Re-Examining Our Meals To Reduce Meat Consumption
Meat consumption has been determined to be one of the largest contributors to biodiversity loss, nitrogen cycle disruption, and climate change globally. Specifically, there seems to be a pattern among Western nations that suggests that approximately 20% of the population is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) resulting from meat consumption. Therefore, focusing efforts on this population may have the largest impact, but more research is needed to determine this. Indeed, tackling Western meat consumption as a way of mitigating these impacts may be one of the most important areas to research today.
In the United States, there have been many ancillary actions taken to incentivize consumers to eat less meat, all with varying levels of success. In the Netherlands, the Green Protein Alliance has made a goal to focus specifically on reducing the meat-to-plant protein consumption ratio of 60:40 to 50:50, while also reducing total protein intake in general. This strategy is based on the idea of creating change by way of the Diet, Dishes, and Dish Ingredients (DDDI) framework.
The DDDI framework hypothesizes that the most effective way to create large scale change in people’s consumption habits is to make DDDI changes via food access changes, frequency of consumption changes, and cultural adaptations. With the current access to data that can determine the nutritional content and environmental impact per food item, determining the most effective changes towards healthy and sustainable consumption is actually possible.
This study examined each element of DDDI to determine the most effective strategies to reduce meat consumption. While many would assume budgeting and meal planning may be important, the study cited that both were weakly associated with a varied, pro-vegetable diet. Somewhat uplifting was the fact that, contrary to popular belief, heavy meat eaters actually do care about the environmental consequences of their food, but just not enough to deter their consumption. With that being said, the two main strategies the study recommended were regarding dishes, (or meals). The first strategy involves promoting a diverse number of dishes, all with necessary portions of vegetables and the incorporation of alternative proteins. The second strategy is to phase out from meat-centered dishes to mixed veggies and legume centered dishes.
Amongst a myriad of strategies to execute these strategies, the study focused on using dietary guidelines, such as the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate icon, and using marketing methods such as flyers with coupons for sustainable dishes. This means that the government will obviously have its place, but large retailers will also need to play a role in promoting alternative proteins. Of course, there are benefits to this type of action, by way of achieving sales growth and capturing new markets, similar to when large retailers began to increase their supply of organic products.
This study determined that rather than focusing on strategies that make headlines such as movements, protests, health scares, shaming, or fear mongering, it would be more effective to be tactical in developing strategies around the DDDI framework. By developing interlinking specific strategies for each of the elements, diets, dishes and dish ingredients, the study claims that incremental and sustainable progress can be made.
While executing these strategies may prove difficult, there is room to be hopeful as the study cited increases in countries incorporating health and sustainability into their dietary guidelines, populations becoming more interested in mixed and ethnic meals, and alternative proteins becoming a rapidly growing industry. Animal advocates should take note: It will most definitely be interesting to see follow-up studies detailing the successes and failures associated with implementing these strategies.