Routes Of Change Toward Meat Reduction
Our continually growing human population creates a lot of problems for animals, including what some refer to as “the protein issue.” Generating protein by breeding and slaughtering animals is very resource-intensive as it requires huge amounts of water, land, and other crops to raise animals. We cannot feed our projected population with animal protein without facing potentially “enormous consequences.” Lowering meat consumption is “absolutely essential” to meeting our future food needs and it requires both technological and cultural shifts.
Can we count on consumers to reduce meat consumption on their own? Will consumers be our allies in creating a more sustainable future? This paper, written and based on information from the Netherlands, asserts that the “pessimistic” view of consumers having “weak morality” is inherently flawed. Consumers are not the “enemies of sustainability.” Instead, the authors here outline a set of visions in which consumers are seen as both allies and agents of change, based on meat consumption trends in the Netherlands.
The authors outline the different ways in which a rigid approach to reducing meat consumption based on moral responsibility is unlikely to succeed. Instead, ethical consumption is broadly articulated as having several possible “routes of change.” Interestingly, the authors note that viewing consumer responsibility (and the potential for consumer-driven change) more broadly leads to more optimism, which is an important step toward reducing meat consumption.
The paper presents three different potential “routes of change” for meat reduction, each with a different level of consumer involvement. Route 1, dubbed “Sustainability By Stealth,” is a path in which consumers remain relatively passive, not concerning themselves with food production. Here, the protein issue is solved by a “strong technological component” – including meat analogs and technological changes in production. It suggests that creating hybrid products that are part plant matter and part meat could have a major impact on the protein gap and on human health.
Route 2, “Moderate Involvement,” assumes that “consumers are active and engaged citizens who form part of a civil society—also where food consumption is concerned.” This approach recognizes the importance of cultural debate and small, practical steps that appear feasible and attainable. Route 2 leans on the large portion of consumers who are willing to be meat reducers, fostering them as the most relevant consumer group.
Route 3, “Cultural Change,” is referred to as an extension of Route 2, but relies more on changing values and on “citizen-consumers who eat little or no meat and whose food choices take into account production method, animal welfare, or the environment.” This approach requires a degree of food awareness and it counts on consumers being “stable allies.” However, with this route there is the potential for criticism if citizen-consumers feel that nothing is being done.
Overall, the authors note that “there is no reason for defeatist pessimism” when we think of exploring alliances with consumers. Instead, the authors suggest that one of the ways we can create momentum around meat reduction is to “question the gap between the citizen and consumer.” Through their approach, they suggest that consumers can participate in positive change on numerous levels – passive, active, or somewhere in between. The researchers note that meat reducers, in particular, show a great deal of promise in terms of creating change.