Not all black and white

As we return from Easter, suitably full of the joys of the seasonal break, it’s fitting to see research (from dairy cooperative, Arla) showing that more than a third of people in the UK admit to making choices about their food and dietary choices based on information from social media. It’s not surprising. Retail shelves, as well as the internet, have been full of Easter-themed ideas for consumers to get together for a special meal and exchange presents – some of the chocolate variety.

I’m not going to knock social media. I use it for recipe ideas, fitness tips etc and I feel it does tremendous good in spreading positive messages. However, the points made by Arla about the food production process, what makes a sustainable diet and what food groups are good for us, are well made in its research and shouldn’t be cast aside.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of the UK say they would make considerable changes to their diets based on what they read on social media, whilst two in five (41 per cent) are unsure of what makes a sustainable diet.

Snap decisions based largely on popular opinion do not benefit the consumer. Pressure to fit in means that trends have a bigger impact than facts. The research carried out by Arla highlights what precisely should happen: the need to balance the conversation when it comes to food and the health of the planet.

Food production may have faults, but it’s not all bad. Efforts are being made to reduce emissions and raise the standards of processing. Commentary from Debbie Wilkins, an Arla farmer, is honest in its assessment. of the current state of play. All food production will create emissions, but it is important to consider the nutritional value of the food as well as how it supports the natural environment.

Arla has found a nation split on what makes a sustainable diet. Eating locally sourced food (54 per cent), swapping animal protein for plant-based alternatives (41 per cent) and choosing nutrition that has been produced with the least environmental impact (35 per cent) were amongst the top solutions cited as sustainable. However, although over a quarter (27 per cent) now think cutting animal products from their diet completely is the right thing to do, given the choice and all the facts, 65 per cent would prefer to drink dairy over dairy alternatives, according to Arla.

With 12 per cent considering the environmental impact of food alone when making choices, the role of nutrition in a sustainable diet appears left behind. Arla says the way we make decisions has changed, with the research demonstrating the demand for facts to balance the dairy-alternative argument: 65 per cent of respondents say while they feel pressured to, they don’t actually want to give-up dairy.

Graham Wilkinson, senior group agriculture director at Arla describes the next decade as a “defining one in the health of our planet and in the availability of natural and affordable food”. The findings of the report show a desire for a balance in the diet choices we make, rather than it being one or the other. In a bid to combat this, Arla’s farmers want to explain how they provide so much more than nutritious dairy products and that they have a positive environmental impact. They should be given that opportunity.

Black and white thinking can give us a measure of security. After all, who doesn’t think they have all the answers? But it can also cut us off from the complexity and richness of life. Allowing ourselves to venture into uncertainty can be one way to see more clearly: not in black and white or even grey, but in a complex, dazzling rainbow of options. Just like a good diet.

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