Traditionally, meat has always been the center of the feast. But nowadays, more people are ditching meat for plant-based alternatives, and meat dishes seem to be starting to go out of style! Already in 2017, about 29% of evening meals did not contain meat or fish, according to the UK Market Research.
The most common reason for reducing meat consumption is health. Studies show that eating red and processed meats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer.
The second reason is that animal husbandry is harmful to the environment. The meat industry leads to deforestation, water pollution and emits greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. These environmental impacts also have implications for human health – for example, a warmer climate allows mosquitoes that carry malaria to move around more.
Finally, we will not forget about ethical reasons. Thousands of animals suffer and die so that people have meat on their plates!
But despite the growing trend to avoid meat, scientists continue to urge people to reduce their consumption of meat, as this is a critical step to achieve the goals of protecting the environment and preventing climate change.
How to reduce meat consumption
You might think that convincing people to eat less meat is simple: it would seem that simply providing information about the consequences of eating meat, and people will immediately begin to eat less meat. But studies have shown that there is no evidence that simply providing information about the health or environmental effects of eating meat leads to less meat on people’s plates.
This may be due to the fact that our daily food choices are rarely determined by what could be called the “Einstein brain system” that makes us behave rationally and in accordance with what we know about the pros and cons of this or that. actions. The human brain is not designed to make rational judgments every time we choose what to eat. So when it comes to choosing between a ham or a hummus sandwich, chances are our decision won’t be based on the information we just read in the latest climate change report.
Instead, habitual food choices are more often determined by what might be called the “brain system of Homer Simpson,” a cartoon character known for making impulsive decisions. This system is designed to save brain space by allowing what we see and feel to be a guide to what we eat.
Researchers are seeking to understand how the conditions in which people usually eat or buy food can be changed in a way that reduces meat consumption. These studies are still in their early stages, but there are already some interesting results indicating which techniques might work.
1. Reduce portion sizes
Simply reducing the serving size of meat on your plate is already a great step forward. One study showed that as a result of reducing the portion size of meat dishes in restaurants, each visitor consumed an average of 28 g less meat, and the assessment of dishes and service did not change.
Another study found that adding smaller sausages to supermarket shelves was associated with a 13% reduction in meat purchases. So simply providing smaller portions of meat in supermarkets can also help people reduce their meat intake.
2. Plant Based Menus
How dishes are presented on a restaurant menu also matters. Research has shown that creating an exclusive vegetarian section at the end of the menu actually makes people less likely to try plant-based meals.
Instead, a study conducted in a simulated canteen found that presenting meat options in a separate section and keeping plant-based options on the main menu increased the likelihood that people would prefer the no-meat option.
3. Position the meat out of sight
Studies have shown that placing vegetarian options more prominently on the counter than meat options increases the likelihood that people will choose vegetarian options by 6%.
In the design of the buffet, place options with meat at the end of the aisle. One small study found that such a scheme could reduce people’s meat consumption by 20%. But given the small sample sizes, more research is needed to confirm this conclusion.
4. Help people make an obvious connection
Reminding people how meat is actually produced can also make a big difference in how much meat they consume. Research shows, for example, that seeing a pig roasted upside down increases people’s desire to opt for a plant-based alternative to meat.
5. Develop delicious plant-based alternatives
Finally, it goes without saying that great-tasting vegetarian dishes can compete with meat products! And a recent study found that improving the appearance of meat-free meals on the menu of a simulated university cafeteria doubled the number of people who chose meat-free meals over traditional meat dishes.
Of course, much more research needs to be done to understand how to encourage people to eat less meat, but ultimately making meat-free options more attractive than meat-based options is the key to reducing meat consumption in the long term.