Food connects everything

Food connects everything

A conversation with “climate chef” and gastro-coach Estella Schweizer about the BIOFACH industry trend “Personal and Planetary Health”

Picture of Estella Schweizer

The call for healthy, climate-conscious food is becoming more and more urgent, which is why the BIOFACH trend jury – consisting of industry experts Anne Baumann (Deputy Managing Director of AöL), Karin Heinze (Founder of BiO Reporter International), Michael Radau (Chairman of the Board of SuperBioMarkt AG), Jens Schinnerling (Chief Procurement Officer of dennree GmbH) and Julian Stock (Co-Director of Good Food Collective) – has identified “Personal and Planetary Health” as an industry trend in 2024. This new movement is mainly observable in the growing, younger generation that places greater emphasis on healthy and climate-friendly food. Increasingly, this lifestyle is being fueled by future-oriented concepts like the Planetary Health Diet or the ever more popular Veganuary. At the same time, older generations are redefining the topic of aging by focusing on extending their healthy years through conscious and balanced nutrition. Estella Schweizer, an expert in climate-friendly cuisine and plant-based nutrition, knows why a planet-conscious diet is becoming less stressful and more exciting.

1. The food system needs to be transformed. How does our diet affect the health of the planet?

“Food connects everything.” In this sense, the health of the planet is an extremely complex topic. The Earth’s purely biological ecosystem is supported by many different pillars that can be balanced against one another and compensate for imbalances. However, people have interfered to such a massive extent over the past 200 years that this balance is now threatened. We forget that we’re part of the Earth and that nature is much more powerful than we are. It will always find a way to restore its balance, but we will not! We’re dependent on nature and we won’t find a way to survive without establishing a milieu that allows us to cope.

At the same time, our eating habits have a far-reaching effect on the world’s social structures, the environment in which we live, the planetary limits of what the Earth can endure and our own health. Simply transforming the food system isn’t enough to heal the Earth, but our individual diet is the easiest contribution that each of us can make in order to change things for the better.

Today, the entire system is based on exploitation – exploitation of the land surface, water resources and soil quality, exploitation of social structures, exploitation of animals and exploitation of people. We’re also exploiting our own bodies and our health with our Western lifestyle of excessive caloric intake and deficient micronutrient intake.

2. Can eating still be fun?

Yes, of course, even more fun than before. Preparing meals creatively and with our own hands is a primal theme in the development of our species. For many centuries, our everyday life consisted exclusively of gathering, harvesting, and catching food and applying dexterity and skill to making it edible. Feeding and nourishing ourselves was essential. It was the fuel of life. It involved a wide variety of activities that shaped our daily lives. Today our workdays are often very monotonous, always involving the same tasks and content. With the money that we earn, we buy things to eat that were produced in factories, we eat out or we eat on the go, and have lost contact with the true essence of dietary intake. So my question is, why should food and food preparation that once again allows us to participate, exercise our creativity and play an active role be less fun than what we’re doing now? It’s not at all a matter of renunciation. It’s much more a matter of being able to discover new perspectives and approaches.

3. The younger generation is especially interested in the relationship between our eating behaviour and the environment. Why is that?

That’s a generalisation that I don’t totally agree with. Due to current reports on environmental topics, climate change and animal welfare, younger people have more points of contact with climate change and their own endangered future very early in their lives. Previous generations were more focused on their careers and growth and took for granted the continued existence of the world as they knew it. Today, the interaction between food and the environment is being presented more and more clearly. One third of people under 30 are tending toward flexitarianism and consume much less meat and diary products than their parents. But here’s my reservation: Surveys show that younger people associate a “healthy diet” with “vegan” regardless of whether products are natural or ultra high vacuum (UHV). Although this is an exciting development, it’s also problematic. Reducing the consumption of animal products can minimise the emissions produced in the food sector by 60 percent. That would have numerous positive consequences for land use and water consumption and could contribute to the regeneration of land surfaces. But it’s also important that “vegan” not be understood as a diet filled with products that are meat and dairy alternatives (and thus UHV products). Instead, we should be guided more by the Planetary Health Diet, which is based on over 70 percent natural basic ingredients: vegetables, fruit, lettuces, grains, legumes, nuts and cold-pressed oils.

4. At the same time, the older generations are wanting to extend their healthy years by means of a conscious and balanced diet. What exactly is that?

We’re definitely observing an increased focus on aging, and the media is devoting more and more attention to “healthy aging”, which means integrating more deliberate exercise into our daily lives, paying attention to the performance of our own brains and understanding the tremendous value of a balanced diet. But I’m also seeing that 40- to 60-year-olds are more focused on the details of what this means for their day-to-day nutrition than are people over 65. It’s actually a main feature in specialised books, cookery books, documentation and lifestyle guidebooks. As a medical narrative, prevention has also finally become an aspect of nutrition. Unfortunately, I’m still seeing that this is having very little impact on people’s everyday lives. But the impetus is there and I’m confident that there will be many significant developments in this area in the coming years.

5. Companies in the food industry can be huge forces for change in the food system. How can they use innovative products to attract consumers without seeming to point a finger?

Personally, I think that there’s no longer any such thing as pointing a finger when it comes to food and climate change. A company in the food industry that launches a product that’s more fit for the future, more ecological, and healthier than the present-day offering and tries to make this product attractive to consumers are having to do so in the face of our current challenges. Food manufacturing operations have a responsibility to the health of society as well as to the health of planet Earth. In this respect, I think it’s worth it to the food industry to initiate new trends. I even think we should support companies when they try to have a positive impact in this area. On the other hand, it’s important that our diet largely consist of unprocessed products, meaning fewer convenience foods that, unfortunately, aren’t profitable for food-processing companies.

6. In order for the diet of the future to be widely adopted, as many people as possible have to be won over. How can that be successfully done and how important are official concepts like the Planetary Health Diet or Veganuary?

We need as many people as possible on board who understand that the diet of the future is for everyone’s benefit. It’s all about a gain in vitality and enjoyment, as well as self-care, creativity, and capabilities. The Planetary Health Diet describes a dietary concept that is scientifically based, can make us demonstrably healthier and can ease the burden on planet Earth. It can serve as a guideline that we consult every day when choosing what we eat. Veganuary, on the other hand, is a campaign that wants to reach people on a broad scale. It’s intended to motivate them and serve as a low-threshold introduction to new experiences, meaning the experience of colourful, diverse, plant-based foods. I know that we’re all feeling under tremendous pressure from the challenges we face in every area of our lives and that these challenges seem to be almost impossible to overcome, especially when it comes to climate change. But one thing that every one of us can do three times a day starting now is to decide what we eat and how we eat. And if all the people in the world would primarily eat plant-based foods, we might even be able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.


Manuela Jagdhuber

Manuela Jagdhuber

Senior PR-consultant | modem conclusa gmbh