I must stress that this article is neither a political nor personal attack on Boris Johnson. However, Boris is adamant that he is committed to climate action; committed to reducing obesity and improving the health of the nation; and committed to reducing inequalities. But does Boris’s Diet give us any indication of his commitment to these urgent matters?
And will his fiancée, Carrie Symmonds, accept the challenge we proffer at the end of this article…?
Climate Change – though shall eat meat!
Now, to be fair, I don’t know what Boris’s meat consumption currently is. He apparently considered veganism in January but decided it ‘requires so much concentration.’ So, let’s take committing to veganism out of the equation and ask:
How much meat are you eating, Boris?
Because in 2008, when the UN Panel on Climate Change suggested people could skip meat one day a week to help reduce greenhouse gases, Boris was horrified and responded thus:
No, I am not going to become a gradual vegetarian. In fact, the whole proposition is so irritating that I am almost minded to eat more meat in response. Every weekend, rain or shine, I suggest that we flaunt our defiance of UN dietary recommendations with a series of vast Homeric barbeques. We will call these meat-eating feasts Pachauri Days, in satirical homage to the tofu-chomping UN man who told the human race to go veggie.
But that was more than 12 years ago, so perhaps Boris’s Diet has changed since then? Has he realised the error of his ways? Has he cut back on meat consumption?
Because to my mind, albeit I know many would like a full commitment to veganism, I do not personally think it needs to be an either/or situation.
But we absolutely believe the Prime Minister should voice a commitment to consuming a predominantly whole food plant-based diet, predominantly being the operative word.
One would certainly hope that Carrie Symonds, a committed environmentalist, is ensuring Boris’s Diet includes very limited dairy and meat produce. But is she? She clearly does have an influence on some of his decisions, but is his diet one of those decisions?
We find it rather disconcerting that Boris Johnson has announced a 10-point plan for UK climate action, but a policy on encouraging a change in the public’s eating habits is not mentioned. Why is that?
Let’s take a look at some of the facts:
Meat and dairy accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions
The climate impact of meat is roughly equivalent to all the driving and flying of every car, truck and plane in the world.
David Attenborough is amongst those telling us we need to go plant-based to save the planet.
Just looking at the diagram below, it is easy to understand why eating meat has such a huge impact on the planet. It is not just the gasses those animals produce; a large proportion of the impact relates to the environmental cost of growing and transporting the feed for livestock, not to mention the huge swathes of rainforest decimated to allow for more land to provide said animal feed.
So how can any country’s climate action plan be valid if there is no plan to incentivise the aforementioned dietary changes?
If Boris’s Diet now reflects the importance of eating less meat and dairy products, he should be shouting about it and encouraging others to do the same. But if Boris’s diet is as meat laden as ever, can we really trust him to ensure the UK has an adequate and appropriate climate action plan?
Obesity and general health
Boris’s brush with COVID forced him to admit he was overweight and needed to change his eating habits. How are those changes now reflected in his diet?
The appalling death-toll in the UK has shocked many, and it is very clear that not only the obesity epidemic but also the general poor health of the UK has played a roll in the shocking statistics that shame our nation.
While the NHS is rather ambivalent about advising the public to completely avoid meat, it does suggest cutting back, particularly on red meat, as part of a healthy diet and suggests that processed meat is best avoided. The WHO (World Health Organisation) classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogenic, in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos! Red meat has been classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans.
Of course, how meat is farmed and what it is fed will dramatically impact the likelihood of it causing harm to humans.
But most nutritionists do recommend a Mediterranean style diet as being the healthiest option, which is a predominantly a whole food plant-based diet that includes fish a couple of times a week, chicken occasionally and red meat less often. There is also an emphasis on seasonal, fresh, homecooked foods. Is that the sort of healthy diet you are eating, Boris?
But because someone is vegan or vegetarian does not automatically predicate they have a healthy diet. There are lots of vegan junk food options around these days!
Additionally, as we will see from the section below, there are other reasons why the nation’s food choices are often so poor…
It is very evident that those living in the most deprived areas of the country are more likely to suffer from ill-health. In Southend, for example, there is a 10-year variance in life-expectancy between two adjacent wards. That is a common statistic across the country.
There are lots of reasons for increased ill-health in deprived areas, including:
- Poor quality housing is often associated with respiratory problems;
- Noise and overcrowding increases levels of stress;
- Air quality is often considerably worse in deprived areas;
- There is frequently a much higher concentration of low-end take-aways in deprived regions.
Many cheap foods with additives are designed to encourage binge eating, and sugary and processed foods tend to have a quick satiatery hit, but that effect does not last long. Conversely, wholefoods help people feel fuller for longer.
The gut-brain connection is a strong one and poor-quality food not only affects people directly but indirectly too. Nutrition plays a huge role on not just in our physical wellbeing but our mental wellbeing, too. Bad food choices clearly exacerbate the cycle of poverty and inequality.
There is also a perception that healthy food is far more expensive than cheap food that can fill tummies and stop hunger pangs quickly. But that does not have to be true. Compare, for example, our recipe for a plant-based ragù with the cost of a comparable recipe using minced beef or even a burger meal deal. And gently spiced Indian Dals (Dhals) are tasty, nutritious, adaptable, and incredibly cost-effective.
Unfortunately, because families have often lived in disadvantaged neighbourhoods for three or even four generations, they do not have the life skills needed to buy and cook nutritious meals cheaply. Food banks have been a lifesaver for many people, but that is merely providing a sticking plaster – albeit an absolutely essential one at the moment.
Children should be taught about nutrition and how to cook at school, and even how to grow the food they are cooking. That cooking should focus on a nutritious whole food, plant-based diet.
As School Food Matters stresses:
The decline in people’s ability to cook over the past generation has been broadcast far and wide!
The British now eat more “ready meals” than the rest of Europe combined, and it is no exaggeration to say that cooking is becoming a forgotten skill for most people under the age of 30.
And so, as well as teaching our children to cook, we need to teach many adults how to cook and encourage more grow-your-own community gardens.
As so, Carrie, we present you with a challenge
Does Boris’s diet focus on tasty, whole food, plant-based, home-cooked meals? We doubt it.
The cognitive dissonance needs to stop. If Boris is really serious about climate change, health, and inequalities, he needs to eat less meat. He needs to set an example and encourage others to follow.
We think you can probably help.
Carrie, Boris has a lot to contend with at the moment. And in a crisis, a man does need a strong, supportive partner at his side. So maybe Carrie, as a committed environmentalist, you could you pick up the baton and accept the challenge?
With the help of appropriate specialists, could you help and encourage Boris to adopt a sensible diet? The type of diet that could set an example to the nation. The type of diet that, in conjunction with appropriate educational and promotional plans, can reduce inequalities, improve the nation’s health, and greatly help achieve climate change targets?
Do you accept the challenge, Carrie?
Image by RitaE from Pixabay