Syndemic – it’s what’s for dinner.

Sometime in the late 1950’s, my grandfather stuck a Vegemite sticker to his Champion Juicer. A rabid health food and juice proponent, according to my mother, he was a man who used to love arguing about the merits of eating foods that were not processed. I never met him.

He died one month after I was born.

With that uplifting preface, I thought of him after reading a fascinating article written by Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times. I recommend you read it. But first...

To encapsulate: instead of trying to solve the global crisis of obesity as a single issue, public health experts are now recommending that we simultaneously address malnutrition and climate change as a way to solve all three. This argument for change was put forth by the British medical journal, Lancet.

According to Healy, “Made up of 43 public health experts from 14 countries, the Lancet Commission on Obesity emphasized that the problems of obesity, malnutrition and climate change are inextricably linked by factors such as overconsumption, unchecked marketing and government failures.

If consumers, producers and regulators take those links into account with each choice they make, humans might stand a chance of averting global catastrophe, the experts wrote.

This way of thinking is so novel that the commission created a word for the three-headed hydra they are trying to address: syndemic.”

The article goes on to site a number of experts who site the statistics of obesity worldwide, chronic undernourishment, and catastrophic effects on the environment due to the production and overconsumption of, to use my words, “shitty foods with no nutritional value”.

The article suggests that some of the solution lies in the hands of consumers who must demand and, “…help pay for food that is subsidized, raised and distributed in new ways.” To this end, us plant-based folks should take pride that our numbers continue to rise dramatically with more people wanting to find and eat healthier alternatives to meat and processed foods and big food companies s-l-o-w-l-y responding to those desires.

Of course, Healy gives the cattle industry a chance to weigh in (as fair, impartial media ought to do) with their response as predictable as ever. To paraphrase: “Ranching is efficient. Meat is healthy. What are greenhouse gasses?” If you want the more fattening version of their Spin du Jour served up by spokesperson Kay Johnson Smith, president and chief executive of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the full article has it.

The bottom line here is that a whole lot of experts agree that the choices you make at the supermarket and when you eat out are having an effect that stretches beyond your pant size. Eating processed foods and factory farmed meats are having an impact on the environment and on the continuing and widening problem of malnutrition around the world.

On the bright side, the article provides glimmers of hope that each of us can look to. Two that stuck out to me are:

““A transformative social movement … is needed to overcome the policy inertia,” the Lancet commissioners wrote. For that to happen, “a new narrative” is needed, they added.”

“The Grocery Manufacturers Assn., which represents the nation’s leading manufacturers of foods and beverages, responded to the Lancet commission’s report with a call for cooperation.”

Yes. I know cynicism is our favorite main course these days and finding things to refute our favorite form of exercise. I’m still going to remain optimistic that by me writing this and you reading it advances the discussion and keeps alive the topic of how we might work to identify the link between being fat, undernourished and killed by our own environment… and ultimately find some solutions.

I’d like to think that somewhere, my grandfather is applauding the efforts of Cena Vegan to continue his advocacy for a healthier way of eating and living.

To that end, I likewise applaud all of you for doing the same.


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