LEAP Conference and Harvard AgriBusiness Seminar — My Personal Reflections

Something which struck me from the recent Oxford University LEAP Conference was just how pertinent the climate crisis is and how, failure to take action now will lead to devastating consequences.

As Henry Dimbleby argued in the plenary session, production and consumption are not always connected, we could eat healthily and trash the environment, and vice versa. This means that simply switching to a plant-based diet isn’t enough. Greenwashing and environmentally friendly rhetoric is simply not enough. As the cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. Jenny MacDiarmid of the Rowett Institute addressed the issue of consumption in her closing plenary. She believes that moving from meat-based to plant-based is actually a more complex issue than it might first appear. It’s not just about removing meat from your diet, we need to adopt a wholistic approach to this change; this means re-addressing how we prepare, cook and eat. For example, following the prescribed guidelines for what constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet doesn’t automatically mean that such diet is a sustainable one. She gives examples such as urging the population to eat more fish which is sourced from unsustainable fisheries or encouraging greater consumption of vegetables which could lead to increased pressure on growth in water scarce areas.

Bigger health factors need to be considered when switching to a plant-based diet and making such a transition without the right education can be potentially harmful. For example, the media-driven call for increased protein consumption has lead to a misinformation campaign. In reality, most people consume double the amount of protein required. This focus often leads individuals to neglect other key areas of nutrition, causing deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients like B12 and iron. Drinking plant-based milk which isn’t fortified with calcium is another common mistake prevalent amongst those adopting a plant-based diet.

Ultimately, the conference taught me that, in order to live a healthy, environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle on both a macro and micro-level, all change needs to be thought through, holistic and informed. Switching to a plant-based diet or adopting meat free Mondays is only a starting point. Other areas of the supply chain need to be considered. For example, food security is another area where misinformation has skewed our perception of reality. Food security has focused on producing as much food as possible, yet, as Dimbleby recognises, millions remain nutrient deficient. Given this, he contends that we should think about it in terms of nutrition security. I believe that we need to adopt a dual-headed approach, tackling both food and nutrition security, as the two go hand-in-hand.

Having recently completed the Harvard Business School AgriBusiness Seminar, alongside various other food and agritech courses, I feel more passionate and informed on these issues. I hope to continue learning and developing my knowledge in these areas and, in time, hope to support others in the industry and implement change on a practical level.

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