This year scientists announced ‘The Planetary Health Diet’ that tackles both the poor food eaten by billions of people and seeks to avert global environmental catastrophe. Following this diet requires huge cuts in red meat-eating in western countries and radical changes across the world. 

It has also been impossible to escape Veganuary with intense social media chatter and supermarkets in a rush to launch new Vegan ranges.

Undoubtedly there is a growing cohort of people who have embraced this need for change. Tesco reportedly sold 4 million vegan meals from its Wicked Kitchen range in just 33 weeks beating records and projections.  Whilst Greggs reported difficulty in keeping up with demand for its newly launched vegan sausage roll. The question is will this trend hit the mainstream or will it remain a niche preserve for the most engaged? 

To hit the mainstream significant amount of change is required. The UK current diet is high in saturated fats, sugar and salt. According to the NHS, halving the consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs in our diets will result in a 40% reduction of saturated fats and mean less incidence of obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

We over consume protein, particularly from meat and dairy. In the UK, men aged 19-64 are currently eating an average of 77 grams of red and processed meat per day.  Eating over 70 grams per day increases risk of bowel cancer and excessive consumption of red meat and processed meats has been linked to colorectal cancer. According to the UK government processed meats make up 41% of total daily meat consumption for 4-10 years olds.

If a dietary change can be extended across the wider population the benefits for both the climate and our health could be significant but how can this be achieved?  This is a question that Hubbub has been exploring through a research project with the University of Southampton supported by public polling guided by the Food Standard Agency and roundtable events guided by businesses and behaviour change experts.

This research has revealed that there are six main drivers that can be used to encourage people to shift to a more climate conscious diet. These drivers are:

  1. Health benefits are a key motivator to eating less meat.  A personal or family health scare is often one of the prime drivers to change diets.
  2. People are sensitive to cost and see eating less meat as a way to cut out-goings.
  3. Family and friends’ views on eating less meat can help to trigger and sustain changes – and can also create barriers.
  4. Media messaging influences awareness of meat alternatives and ethical concerns.
  5. Awareness & exposure to alternatives helps people to switch meat for plant-based proteins, and making it easy for people to access meat-free meals sustains change.
  6. Key moments of change in people’s lives such as leaving home, moving area or new relationships trigger dietary changes and reflecting on these helps people to adopt new choices when approaching change.

There is no doubt that there has never been so much debate about the impact that our diet has on climate change.  What is now needed is a concerted effort to take this trend into the mainstream benefitting both the environment and our health. The research from Hubbub has identified some of the drivers that can help make this transition and it will be interesting to see if media, retailers and health professionals use this knowledge to truly make 2019 the year that climate conscious diets become a reality.