Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is a key factor in biodiversity loss, freshwater use and pollution.
Since meat is considered more for the production of resources than plant-based foods, the pressure is increasing to reduce its consumption in the western world.
However, not all consumers are subject to pressure. In Sweden, a 2020 national survey suggested that about 75% of consumers were not planning to reduce their meat intake next year.
Why do some meat eaters resist moving towards less meat? And what can be done to encourage the adoption of meat substitutes? Researchers in Sweden are investigating.
“There is currently an effort at the government level in Sweden to encourage more sustainable food consumption in the country, and one area of focus is on training or empowering knowledgeable consumers to make sustainable food choices,” he said. Explained Dr. Elizabeth Hörlin from the RISE Research Institutes of the Swedish Department of Bioeconomics and Health.
“Beenshte proved that a key part of eating more consistently is reducing meat consumption. Given that barriers to reducing meat consumption among Swedish consumers have not been fully explored, we were interested in investigating these. “
Uncertainty: ‘What is best for the environment?’
The researchers recruited 33 participants to participate in the study. Divided into focus groups based on the stage of change and current levels of meat consumption, participants discussed a range of topics related to meat consumption and meat substitutes — which are considered potential plant-based substitutes.
Four themes were discovered. The first, the reservation, suggested that among participants eating meat, there was a general sense of uncertainty about some aspects of reducing meat consumption and the adoption of meat substitutes.
Some, for example, raised concerns about the ‘possible unexpected consequences’ of refusing to eat meat on a larger scale. What would happen to the animals currently living on the farms?
“It’s really hard to see the whole picture of what you’re doing, I think. It’s always hard to get a full picture as a consumer. Even with new products that are not so well established in the market,” It was an answer. “So you can really understand the choices you are making – is this good for the environment in the end?”
Others expressed uncertainty about the quality, taste and structure of meat substitutes: “You always know what you get when you eat meat, you know how it tastes and more than anything else, you know you are investing in something you know.
“A little less safe, if you buy a vegetarian pie you end up throwing it 80% because you do not like it.”
Skepticism, health and identity
At least ‘some degree’ of skepticism about cutting down on meat and embracing meat substitutes was noted in a number of discussions. Arguments included that meat is ‘natural to humans’ and that meat substitutes were not as safe to eat as meat.
“We are also animals, we are made to eat meat and vegetables and other things. We should not just have one or the other. We are destined for it,” Said a participant.
Regarding meat substitutes, one participant replied: “Even with many soy products, they have not been fully researched, how they affect the body and things in the long run, because we are not used to eating so much of it. Gradually, it will be seen that this, that reduction of meat, was wrong. “
From a health standpoint, many participants perceived that the nutritional content of processed products was generally poor. Regarding plant-based meat substitutes specifically, some expressed concerns about getting the right nutrition from vegetarian foods.
According to the study, products that were perceived to contain many strange or unknown ingredients, as well as that looked “processed” or “artificial”, were seen as unhealthy or poor quality options.
“It’s difficult because it feels like they’ve put a lot of other things into it [products] that are similar to meat that I think you do not really need, but need for consistency and preservation and that is a shame, I think, ” Noted a respondent. “Because there are so many other bad things in them, you think ‘this is better for the environment, but is it really better for your body?’ “
Identity, including cultural associations with meat consumption, was also perceived as an obstacle to a reduction in meat consumption.
“The impact of cultural norms on what is perceived as ‘proper’ food was discussed and that this may make it more difficult to reduce meat as meat is still common in most people’s diets,” he said. Researchers noticed.
For example, some participants noticed that it was difficult to replace some meat-based elements of the traditional Swedish Christmas meal, such as Christmas bacon.
How can food analogues be encouraged?
Could it be that plant-based products that best achieve meat mimicry are the answer to conventional meat reduction? Not necessarily. In fact, meat mimicry was perceived as “strange” or “dishonest” by some participants — both meat-eaters and non-meat eaters.
There does not appear to be a product suitable for everyone for meat substitute products, Dr Hörlin told FoodNavigator. “Some people prefer meat simulators and others prefer products that do not look much like meat.”
Researchers suspect that the variety of products and the plethora of suggested recipes is an important role that manufacturers can play.
“Furthermore, making an effort to inform consumers about the environmental impact of the products they are buying, perhaps through labeling on the packaging and offering products in different packaging sizes, can also be beneficial,” She went on to add: “With smaller product sizes, consumers can worry less about food waste if they do not enjoy a product they are trying out for the first time.”
FoodNavigator also asked Dr Hörlin if policymakers need to do more to reduce meat consumption.
“There is evidence from previous studies that campaigns that encourage small reductions in meat consumption may lead to subsequent reductions in the longer term,” Dr. Hörlin explained.
“Such campaigns can avoid the consumer trap of confusing meat reduction and outright rejection. Government support or approval for such grassroots campaigns will increase their audience and inspire change among more individuals.”
“Identifying barriers to reduce meat consumption and increasing the acceptance of meat substitutes among Swedish consumers”
Published online 10 August 2021
Authors: Elizabeth Collier, Lisa-Maria Oberrauter, Anne Normann, Cecilia Norman, Marlene Svensson, Jun Niimi and Penny Bergman.