According to a survey from the NHS, in 2017 only 29% of adults were eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day in the UK – the mean average was 3.8 portions. This numbers lower with age: young adults aged between 16 and 24 are less likely than other adults to get their five-a-day and only 18% of children aged 5 to 15 ate the recommended five portions.
The above-mentioned statistics coupled with the known trend of rising obesity worldwide, have kept foods & diets on the spotlight for the past few years, and with good reason.
Eat your vegetables! We have all heard this when we were younger.
We know that incorporating a healthy plant-based diet is important for our health as:
- Vegetables are important sources of important nutrients, like vitamins and potassium
- Vegetables are also rich in fibres, that help to keep the cholesterol in the blood, thus reducing the risks of heart disease.
- A diet rich in vegetables and fruits may protect against not only heart disease but also obesity and type 2 diabetes, as most vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat
Despite these reasons being pretty convincing already, there are increasing concerns around diets worldwide. In the UK in particular, vegetable consumption now amounts to 128g per person, against the 400g that was common around the 60s, according to survey data by ‘Geoffry Warren’s The Food We Eat (1958)’.
To encourage people to adopt healthier eating habits, numerous actions have been undertaken by the UK government. From the ‘5-a-day’ campaign launched in 2003 to encourage people to increase their fruit & vegetable consumption to 5 portions a day, to the recent sugar-tax (Soft Drinks Industry Levy). Among these actions, we have quite recently learned about the Peas Please Initiative.
Changing the system – the Peas Please Initiative
Peas Please was launched by Anna Taylor of the Food Foundation as a 3 year project that involved more than 80 organisations from a variety of industries, from food growers to public bodies and supermarkets, and that saw the participation of important firms, such as ASDA, TESCO, MARS food UK (for the full list of organization, refer to Pease Please website).
The goal of this initiative is very simple: as vegetable intake struggles to take off in the UK, the whole food system should be changed, in order to support consumers in changing their eating habits. That’s why it is so important that food producers, restaurants, catering companies, public bodies, schools and suppliers all tried to boost vegetable consumption, according to their industry and capabilities.
Research suggests that low-income families are at a greater disadvantage, as vegetables are often an extra rather than a habit: that is why Peas Please took on the radical approach of trying to change the access and distribution of vegetables.
As a general rule, as many of you may already know, it’s good to remember that food production is responsible for 26% of global carbon emissions of that 58% is caused by animal products.
According to some studies, vegan diets generate less than half the emissions of a meat lover diet.
If you’re curious about the carbon footprint of your diet, we recommend you try out BBC News’ diet’s carbon footprint calculator– we loved it, and the comparisons used made everything more relatable, instead of being random figures.
We like to challenge ourselves
Additional reading: Plastic-free summer at Carbon Smart
Learning about the Peas Please Initiative, we decided to challenge ourselves to consume more vegetables in October. While most of us agreed to enhance our diet with nutritious and healthful veggies, some of us went a step further and pledged to a plant-based October.
The challenge has been interesting, as members of the team approached it from different angles: some were interested in the environmental impacts of eating habits, others on the ethical aspects of eating meat, others again decided to focus on eating only seasonal produce, preferably grown in Britain.
Personally, it was a real challenge to fulfil the promise of being vegan – what I learned from this experience is that to change a habit you need to have a plan in place.
My biggest struggle was actually with breakfast. I was so focused on not buying meat and prepping my lunches to be vegetarian or vegan, that it took me a while to realize that I was having milk in my tea every morning. And I kept forgetting it throughout the afternoon, having more and more.
I guess food habits can be very hard to change, especially for something that repeats identically every day (at least for me).
Fancy trying it yourself?
Here are some insights if you wish to take up a similar challenge yourself:
- Plan ahead – especially if you want to go vegan. Planning is key in order not to fail and is also very useful if you don’t want to get stuck eating always the same things.
- Allow time for research. Either if it’s for finding new recipes, researching what’s in season or going to the local farmer markets, straying from the ordinary will inevitably take up more time than usual.
- Go big or go home. Being 100% committed and challenging yourself to do more can actually help you staying more focused and avoiding to fall back into old habits. For example, committing to one month vegetarian or vegan can actually be easier than doing it for just 3 days a week, as the commitment will occupy a bigger space in your mind and you will avoid slip-ups (like adding regular milk in your tea!)
Summing it up, whatever your reasons for changing your food habits, the science is unequivocal on the benefits a “greener” diet can bring to our health.
Whatever motivation you bring to the table will do, as long as it steers you in the right direction and away from meat 3 times a day, coupled with loads of sugar and fat.