EventsEventsPodcasts
Loader
Find Us
ADVERTISEMENT

Euroviews. Ultra-processed foods should unite the food movement — not divide us

A convenience store customer make a purchase next to a shelf of snacks, in Boston, July 2005
A convenience store customer make a purchase next to a shelf of snacks, in Boston, July 2005 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Emily Armistead, Interim Executive Director, Madre Brava
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Ultimately, we need to pull together to transform our broken food system. Across the movement, we broadly have the same goal — a food system that is healthy for people and the planet, Emily Armistead writes.

ADVERTISEMENT

As much as ultra-processed food has become a hot topic,  in our wing of the food movement — groups focused on driving a shift towards plant-rich diets — the escalating public debate around UPFs is not always welcomed.

The NOVA classification system, used to categorise foods based on different levels of processing, typically places meat and dairy analogues into the UPF category, which many health advocates say should be avoided.

This is problematic since it’s unlikely we can shift diets sufficiently to reduce food emissions without offering meat and dairy alternatives.  

Those who question the NOVA framework and the building clamour against UPFs say that the NOVA system was always a sociopolitical categorisation (capturing foods produced by large conglomerates rather than in the home) and is too dismissive of nutrition, focussed on levels of processing instead.

Various studies have shown that many plant-based alternatives perform better than their meat equivalents when assessed on a nutritional basis, such as fibre, fat, or salt content. However, this holds no sway with the blunt NOVA system. 

Leave the sugar-laden biscuits aside

The food industry, especially Big Meat, loves this growing schism between food advocates. I’m now used to scanning articles about UPFs to find the line where meat and dairy alternatives are thrown under the UPF bus.

It's as if veggie burgers are the villains destroying our children's health and creating a time bomb of diet-related illness. Forget about the sugar-laden biscuits and reconstituted potato snacks. It feels like our focus is slightly off. 

There is no way we can fundamentally shift the food system towards one that is sustainable, healthy and just without tackling the power of the companies at the top of the chain. 
A hog in a big-rig truck east of Bakersfield, CA, April 2008
A hog in a big-rig truck east of Bakersfield, CA, April 2008Casey Christie/The Bakersfield Californian via AP

But as someone who is interested in creating a food system that is both nourishing for human and planetary health, I don’t believe the NOVA classification and conversation about UPFs should be dismissed outright.

Being able to reduce food emissions as quickly as necessary — many experts say we should be reaching "peak meat" as soon as next year in high meat-consuming countries like the UK, US and Germany — whilst also doing the deep and long-term work to truly reimagine our food system, will require compromises and trade-offs.  

So what shifts in approach do we in the movement need to adopt?  

Let's fix our broken food chain — starting at the top

Those advocating for reduced levels of processing in our food need to be more vocal about the necessity of some UPFs. Baby milk is an obvious one, but meat and dairy alternatives will also be key drivers in catalysing the protein transition. The NOVA classification should be updated to reflect this nuance. 

Meanwhile, animal and climate advocates need to get real about the effects of processing and advocate for innovations that minimise them while ensuring higher levels of nutrition in meat and dairy alternatives. 

Equally, we need to advocate for a protein transition that emphasises increased access to whole foods and doesn't rely solely on alternative proteins.  

Finally, we need to harness the growing wave of mistrust of Big Food unleashed by the UPF debate.

There is no way we can fundamentally shift the food system towards one that is sustainable, healthy and just without tackling the power of the companies at the top of the chain. 

ADVERTISEMENT

And thanks to the public outcry about UPFs, the door is more open to measures to push companies out of policymaking and to increase transparency around corporate-funded research, initiatives which would support all of our aims. 

Ultimately, we need to pull together to transform our broken food system. Across the movement, we broadly have the same goal — a food system that is healthy for people and the planet.

Building alignment between civil society groups advocating across health, environment, consumer rights and animal welfare will be critical in achieving this. 

Emily Armistead is Interim Executive Director at Madre Brava.

ADVERTISEMENT

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Share this articleComments

You might also like