We Will Live As We Will Eat

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An analysis of the culture of sustainability and its impact on the food that we eat in the UK in 2025. Just how eco-sensitive and specifically how meat free will the national dinner plate be within the decade to come?
  • 1. We Will Live As We Will Eat Anticipating the future power of sustainability amid our shifting food culture A Futures Project for World Meat Free Day May 2016 — By James Murphy & Martin Thomas
  • 2. 2  We Will Live As We Will Eat CONTENTS Introduction...................................... 3 Executive summary......................... 4 Expert interviews............................. 4 The state of the nation................... 5 The new spectrum of meat sensitivities.............................7 Our eating culture in 2025............. 9 The trends that matter................. 10 An accelerated future....................14 Literature review.............................15 Foreword The issue of the planet’s long-term wellbeing never leaves our news headlines for long. We in the UK and across the Western world are collectively living in ways that are provably unsustainable. As a result, the pressure is rising to encourage individuals and families to adopt more directly the basic principles of sustainability in what they choose to eat and to create an ever more focused debate about better eating options. All parties to World Meat Free Day know that we need to intensify our efforts to communicate the values of sustainable living and specifically to persuade more people to think about the role of meat, both in relation to their own health and that of the planet. And so, welcome to We Will Live As We Will Eat. This is a completely new study, commissioned on behalf of the World Meat Free Day to explore our contemporary food culture in Britain and to anticipate the food culture we might expect (indeed hope) to see in a decade from now. The authors are consultants from Dissident, which specialises in analysing the play of socio-economic trends inside markets and sectors. They were given the freedom to take a fresh, independent look at the whole question of sustainability as a discrete concern in the minds of consumer citizens. To deliver this they conducted a major opinion research study, analysed the available scholarship on the topic and talked to leading experts on sustainable eating. We hope that their analysis and forecasts of future attitudes to food and sustainability in the UK over the next decade make for interesting reading and will help catalyse further debate. Sue Dibb, Coordinator at Eating Better On behalf of World Meat Free Day 2016 This year's World Meat Free Day will take place on 13th June 2016 www.worldmeatfreeday.com Though the views and forecasts contained herein are those of the authors, we would like to acknowledge the support of the following organisations in helping to produce this report: Forum for the Future, Food Ethics Council Carbon Trust Compassion in World Farming Eating Better WWF Newcastle University Woodside Training Deutsches Institut für Lebensmitteltechnik WRAP All research statistics quoted in this report relate to an ICM Unlimited poll (a representative sample of UK adults, 16+) conducted in February 2016, unless otherwise stated. © World Meat Free Day About the authors James Murphy is Dissident’s Head of Insight. He is one of the UK’s most widely respected social trends analyst and forecasters. He was formerly Editorial Director at the Future Foundation (the global consumer trends analysis and forecasting company), where his role was to alert senior clients to imminent shifts in the socio-economic environment and advise them on how to exploit these trends for sustainable corporate advantage. He was co-author of The Big Lie (or interpreting your global customer’s inner life for profit) – which won the EMM Marketing Book of the Year Award in 2014 – and is a regular commentator on business trends in the national media. His other professional roles have included associate director at the Henley Centre for Forecasting and director of analysis for First & 42nd, the management consultancy. Martin Thomas has held senior planning roles with some of the world’s leading marketing services agencies. He is the author of two widely acclaimed business books: Crowdsurfing and Loose. Much of his work in recent years has focused on the disruptive force and strategic application of social media, a subject on which he has become a highly regarded writer and commentator. He is course leader on digital and social media for the Institute of Directors, non-executive director of Commonwealth Games Council for England, a former non-executive director of Sport England, an advisor to the Courtauld and the Future Foundation and a Fellow of the RSA.
