Know what would really make America great? If we followed in Canada’s footsteps and revised our national food guidelines to favor plant-based over animal-based protein. Our neighbor to the north’s new dietary recommendations, which will likely be issued by Health Canada next year, are expected to specify plant-based foods as the preferred source of protein and to call for the regular consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and other vegan foods. At least one news outlet has speculated that - because Canada is so culturally diverse, much like the U.S., and because many ethnic groups can’t digest cow’s milk - dairy products won’t be included in the new recommendations at all.
While it remains to be seen if the Canadian government will officially urge citizens to eat beans not beef, many media outlets have already reported on one anticipated - and sensible - guideline: Don’t eat foods that contain mostly saturated fat (i.e., meat, eggs and dairy products) and opt instead for healthy plant-based foods, which also tend to be more environmentally friendly.
That’s sound, science-based advice - not industry-pandering. Canada is one of the world’s largest beef producers, and ranchers and feedlot operators likely didn’t break into a chorus of “O Canada” when they heard that government officials were planning to promote plant-based foods. But it’s the right thing to do, and hopefully Health Canada will hold firm to its mission.
I also hope the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will implement strong guidelines favoring plant-based foods. America’s fruited plains and amber waves of grain are overrun with animal factories and slaughterhouses, and we’ll all be healthier if we stop eating animal-based foods.
We know this. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Chicago - the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals - has pointed out that people who eat mostly plant-based foods are less likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
A 2016 position statement by the academy revealed that people can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by 62 percent, suffering from heart disease by 29 percent and succumbing to any form of cancer by 18 percent just by going vegan. Vegan men reduce their likelihood of developing prostate cancer by 35 percent.
The U.S. advisory committee has acknowledged that a diet high in plant-based foods is “more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact.” But meat industry groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting to keep “eat less meat” from appearing in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans - that’s why they allow fatty, cholesterol-laden animal-based foods.
Other countries have already taken steps to promote more nutritious, vegan foods. Last year, for example, the Netherlands began advising people to eat a lot less meat - no more than two servings per week - and to replace it with plant foods. The United Kingdom also encourages residents to cut back on animal protein. Brazil puts an emphasis on native plants and minimally processed foods.
The U.S. will have to consider similar guidelines as public-health problems - and people’s waistlines - continue to expand. Let’s all avoid the “red tape” and opt for vegan foods well before our dietary guidelines are scheduled to be revised. Doing so will help local farmers who grow flavorful, health-promoting fruits and vegetables - like red delicious apples, sweet white corn and juicy blueberries. It will also support innovative vegan businesses, such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats, three California companies that have made headlines for producing mouthwatering plant-based meats. Most of all, it will benefit our health, the environment and animals - and that will help make America a truly great nation.
Heather Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.