Art Theater Co-Op to Host Free Screening of “Planeat”

By Elizabeth Dye

Three experts. A lifetime of research. A simple solution. All in one documentary.

The Art Theater Co-op is hosting a screening of “Planeat” on Tuesday, a 2010 documentary film that follows the work of influential researchers, scientists and experts to not only reveal the connection between diet, health and the environment, but offers creative solutions to the declining state of each sector. The free screening, sponsored by the University’s Law and Philosophy program, Women and Gender in Global Perspective’s program and Champaign’s Land Conservation Foundation, will be held at 7:30 p.m.

Running just under 90 minutes, the documentary is filled with innovative research and solutions from doctors, scientists and agriculture experts from around the world who link the largely animal-based Western diet to rising cancer risks and the increasing destruction of our planet.

Professor Rebecca Roach, teaching associate in ACES and professor of food science and human nutrition, said she agrees that the average American diet, filled with meat and dairy, contributes to larger health and environmental problems.

“We know that the obesity levels in America increase every year,” Roach said. “They haven’t even plateaued yet; they continue to increase, and with that we are also seeing a higher incident of Type 2 diabetes, also heart disease, which is associated with diet. We’re seeing those various mortality factors in the US increase as well. We’re also exhausting fossil fuels to raise cattle and pigs and damaging our water sources from the runoff.”

Richard Mulvaney, a natural resources and environmental sciences professor who studies soil fertility said the agricultural practices involved in producing our diet create multi-faceted effects on the environment.

“The effects are very wide-ranging, and the impact is global,” Mulvaney said. “Examples would relate to the loss of nutrients that would impact water quality and air quality, but those practices also impact the soil’s properties. Soils have changed and they will continue to change depending on how they’re managed. The outfall of human management affects every aspect of the environment: land, air and water.”

Mulvaney emphasized the misuse of fertilizers as a huge cause of environmental issues.

“Many agricultural practices are directed toward high yields and intensive production practices, which invariably lead to the intensive use of fertilizers,” Mulvaney said. “Fertilizers have many effects, probably the best known outfall from fertilizer usage would be connected with nitrogen, because it is such a bioactive nutrient, and it very often limits productivity in any ecosystem.”

While the documentary does highlight the negative impact of the Western diet, the experts in “Planeat” also provide creative solutions to many of the health and environmental problems that our diets have created. The film features many international chefs and farmers offering their expertise on techniques to growing and making the food that humans should be consuming.

Professor Mulvaney said he believes sustainable farming using soil testing and agronomic management is a solution because farmers put effort into managing their fertilizers, instead of using fertilizers as an insurance policy.

“Farmers need to gain a better working knowledge of the soils they farm,” Mulvaney said. “They need to move toward variable rate fertilization, where the rate is varied across the field to account for what the soil can supply. If they do that, we can get more efficiency from the fertilizer we’re using and we will have less loss to the environment.”

Research in the film suggests that making dietary changes, such as reducing meat consumption, can positively change the impact humans have on the planet.

Mulvaney said he agrees that decreasing meat production would help the environment, stressing the inefficiency involved in producing the meat.

“Meat production is inherently inefficient in terms of nutrient harvesting and also in terms of water use,” Mulvaney said. “The loss of efficiency takes place in growing the animal as well as the feed crops.”

The documentary’s makers also hope to instill positive dietary changes within its viewers. Lauren McKinney, sophomore in LAS, said she hopes to see the film so that she can recognize her own fallible food choices.

“I always think my diet is okay and that I’m eating the right things for the most part,” McKinney said. “But what I don’t realize is how few of the foods I eat are actually not already pre-made or just meat. I never really think about the impact of the food I eat every day, so being able to hear and see the actual consequences of my decisions I think would help me make better ones.”

Roach said she suggests viewing the film, but with one stipulation.

“While health problems are linked to diet, they are due to much more than just our food choices. Improving nutrition can be an appropriate adjunct to other treatments and lifestyle modifications, but it alone is not a solution.”

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