  • 3. Introduction Our aim is to deliver a unique study that will be digestible to the general public and the mainstream media, respectful of and supported by expert opinion across the food sector and persuasive enough to jolt manufacturers, distributors, advertisers, policy-makers and indeed individual households towards ever more decisive pro-sustainability actions. We also want to help stimulate such a quality of innovation and entrepreneurship across the food sector that our national eating habits progressively reflect much greater sensitivity to the planet’s wellbeing. Finally, we hope to energise the national conversation around the imperative of a radically altered, sustainability-focused food culture for the UK by 2025. Our approach has combined quantitative and qualitative research, plus a review of the prevailing scholarship about the role of foods and food practices within personal health, life enjoyment and threats to the planet. We have also framed our thinking within the socio-political context for the food/ sustainability agenda over the next few years; a number of themes have to be listed here: • COP21 (the 2015 Paris global climate deal): its emphasis on food security rather than eco-sustainability; • The impact of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals on political agendas and policies: • An emerging clamour (not just in the UK) for new taxes on ‘bad’ food; • Falling global food commodity prices in most sectors; • The resilient incidence of obesity in the UK and the non-emergence of a national strategy to deal with it; • Weak macro-economic prospects in Europe and low real income growth in the UK; • A deepening expert consensus on food policy priorities; • The unabated appetite for cuisine diversity among the UK public; • A possibly emerging assumption that global warming is being brought under control. • A growing understanding (within some quarters) of the impact of intensive livestock grazing on the environment. In shaping this report, we have undertaken a series of in-depth interviews with many of the UK’s leading experts on sustainable eating, including leading NGOs (see page 4). We have also engaged a representative sample of the British public – through an ICM poll of 2,000 UK residents over the age of 16 – to analyse primary perceptions of optimised eating behaviour, eco-priorities, threats to wellbeing (however defined), parenting norms, social opprobriums (the actions of others that are to be deprecated) and the specific cultural positioning of meat. Our forecasts have been framed around a Central Assumption: the most likely condition of food-behaviours and food dynamics in 2025 resulting from already detectable socio-economic and cultural trends (see pages 10-13). We have also offered two variants to this assumption: alternatives robust enough to warrant special strategic thinking and preparation. This report attempts to envision the culture of sustainability and its impact on the food that we eat in the UK in 2025. Just how eco-sensitive, how supportive of personal health and specifically how meat free will the national dinner-plate be within the decade to come? “ ” We hope to energise the national conversation around the imperative of a radically altered, sustainability-focused food culture for the UK by 2025. 3  We Will Live As We Will Eat
  • 4. Executive Summary Public opinion is softening in favour of meatlessness and there is early evidence that generalised (not exclusively vegetarian) anti-meat or meat-moderation instincts and impulses could be entering social mores. However, there is no suggestion yet of a seriously accelerated behavioural change towards increased sustainability in relation to our food choices. Our analysis shows that there is plenty of room for optimism when it comes to the emergence of a more sustainable food culture in the UK. The prevailing socio-economic and cultural trends – plus the results of a recent ICM poll commissioned as part of this project – point in the general direction of reduced meat consumption and falling social approval for meat. A significant proportion of the population will be actively moderating their meat consumption over the next decade and beyond. This is primarily driven by health concerns, though often rationalised in the context of environmental and animal welfare sensitivities. If current levels of pro-sustainability agitation are maintained, then the journey to a more attractive sustainability culture should be smooth, albeit slower than desired by the environmentalist community. There is only a limited sense that environmental sensitivity (damaged by weak income growth) is an acute national concern and is engaging majorities in sustained and well-informed personal activism. Substantial minorities already agree that meat is ‘bad for you’ and claim to recognise the environmental harms stemming from meat production. But eating less meat is yet to become a salient priority for personal action in response to the perceived threat of global warming or the public’s general concern for the planet. In response to many propositions about food, wellbeing and environmentalism, the