plants (e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) while reducing consumption of animal foods (e.g. meat, dairy, eggs). A sustainable diet does not preclude the consumption of animal foods, but does selectively exclude or reduce those products that contribute to excessive greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and other environmental concerns.

II. EAT FOODS CLOSE TO THEIR NATURAL STATE

Nutrition education can encourage people to eat more “whole foods” that are in their natural state or foods that have been minimally processed, that is to preserve them or increase their palatability. Processing is the manipulation and addition of ingredients to whole foods, and with each successive step in processing (e.g. whole grains to breakfast cereal) more energy is required. Eating whole foods that have been minimally processed is a clear message that will help consumers choose whole foods and avoid excessive processing. 

III. EAT MORE ORGANICALLY PRODUCED FOODS

Conventional farming methods use large amounts of natural resources. Alternative methods, like organic farming, are more ecologically sustainable for a variety of reasons, including: conserving natural resources, improving soil management, and promoting biodiversity. Prompting consumers to consider the method by which their food was produced helps develop a broad and comprehensive view of food systems, instead of a focus on individual nutrients.

IV. EAT MORE LOCAL FOODS

Choosing local foods is important for the earth, the farmer, and the consumer. When people seek out out local foods they are more likely to consume a diversity of plant foods, eat more whole and minimally processed foods, and be more aware of the growing methods used to produce their food.

V. LIMIT WASTE FROM FOOD

Our food system does not exist in a vacuum; we must consider both system inputs and outputs. Waste is endemic throughout the food system, starting on the farm, to post-­harvest and packing, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Overall, following the eating patterns we recommend reduces both pre- and post-consumption waste but motivating consumers to think about the waste produced by eating will further promote sustainability.

To read the entire comments, click here.