Opposing views around diet and the environment driving a terrible silence
Commentary on nutrition and the environmental impact of our food choices is polarised. It is fantasy to think that the environmental challenge is not our new reality writes Amii McKeever

While we have not yet hit 1 December, last weekend was the start of the run into Christmas for family McKeever. On Saturday we set off to visit Santa in Croke Park. I must admit that I did feel a rush of adrenaline walking out onto the pitch as the Hogan and Cusack stands rise up around you. I looked up at the seats where my friend Denise and I sat on that great day in August for Tipp supporters. However, my children seemed less inspired by the experience and I said to them: “Girls you might never get the chance to walk out onto this pitch again so take it all in.”

My husband was unimpressed, to say the least, with my lack of confidence in their, as of yet, unexplored sporting prowess. He countered with: “If you train hard enough you can play on this pitch, but it takes dedication.” This sat with me. A fantasy versus a reality and what it takes to achieve the latter.

Why, I asked myself, were these professionals unwilling to stand behind the science of healthy food?

Last week, I sought out – but almost failed to find – a dietician who was willing to make a public statement about the nutritional value of dairy and meat. Why, I asked myself, were these professionals unwilling to stand behind the science of healthy food? The answer, I discovered, is that they are afraid. This was confirmed for me while chairing a panel discussion at the recent Animal Health Ireland Cellcheck Awards. These awards honour the 500 Irish farmers that had achieved the lowest somatic cell counts in their milk and the mood was positive. However, the questions posed to the panel of dietician Orla Walsh, Professor Paddy Wall and CEO of Ornua John Jordan gave a clear indication of unrest.

This unrest is being caused by how our industry is being portrayed in the media. Orla Walsh opened the discussion saying that the sustainability challenge is huge. She remarked that it is now a challenge to even talk about it and she had learned this the hard way. In an interview the previous week she had stated that “a vegan diet is not nutritionally complete without supplementation”.

Social media has given a vitriolic voice to those who use it as a medium to deliver personal abuse against those with opposing views

She subsequently received a lot of abuse arising from this statement. Commentary on a healthy diet and environmental sustainability is conflicting and while research and advice support her statement, this meant little.

Social media has given a vitriolic voice to those who use it as a medium to deliver personal abuse against those with opposing views.

So how do we communicate our message and who should be charged with doing it?

We need strong informed communicators

We as an industry need to play our part in relation to climate change – on that there is no ambiguity. While the reality is we do have quality-assurance systems and strong green credentials, it is fantasy to think that this will suffice. For agriculture to achieve a stronger voice in countering the sustainability challenge, and be recognised for that, we need to do two things.

Firstly, we need strong informed communicators – individuals cannot do this alone and they will not be willing to speak out if they are left isolated. Secondly, the Government must support farmers publicly, vocally and through policy.

To conclude on the festive spirit, my mother and I split the preparation of a full Christmas dinner last Sunday. A celebration to mark yet another “see you soon” for our family as my brother left for Australia. The fantasy is that he won’t stay there forever; the reality is that, like our sisters, he might.

Read more

Irish dietitians concerned by vegan diet advocacy

When it comes to our food – we are the spoilt children