Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Does a Double Take on the Food Pyramid

By Christina Wright

Thanks to a diet high in fat and processed foods, and more sedentary lifestyles, an astounding 1.5 billion adults in the world are overweight. In order to redefine healthy eating habits and illustrate how they impact the environment, Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) created the Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment.

(Image credit: BCFN)

BCFN is a research institute that was created in 2009 by the Italian pasta and food company, Barilla Group. The Advisory Board is comprised of seven international experts, including Barbara Buchner, Director of Climate Policy Initiative of Venice, Dr. Gabriele Riccardi, President-elect of the Italian Diabetology Society, and John Reilly, Co-Director of The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, among others, who have spent their  professional careers in agriculture, climate change, economics, human nutrition, medicine, and research. BCFN concentrates on four themes, including food for sustainable growth, food for health, food for culture, and food for all. Since 2010, the main focus of food for all has been the Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment.

The Double Pyramid was created after the BCFN Advisory Board concluded, along with many other organizations, governments, and stakeholders, that changing dietary habits are impacting the environment at a much greater level and actually reducing the health of children and overall life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010 and global meat production has risen by 20 percent since 2000. According to Guido Barilla, President of Barilla Group, “While we cannot stop the continuing evolution of the planet, we have a moral duty to suggest directions and make proposals so that we can interact responsibly with it.” As a result, the environmental food pyramid was created.

BCFN determined the environmental impacts of food by measuring the amount of energy and water needed to grow and raise produce, grains, and livestock, as well as package, transport, and cook food. They also measured the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during each process, the amount of land needed for agriculture and livestock, and the amount ocean surface, or fishing grounds, needed for fish and other edible sea creatures.

Following their analysis, BCFN created an environmental pyramid and placed foods that had the greatest impact on the environment—beef, cheese, and fish—at the top of the pyramid, and foods that had the lowest impact on the environment—fruits and vegetables—at the bottom of the pyramid. The environmental pyramid intentionally mirrors the classic Mediterranean Diet food pyramid. Foods at the top of food pyramid, such as sweets and beef, should be consumed less frequently, while foods at the bottom of the pyramid, such as fruits and vegetables, should be consumed on a daily basis. Buchner praises the Double Pyramid because it “demonstrates two important goals: health and environmental protection.”

While the BCFN Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment may seem complicated at first, it provides a comprehensive illustration of foods that are not only beneficial for our bodies, but also less harmful to the planet. To assess the environmental and nutritional impacts of your dietary choices, click here.

What do you think of the BCFN Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment? Tell us in the comments!

Christina Wright is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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