UK takes a view that is reasonably consistent across the segments (age, class etc.). However, women are plainly more sensitised than men as are, on occasions, young people. London, as we have discovered, is often to be regarded as a different place from much of the rest of the UK; opinions can be quite markedly different there, more open to a more progressive food culture. Generally, the burden of responsibility to take measures, enact change, make the world a healthier, cleaner place is thought by the British public to fall much more emphatically on supermarkets, food celebrities and regulators, than on individuals or households. The core themes that emerged from our discussions with leading experts in food and sustainability were as follows: The need for realism: sustainability may be no more than a ‘second tier’ motivation for consumer citizens. The definition of sustainability can seem unhelpfully vague and elusive. It is not a single issue. The evidence is that eating habits can be changed. And so, what is available in stores etc, is a pivotal issue. The gap between expressed opinion and actual behaviour remains large: consumers may talk eco but not act eco. One should not depend on regulators/ policy makers to provide aggressively pro sustainability leadership. Best wisdom lies in creatively mixing messages: combining planetary welfare with self-interest (price, taste, convenience). The inevitability of a gradualist (but steady) progress towards a meat free culture should be accepted, although the pace of change needs to be accelerated. Not much can be expected of labelling schemes as a general agent of positive change. Expert Interviews Stridently lecturing the consumer citizen is not effective. Only soft and targeted encouragement is likely to work. 4  We Will Live As We Will Eat
  • 5. The headlines from our ICM poll, conducted in February 2016, were as follows: The public remains pessimistic about the environment 56% of UK consumers agree that ‘by 2025, global warming will be as significant a threat to human beings as it is today’. Only 19% agree that ‘by 2025, the air we breathe here in the UK will be cleaner than it is today’. Only 12% agree that ‘by 2025, there will be enough food for the world’s populations: hunger in the poorer parts of Africa will be a thing of the past’. Green instincts are still prominent. There is a strong desire among the public (especially young people) to take personal responsibility for the environment. A majority (54%) of adults agree that ‘I believe that there is more that I personally could do to help protect the environment’, rising to 61% of 16-24s. We also have high expectations of government, food industry and supermarkets 52% of adults (rising to 62% of 16-24 year olds) wish that ‘my supermarket would offer food for my family which has been produced in ways which respect the natural world much more than is currently the case’. Around 50% are now emphatic that food companies should be committed to showing just ‘how much energy it costs to produce their products’. There remains, however, a knowledge gap in relation to sustainable eating practices… Only 32% of people ‘generally/usually know which foods do less damage to the environment by the way they are produced’. … with education (primarily in schools) seen by the public as the primary solution A strong majority (with almost nobody disagreeing) are firm that ‘Children in schools should be taught how they can personally help reduce global warming by their own actions’ and that ‘Children should be taught to know which foods do damage, by the way they are produced, to the environment’. A preference for what has been locally produced – the environmental benefits of which are perhaps not as substantial as people think – has gained traction with the wider public. 68% of adults agree that ‘it is better for the environment if the food we all eat is locally produced and sold’. Meat is becoming less popular among a significant proportion of the population. 40% agree that ‘These days I eat less meat than I used to do’ – rising to 45% of women. 33% are ‘actively choosing to eat less meat’ (39% of women). 28% of 18-24 year olds and 27% of all women agree that ‘by 2025, my diet will probably be mostly meat-free’. An encouraging 37% of males under-24 accept that “eating red meat is bad for you” – compared to only 14% of men between 65-74. We can already detect the shifting sands of public opinion: moderation is becoming mainstream. A majority (52%) of under-35s agree that ‘eating a full English breakfast is bad for you’. A third of adults (32%) believe that ‘by 2025 good parents will generally not give hamburgers or sausages to their children’. The State Of The Nation Meat is becoming less popular among a significant proportion of the population. We can already detect the shifting sands of public opinion. “ ” 33% of adults are 'actively choosing to eat less meat'. 5  We Will Live As We Will Eat
