The following is an excerpt from From Plant to Planet: Nudge your way towards healthier, more sustainable food habits (2021, Plantier) by Vivienne Alexa Robinson and Poornima Luthra. Please note that this excerpt is from European writers.
Food is an integral part of our existence as humans, not just physically, but socially as well. From memories of a family reunion digging into our grandmother’s curry, to the enjoyment of hosting a dinner party with friends, food brings us together. It may bind us to a culture or a religion, region or community. Food choices are also deeply personal. As you consider embarking on a journey towards plant-based food, you may find that your personal food choices become part of the public conversation. You may be confronted with barriers. Some of these barriers arise from within us, while others are external. We feel that understanding what these barriers are and why they might arise is a key step in helping you along your personal path.
Despite global consumer trends shifting in favour of plant-based diets, despite the rise in the number of plant-based food manufacturers offering us greater and tastier choices, despite the clear call for action by doctors and scientists, a lot of us still struggle to change our food choices.
It’s not easy. In fact, quite the opposite. As we move towards eating more sustainably, one tool at our disposal is trying to understand where the resistance to change comes from. Some cite eating routines, health conceptions, enjoyment of meat, and perceived difficulties in preparing plant-based foods as barriers. These barriers are strongly linked. That is, we may not recognise enough of the differences between them, which can make the barriers seem even more unsurmountable.
So how do we overcome these barriers? We have found that an approach which embraces knowing them, acknowledging them and addressing them is the best way to move forward.
We believe that there are six main barriers to adopting more plant-based meals. Let’s break them down together.
The link between food and culture is deeply entwined. The world over, communities bond over food, and every society prides itself on their unique cuisine. Food is also a great way to get to know and understand a culture, as food is often integrated with traditions and practices. For the Western world, eating turkey at Thanksgiving or a roast pig at Christmas are deeply rooted cultural practices. Switching to plant-based alternatives can seem strange and counterintuitive. In some cultures meat consumption is not just a dietary preference, but also a reflection of status and wealth, and it might seem inconceivable not to serve meat at special occasions like festivals and wedding banquets.
There also appears to be a food generation gap between baby boomers and millennials. The former were raised post World War II, during a period of food scarcity and significant changes to food production. They grew up believing and being told that cow’s milk was the best source of nutrition (in particular, calcium for healthy bones) and that meat was essential for protein and growth. Millennials, on the other hand, are redefining what ‘eating healthy’ means. They favour food that is natural, organic, locally sourced or sustainable, and, it would seem, are the driving generation towards plant-based and plant-forward eating, followed by Gen Z, Gen X and then the Boomers.
Nonetheless, the millennial-led push by students towards more plant-based diets seems to be gaining ground across an increasing number of colleges and universities, who have entirely or partially removed animal products from their cafeteria menus. They include (among others) the University of Cambridge, Oxford University, Goldsmith, University of London, University of California, and a growing list of colleges who are now part of a “Meatless Monday” movement.
Author, Poornima Luthra
Fiona Dyer, a consumer analyst at GlobalData explained: “The shift toward plant-based foods is being driven by millennials, who are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts when making their purchasing decisions.” Health seems to be the motivator for baby boomers, while environmental impact and animal welfare are the motivating factors for millennials and Gen Z consumers. Regardless of reasoning, we are certainly seeing a generation shift. 60% of Gen Zers want to eat more plant-based foods and 79% of them are already eating plant-based 1-2 times a week.
In her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, social psychologist Melanie Joy introduces carnism, the belief system and psychology of meat eating. Carnism, according to Joy, is the driving, dominant force supporting the choice to eat meat in modern culture. Joy believes that the choice to eat meat is strongly influenced by social conditioning. Despite meat-eating tendencies, the majority of people, Joy claims, care deeply about animals and don’t want them to suffer.
In societies where it is hard to find a concrete link between the food they eat and its environmental impact, eating sustainably can seem like an abstract idea to be addressed by future generations, with people believing that their individual actions are too insignificant to make any difference. In highly urbanised cities where agricultural activity is not visible, citizens eat three to five times more meat and eggs than is environmentally sustainable. This mental disconnect, or cognitive dissonance, between the food on our plates and how that food is grown or produced, has many underlying causes including geography, socio-economics and education levels.
There is a subtle but important difference between a plant-based diet and veganism. People following a plant-based diet do not consume animal products, but may still choose to use it in other areas of life such as clothing, accessories and toiletries. Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume or use any animal produce. Often, but not always, this decision is based on views regarding animal welfare and rights. Unfortunately, there are sometimes negative assumptions concerning those who practise veganism and consume vegan diets, and their personal choices are sometimes perceived to be politically motivated or activist in nature. The negative perceptions and stereotypes may be shaped in part by extreme cases in which vegan activists have engaged in violence, threats and disruption towards farmers, journalists, restaurants, supermarkets and other establishments.
Author, Vivienne Alexa Robinson
With more people embracing greener diets, many food manufacturers have capitalised on this growing consumer group by introducing a deluge of “vegan-friendly” foods aimed at making it attractive for consumers to jump on the vegan bandwagon. However, many of these fail to contribute to improved health of our planet or our bodies and are high in sugar and fat, or highly processed, and should really be known as “vegan junk food”. This has led to some skepticism about the true and actual benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets.
We all love a nice hygge (Danish for cozy) meal out with family and friends, enjoying great food and lovely company. When you’re considering incorporating more plant-based options in your meals, choosing where to eat and what to order can seem daunting and can even be a deterrent. After all, no one wants to be met with blank stares from waitstaff or be made to feel like an inconvenient customer.
To read more and learn how to overcome these barriers you can go on to read From Plant to Planet: Nudge your way towards healthier, more sustainable food habits by Vivienne Alexa Robinson and Poornima Luthra.
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