Positive Feedback In Consumption Preferences Leading To Lock-In
Although meat consumption at one time, had positive individual and social untility, it has over time developed negative impacts, but is still a dietary preference based on historical and socially established meanings of meat consumption and inertia.
“Lock-in” and “path dependence” are concepts which have long been associated with productive capacity and the supply side of the economy. This paper demonstrates how these concepts can also be used to analyze consumer behavior. That is, consumer choices can be locked in to a path, even if the path is inferior to alternatives. In addition, endogenous preferences, utility from consumption, in addition to social, institutional and behavioral factors can lead to path dependence and the continuation of less than optimal consumer choices.
Meat consumption has become a preferred food source because of both its social significance and its nutritional content. There is clearly evidence that there is some genetic component to the taste preference for meat, demonstrating a path dependency for this dietary preference. Historically, meat has also been known as a “core food item” and frequently associated with privileged economic status. These factors have led to strong, ingrained positive associations of meat.
In developed countries, meat is no longer necessarily associated with positive health, as many negative health benefits are now linked to meat consumption. In addition, it is environmentally more resource-depleting to produce meat than other vegetable-based food items. Factory farming methods have also contributed to negative societal impressions of meat products. Factory farming, the availability of meat alternatives and changes in information about health consequences of meat consumption have all contributed to the shift in attitude toward meat.
The Multiple Levels of Path Dependence The “Rational Addiction” model of consumer lock-in suggests that young children are born into initial decision defaults made by the parents, and by the time the child is old enough to be a rational maximizer, they may already be “addicted” to the consumption of a particular good. Though parents try to act in the best interest of their children, this is not the same as being a rational optimizer on behalf of the child’s interest. Also related is the notion that there are some household goods that are not divisible, but consumed at the household level also, which can contribute to lock-in.
At the social level, there can be positive feedback from certain choices due to the “bandwagon” effect. The consumption of specific foods can take on a sociological meaning beyond flavor and nutritional content. Dietary choices can be counter to prevailing social beliefs and cause negative reactions from friends and family. The power of marketing and media can also influence consumption choices and social norms through scale economies, which have the power to advertise a good and create a demand. The perceived benefit of meat consumption to consumers originates from positive feedback due to personal habit, cultural patterns and endogenous tastes. Given a different historical path and the current perception of the health consequences of meat consumption, there is reason to believe that the meat consumption preferences that exist today would be different.
Because current knowledge of meat consumption is so different today in addition to awareness of environmental concerns and the existence of alternatives, this research suggests that meat consumption is “path dependent” or possibly even “locked-in.”