Eating like there's no tomorrow: Public awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eat less meat as part of a sustainable diet.Appetite 2016; 96:487-493A
Reducing meat consumption is central to many of the scientific debates on healthy, sustainable diets because of the high environmental impact of meat production. Missing from these debates are the public perspectives about eating less meat and consideration of cultural and social values associated with meat. The aim of this study was to explore public awareness of the environmental impact of food and their willingness to reduce meat consumption. Twelve focus groups and four individual interviews were conducted with adults from a range of socio-economic groups living in both rural and urban settings in Scotland. Public understanding of the link between food, environment and climate change was explored, with a focus on meat and attitudes towards reducing meat consumption. Data were transcribed and analysed thematically. Three dominant themes emerged: a lack of awareness of the association between meat consumption and climate change, perceptions of personal meat consumption playing a minimal role in the global context of climate change, and resistance to the idea of reducing personal meat consumption. People associated eating meat with pleasure, and described social, personal and cultural values around eating meat. Some people felt they did not need to eat less meat because they had already reduced their consumption or that they only ate small quantities. Scepticism of scientific evidence linking meat and climate change was common. Changing non-food related behaviours was viewed as more acceptable and a greater priority for climate change mitigation. The study highlights the role meat plays in the diet for many people, beyond nutritional needs. If healthy, sustainable dietary habits are to be achieved, cultural, social and personal values around eating meat must be integrated into the development of future dietary recommendations.