Are all Foods Under EAT-Lancet Commission's Diet Accessible to Rural People?



Food waste causes a third of human caused greenhouse gas emissions, generating eight percent of greenhouse gas annually, according to Earth.Org’s report. The gas emitted from food waste consists of methane and carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the atmosphere and are the reason behind unbearable summer temperatures and other climate change.

Every process of food, from growing them to dumping them as waste, contributes harm to the environment. Growing them takes a lot of natural resources such as soil, fertilizers, manure, and water among others. Wasting them would also mean wasting the natural resources that were used to grow food. There’s the packaging part to consider as well.

Today, the world appears to notice what is being served on their plate, versus what is being put into their bodies. It’s groundbreaking to realize how food choices decide what happens to the environment. That doesn’t mean more greens over meat, if it’s about sustaining the environment. Since the very nature of sustainability means consuming elements that boost or support a long livelihood when it comes to eating. That’s why there’s a lot of news circling around planetary diet with the Canadian Diet, plant-heavy pegan diet and the EAT-Lancet’s ‘planetary health diet’.

More Greens Less Meat

Put together, these diets imply an approach to eating that keeps check of the appetites of the growing global population with how the earth is evolving, which is taking a turn for the worse. These diets are more on the consumption of fruits and vegetables and less on the meat. In particular, the EAT-Lancet Commission’s planetary health diet, that holds a group of public health experts, environmental scientists and policymakers from 16 countries, who recommend a nutritious, sustainable and less expensive diet for different parts of the globe including the rural parts of India. The diet under this commission comprises fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, as well as poultry, fish and dairy. 

However, the current food shortage and price hikes taking place leads to the question of whether every rural dweller is able to afford or consume the food that is assigned in this diet?

What is Accessible and What is Not

A better look on that aspect was taken care of by a team of food security researchers from Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition at Cornell University, who gathered data on food prices, household purchases and secondary data on food expenditure. Let’s look at the kind of results drawn from their research.

Firstly, the primary data on food prices and household purchases came directly from the Tata Cornell Institute’s TARINA program, which showcases a detailed market survey across four districts in Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. On a weekly basis these surveys were conducted accumulating data on availability of food items, their prices and the number of vendors selling them.

The data fetch nearly 259 food items categorized into nine food groups. The researchers believe that this categorization allows them to quantify the affordability of specific nutrient-groups at a more granular level, compared to existing estimates, which for instance have combined all fruits and vegetables into one group.


Next, 150 households seated near the markets were sampled for dietary diversity based on parameters such as household size, proximity to the market and household-level food purchases. What the women folk ate, as well as, their time spent engaging in different activities were also examined. This data about food expenditure was supplied by the Centre for Monitoring of the Indian Economy (CMIE), known for being reliable towards providing food and non-food expenditure along with similar parameters like household size, age, gender and the like.

Using this data, the researchers then proceeded to calculate the cost of the recommended diet from the EAT-Lancet Commission and the cost of the current diet from the respondents who were taken for the study.

The Price Paid Following the EAT-Lancet Commission’s Diet

After calculation, the cost between the EAT-Lancet Commission’s diet and the current diet indicated that people will have to spend a minimum of $ 2.40 per day to meet the recommended dietary plan. It was observed that the cost of the actual diet is between $0.62 and $1.00 per day. This implies that the cost of the EAT-Lancet diet is $3.00-5.00 per day judging by the minimum and average prices assigned to each food category.

The study argues that price variation is a key factor. The average cost for dairy, meat, fish and poultry meant thrice or twice the minimum cost for some districts, reflecting the cost shares of different food groups. However, prices are fluctuating and oftentimes, change of seasons seems to be the main reason behind this.

How Seasons Fluctuate Price

For one, let’s take the minimum cost of an EAT-Lancet basket in June, which is $ 2.90 per person per day. By April, this price rises up to $3.70 per person per day. Calculating the same price based on average is said to be higher than $ 6 October-November and March-April. Simultaneously, people were observed to be spending the least time on their current diets during these months. These months also appeared to show deficits between the cost of actual versus recommended diets. Part of the reason for this occurrence is denoted to be arising from the harvest cycle. Since November - December and March- April are just before the harvest cycle, both supplies, as well as, household incomes were indicated to be low during these times.

While the same, fruit and vegetables, with low cost prices, were found to be showing much higher seasonal price variation than MFP and dairy products during these months.

The research identifies that the volatility in prices of fruits is higher than that for dairy. Additionally, fruits are said to be among the three food groups that call for a highest deficit expenditure.

Food groups such as meat/fish/poultry, fruits, and vegetables are believe to show considerable variation in their prices annually. Although these food groups are an expensive source of ingredients, they are responsible for contributing 80 percent of the diet costs in South Asia.

The Study’s Food for Thought

The study stresses on the significance of high-frequency ground zero market surveys to map the seasonal price variation and food availability across groups. It conveyed that there should be lesser fixation on cereal grains such as wheat and rice which are currently practised in agricultural regimes. Instead, the research argued that there should be a transition towards crop diversification which should be both nutrition sensitive, as well as, increasing the farm incomes.