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Who Decides What We Eat?

I care about the environment and so I do my best to recycle and switch the lights off when they’re not required. I care about my health too and as a student living on a budget, I try to live on a low cost, healthy diet.

Fundamentally though, these are decisions that I have made as an individual. No one has told me to do this. If I didn’t want to recycle I wouldn’t. If I wanted to eat a steak a day, I would. It is a choice I and I alone have made.

It is therefore with quite some scorn that I read about the latest report in the Lancet, in which the authors call for a “planetary health diet”, restricted to absurd proportions such as 14g of red meat a day or 2 eggs a week or 50g of starchy vegetables a day.

This, it is reported, would be achieved by governmental policy changes. In other words, a State-run micromanagement of our lives, by prohibition, taxation or other top down approaches.

The desired result? To alter our farming and consumption practices in a way that protects the environment, tackles climate change, improves the health of the population and feeds a growing global population without further damaging the natural world. None of these objectives are inherently bad. In fact, they should be a common set of goals amongst all of us. However, the methods to achieve this outcome as outlined by the Lancet report puts into jeopardy the single greatest right, we as humans possess – free will.

It is not the job of government to tell us how, what and when to eat. It is certainly not the job of government to achieve this by punishing the poorest in society with tax hikes or by banning certain farming produce. This takes away our right to choose and it will fail as all other attempts at social engineering have failed.

Ultimately, we are sentient creatures that possess independent thought. Our innate desire for freedom will rebel against any attempts to control us in this way. As a conservative, I believe the rights of the individual and by extension their freedom of choice is fundamental to the functioning of a healthy society. Take that away and a pandora’s box will be opened with governments asking: “what can be control next?”.

So how do we achieve what the authors of the Lancet report want? Whilst I do not think it is the public sectors’ job to tell us how to live, it is perhaps part of their responsibility to facilitate access to all the information by which we, as citizens, can do our own research and come to our own conclusions. If we were adequately equipped from school age to be independent enough to read the information for ourselves, then you’d likely find that many people switch to a healthier diet without having to rob them later in life of more of their money via taxation, or choice via prohibition.

Indeed, we have seen the power of the individual following the Blue Planet II series that revealed just how devastating plastics can be to wildlife. Without the State lifting a finger, the mood of the public persuaded businesses to begin ditching plastic, from straws in supermarkets to the plastic coverings of magazines. If you give people the tools to inform themselves then they will help themselves. But even if they still eat their steak a day, that is a decision they have made as is their right to do so.

The Lancet report is correct, we do need to talk about how to reduce our negative impact on the environment and our own health. Many of us do need to change the way we live. However, it is for us to choose to make these informed decisions and not for government to micromanage our lives.

About Luke Brandon

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Luke Brandon is a final year Natural Sciences MSci student at Lancaster University. Away from biology, he is a proud conservative who supports a closer relationship between the UK and her Commonwealth family

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