The Significance Of Sensory Appeal For Reduced Meat Consumption
In an effort to influence omnivores to go veg or reduce their meat consumption, many animal advocates strive to communicate messages related to animal suffering, ethics, or health. This study from New Zealand looks instead at how taste might influence consumer behavior. The research was carried out using focus groups to assess how consumers feel about different ways of reducing overall meat consumption, from entomophagy (eating insects) to in-vitro meat, to more holistic “nose to tail” eating.
“Animal derived food goods are the most resource intensive foods available and as such are environmentally problematic,” begins a study into reducing meat consumption through various alternatives. This is something that animal advocates have known for a long time, but now, “many researchers agree on the need for some change in how agricultural production is performed” and that “meat demand from a consumer perspective requires addressing.” Author Corrina Tucker takes “the view shared by a number of others that a reduction in global meat consumption – or generally less reliance on animal based proteins – can provide an important part of the solution to reducing the environmental harms associated with intensive agricultural production.” Guiding the project is the acknowledgement that, based on a wealth of research from “developed nations,” the sensory appeal (or disgust) of meat “has been ranked as one of the most important determinants of meat desirability and of avoidance.”
This research was carried using focus groups. The people involved were shown a series of pictures representing different food practices – from factory farming, low-intensity farming, genetic modification, in-vitro meat, nose to tail eating, insect eating, to reducing meat consumption. The subjects were asked first to discuss their feelings towards the practices on a personal level, and then “as a general practice that could be adopted or continued (depending on what was referred to) across New Zealand, as a way to help address meat over-consumption (or assist in meat reduction).” The findings show a range of different opinions: across gender lines, men were more favourable towards in-vitro meat and insect eating, while women were more concerned with food safety; across age lines, older participants gravitated to old school practices like “nose to tail” eating while they shunned in-vitro meat; wealthy households were not interested in “nose to tail” while low income households were least positive towards lab meat; people living in cities were more interested in lab meat and eating bugs, while people living in rural areas were more interested in holistic eating.
Overall, the study found that “regular meat eaters were the most negative about nose-to-tail eating and in vitro meat, but the most positive about reducing meat consumption,” and that “the environmentally positive aspects of food are not anywhere near motivation enough to persuade consumers to shift away from ecologically unsustainable meat-centric diets. Neither was ethical or animal welfare factors significant motivators to change meat-centric consumption practices.” What this means for animal advocates is that, according to this research, “emphasising the health benefits of a meat-reduced and plant-heavier diet, through education and information dissemination in the first instance, appear as the more obvious route to take.” In addition, reading between the lines, the broader message is that there is absolutely no “one size fits all” approach to successfully advocating reduced meat consumption. Since eating is such a deeply personal and cultural act, the approaches used to get people to change their eating practices need to be varied and appropriate to the audience.
Reducing meat (over-)consumption as a way to help address environmental deterioration will require a range of strategies, and any such strategies will benefit from understanding how individuals might respond to various meat consumption practices. To investigate how New Zealanders perceive such a range of practices, in this instance in vitro meat, eating nose-to-tail, entomophagy and reducing meat consumption, focus groups involving a total of 69 participants were held around the country. While it is the damaging environmental implications of intensive farming practices and the projected continuation of increasing global consumer demand for meat products that has propelled this research, when asked to consider variations on the conventional meat-centric diet common to many New Zealanders, it was the sensory appeal of the areas considered that was deemed most problematic. While an ecological rationale for considering these ‘meat’ alternatives was recognised and considered important by most, transforming this value into action looks far less promising given the recurrent sensory objections to consuming different protein-based foods or of reducing meat consumption. This article considers the responses of focus group participants in relation to each of the dietary practices outlined, and offers suggestions on ways to encourage a more environmentally viable diet.