  • 6. The stereotypical link between meat and masculinity appears to be less relevant to younger generations. As Figure 1 highlights, the number of 16-19 year olds agreeing that ‘it is natural for young men to prefer steak to quiche’ is less than a third of the figure for people aged 75 and over. The environmental harms linked to meat production are widely accepted 40% of UK consumers agree that ‘it would be better for the wellbeing of our countryside if adults in Britain were generally to eat less meat’ – rising to 44% among 16-24s. 36% now agree that ‘a meat-free diet or one where we eat less meat is better for the environment’ – rising to 48% of 16-19 year olds and 40% of 16-24s. However, despite claiming to understand the impact of meat production on the environment, it is striking how reduced meat eating is not prominent in the current inventory of eco-actions favoured by consumer-citizens (Figure 2). This response varies little across age groups, social classes and regions. In comparison, one can feel here the relative success over the years of those campaigns relating to water- saving, plastic bags, positive recycling, food miles, etc. The burden of responsibility for protecting the environment is seen to fall on supermarkets and the government, rather than individuals (Figure 3). The State Of The Nation Despite a widespread recognition that meat production has damaging ecological consequences, few people believe that personally eating less meat will make a difference 6  We Will Live As We Will Eat 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 75+65-7455-6445-5435-4425-3416-2416-18 Figure 1: 'It is natural for young men to prefer steak to quiche' (% who agree) 31% 34% 44% 51% 55% 46% 58% 69% Figure 3: Who or what could do more to protect the environment? 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% GovernmentSupermarketsI personally 54% 72% 72% Figure2:'Whichofthefollowingdoyouthinkarethebestactionsthatanindividualsuch asyourselfcantaketohelpreduceglobalwarmingandhelpprotecttheenvironment?' 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% Buy organicEat fewer meat dishes Use less detergent Take fewer flights abroad Buy electric car Buy locally produced food Use eco setting on washing machine /dish washer Turn off tap when brushing teeth Use car less No plastic bagsRecycle 40% 38% 30% 25% 21% 18% 15% 15% 12% 9% Rises to 15% among 16-19s 6%
  • 7. It is clear that in Britain today the consumption of meat is generating new sets of responses and attitudes among the public. It is no longer simply a question of being vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian. To capture the mix of meat- responsive behaviours we have to talk about a widening range of meat-related sensitivities. We have identified a hardcore, meat- hostile tribe, that is defined by virtue of having endorsed (in our opinion research exercise) each statement relating to the perceived negative impacts of meat production and consumption, both to individual wellbeing and the eco-system. Our hardcore tend on balance: e to be female / married (not necessarily with children); e to be spread across the age groups (except the over-65s); e to be predominantly middle-class; e to be spread across the professions / ranks; e to be more common in the South East / London; e to regard meat as both bad for the environment and for people; e to want to know more about the foods they buy at the supermarket and the threats they pose; e to be likely to say that they know what sustainability means. Around this meat-hostile community, other milder (but still significant) attitude clusters or tribes can be detected in the answers we received to our range of questions about meat, wellbeing and the environment. We have observed that many people are already what we might call meat- occasionals, choosing not to eat meat products on a daily or consistent basis. From our research we can also detect a meat-enlightened or meat-moderating group, driven primarily by health concerns but also by a deepening awareness of the perceived threats that meat production and consumption is posing to the world at large. For this tribe, ordering steak is perhaps no longer a politically neutral act; it may indeed seem positively counter-progressive if ordered too frequently, even worthy of a passing ‘tut-tut’ in polite society. Under what conditions can we expect our tribes to grow in size and morph in character over the next decade? In our view, a rise in meat-related sensitivity and active meat-moderation will require continuous, consensual and consistent messages from food experts, NGOs and governments. In addition, such a trend will be influenced directly by: • Stable economic growth and rising incomes: there is a close correlation between environmental sensitivity and levels of personal prosperity; • Ever greater applause from friends and peers for the social heroism they embody, i.e. people declaring that they are 'meat-moderating' will be seen as super-responsible individuals, who by their actions reduce threats both to their personal health (and the costs to healthcare systems) and to the planet’s wellbeing: • An ever-tighter link between a meatless or less-meat attitude and personal appeal and attractiveness. In this way, the moderation of meat consumption (
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