For many people, January is a timely moment to change their routine. Perhaps you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people – among them many MPs – to sign up for Veganuary. Although we are not advocating for everyone to become completely vegan, we made the case in our first blog post back in September that reducing ruminant meat and dairy consumption is critical to stay within the boundaries needed to maintain an Earth fit for habitation.
Indeed, just a few days ago, the Committee on Climate Change reiterated the necessity of reducing beef, lamb and dairy consumption by at least 20% per person in the UK in order to meet the 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. This is a fairly modest reduction for most people – and much less ambitious than the EAT-Lancet Commission’s call for a 50% reduction in the same time-frame to ensure a sustainable and healthy food system for 10 billion people.
In our second and third blog posts, we explored the historical precedent for widespread diet shift (it’s happened frequently), and considered what light the behavioural sciences could shine on the issues of public consent for government intervention. After all – none of us like to be told what we should and shouldn’t eat. But we also pointed out that people are often accepting of change in hindsight (once the benefits have become obvious), and we suggested several ways in which governments can create food policy that is both effective and has public support.
So, what would these changes to diets and policy look like? In our new report, A Menu for Change, we provide 12 strategies for government, industry and civil society to encourage sustainable diets. Central to all of these strategies, is a recognition that widespread diet change needs to be genuinely appealing to consumers, perceived as normal, and easy to adopt.
- Develop supermarket environmental performance ratings to nudge consumers towards sustainable retailers, leveraging the competition between retailers to drive higher environmental standards across the sector. We believe this is likely to be a more effective solution than individual product labels, ‘de-shrouding’ the market and simplifying the choice for consumers (which supermarket performs better?) and effectively leveraging market competition.
- Lead by example by removing or reducing unsustainable foods from public canteens in hospitals, schools and government offices, etc. and using these locations to innovate sustainable nudges.
- Build a mandate by raising awareness about the environmental issues of food, and develop practical cooking skills for plant-based dishes through school and technical college curriculums.
- Incentivise product innovation and reformulation, for example by exploring the impact of a supplier-facing carbon tax on foods with the highest environmental footprint.
- Make plant-based food more available and more prominent in supermarkets, on menus and in canteens. Studies show that simply increasing the relative availability of plant-based options can lead to dramatic increases in the number of eaters choosing them.
- Make plant-based food the default choice, for example at catered events or on flights.
- Market plant-based food as delicious, normal, and satisfying, avoiding terms like ‘meat free’ which only exacerbate perceptions that plant-based food is lacking.
- Use novel in-store promotions such as meal deals and retailers’ existing loyalty card schemes to create behaviourally-informed games and social platforms that support healthy and sustainable eating.
- Rebrand plant-based food towards a mainstream identity, including a ‘masculinity makeover’ to address any perceptions of femininity and weakness which currently exist.
- Test placing plant-based options, such as veggie burgers and soy milk, side-by-side with their meat counterparts, rather than separating them on menus, in supermarket aisles and in canteens. Some research shows that segregating these options significantly reduces the number of people ordering them.
- Prompt easy substitutions to more sustainable products during check-out on online grocery stores.
Civil society should:
- Target campaigns at key timely moments when habits are disrupted or not yet set, such as when starting university (when we are often grocery shopping and cooking for the first time), moving home, or buying a new kitchen or cookware.
- Campaign with pride, positivity, and pragmatism rather than guilt, blame or idealism. The latter tend to distance the audience from the message.
- Leverage social influence by widely publicising the shifting trend towards plant-based food. We are greatly influenced by what we perceive to be normal, so we should communicate the good news that more and more diners are going veggie.
- Reduce the complexity of sustainable eating by promoting clear rules of thumb, such as “red meat’s a treat”. Though the science is nuanced, encouraging sustainable choices, at scale, requires simple, easy to follow rules.
We hope this blog series on sustainable diets has whetted your appetite! Our full report is now available here.