The ‘planetary health diet’ – or communism through the backdoor?

In the superb Scandinavian TV series The Bridge, one of the two central figures is the autistic Swedish police detective Saga Norén who lives alone – rather than engage herself in serious relationships, she picks up men in bars for casual sex. Her poor social skills, her difficulty in empathising and her inability to channel her emotions make her appear cold, insensitive and blunt, but she is completely honest and forthright in all aspects. The third season ends with an ethical act so shocking that it perplexed many of the series’ most avid followers. Saga (superbly played by Sofie Gråbøl) finally confronts the serial killer Rheinhardt, a corporate manager with high political connections. When the two of them are alone in a car, he coldly confesses to her his brutal murders but mockingly claims that she will never succeed in prosecuting him; desperate through impotence, she executes him with a gun. Is her illegal act a crime or an ethical act… or both? This is the profoundly feminine ‘toxic masculinity’ at its best: breaking the law as an act of ethical duty.

There must be something Scandinavian in this kind of radically ethical feminine stance since another Swedish girl acted similarly in real life: the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden who, after she coldly realised that the only way to do something about global warming is civil disobedience, instigated a wave of children’s school strikes which is now spreading all around Europe. The contingent fact that she was diagnosed with autism acquires an unexpected political meaning here: far from being a disturbing factor, it is what gives here strength. Autism is ‘a developmental disorder characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour,’ and this is exactly what is needed if we are to confront global warming: repetitively insisting on scientific results and ignoring all the rhetorical tricks that obfuscate the scientific message.

When, in the last month, children all around the world went on strike to protest our (adults) ignorance of ecological dangers, one should support them unconditionally, and reject all the claims that children ‘don’t understand the complexity of the situation,’ etc. The most disgusting reaction was that of a Belgian politician: instead of striking, children should rather stay in school and learn. Learn what? How to ruin our chances of future the way their elders (those who are teaching them) did?

True, children ‘don’t see the complexity’ – namely the complexity of how our politicians are desperately trying to water down the emergency of our predicament. They seem to be the only ones who take seriously (which means here: literally) what scientists are telling us again and again. In January 2019, an international team of scientists proposed ‘a diet it says can improve health while ensuring sustainable food production to reduce further damage to the planet. The ‘planetary health diet’ is based on cutting red meat and sugar consumption in half and upping intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts.’

We are talking about a radical reorganisation of our entire food production and distribution – so how to do it? ‘The report suggests five strategies to ensure people can change their diets and not harm the planet in doing so: incentivizing people to eat healthier, shifting global production toward varied crops, intensifying agriculture sustainably, stricter rules around the governing of oceans and lands, and reducing food waste.’ OK, but, again, how to achieve this? Is it not clear that a strong global agency is needed with the power to coordinate such measures? And is such an agency not pointing in the direction of what we once called communism? And does the same not hold for other threats to our survival as humans? Is the same global agency not needed also to deal with the problem of exploding refugees and immigrants, with the problem of digital control over our lives?

Greta is fully aware of the logic of fetishist disavowal that determines our predominant reaction to global warming: adults are ‘always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food. I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.’ They (adults) know very well what is going on but… they add the usual ‘but nonetheless…’ which prevents us from acting upon our knowledge. Children just know it. The only really ‘complex’ thing is the emperor’s new clothes, and children simply see that the emperor is naked, and demand from us that we act upon it.


  • Mr Grumpy

    Global communism would certainly be an excellent way of ensuring we get less food, as the people of North Korea and Venezuela could attest. Not counting those running the system, of course, who would continue to eat steak to their hearts’ content.

    Does it not occur to the writer that proposals like this only serve to keep people on the Right in denial?

    • Mr Happy

      I can see you are not familiar with Zizek.

      • Mr Grumpy

        Did you make the user name specially? Bless.

        I am commenting on the contents of this article. What is your point?

  • This is bonkers.

  • James Gatehouse

    One accepts that from Saga’s or Greta Thunberg’s perspectives there exist linear outcomes to every action. It is so with autism. If incorrect dietary choices cause climate change, then changing people’s diets will to such a person inevitably solve climate change. But why does Zizek accept Thunberg’s explanation for her position so readily? Has she been completely honest with herself, as he seems to suggest? Are autism and honesty interellated?

    To draw parallels, Saga Noren’s actions as a fictional law enforcer in executing someone who thoroughly deserved it is of course nothing new. Dirty Harry made the whole idea respectable to masses of cinema goers, but without any autistic bent. Judge Dredd is a story about how the entire panoply of legal instrument has been altered in a dystopian future. The writers played with the notion that Dredd had either a flaw in his personality or maybe was really a true representative of justice with a capital “J”. All three examples had a perspective and critically none was completely honest with him or herself.

    How do we know, then, that Thunberg really is working for the benefit of the planet and that she sees a straightforward causation from A to B? Is her judgement skewed or are we saying that since she lacks judgement she must necessarily be acting out of pure logic; that she really has spotted the emperor has no clothes? More to the point maybe she’s a person with a deep seated need for self control and that this finds expression in trying to control everyone else. That’s a bit like aspects of Communism, or even the sort of democracy that isn’t democracy, which instead has many parallels with Communism.

    Noble causes can be found on every street corner, but scratch the surface and sometimes less than the pure gold of honest endeavour is unearthed.