Foodies Unite

When it comes to sustainable diets, peer pressure can make a difference

If you love talking about food as much as we do, this should be easy.

Health officials assure that COVID-19 is not transmittable through food.

Let us make a simple suggestion. Next time you are at a restaurant with friends arguing over which shared appetizer to order, consider this: How big a role does climate change play in your dining decisions?

If you are like the majority of Americans, scientists say, the answer is probably "little to none."

If keto-friendliness is a hotter subject of debate than the miles your food flew to get to your plate, new research reveals why it may be time to switch it up.

Seven in ten Americans "rarely" or "never" talk with their friends or family about how foods and products affect the environment. But talking about it with those same people would make a serious difference to how they choose their food.

That's the upshot of a new report released Thursday by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Yale researchers surveyed about 1,000 people in the United States, with participants ranging across different regions, generations, racial and ethnic groups, and education and income levels.

The data reveal some startling trends — and potential points of action. Here's what they found:

  • 70 percent: Do not talk about the climate impact of the food they eat — or if they do mention it, they do so rarely.
  • 94 percent: Are willing to eat more fruits and vegetables — in other words, they may be open to more sustainable options.
  • 54 percent: Are keen to cut down on red meat — one of the least sustainable food choices.
  • 91 percent: Are "moderately" concerned about health.
  • 67 percent: Are open to plant-based foods — fruit, vegetables, and dairy alternatives — but only if they taste better than their animal-based alternatives.
  • 63 percent: Would up their intake of plant-based food — but only if they cost less than meat.
  • 30 percent: Hear information about how food affects global warming at least once a month.
  • 50+ percent: Want to hear more information about food's environmental impact.
  • 50 percent: Would eat more plant-based foods if their friends and family did, too.
  • 13 percent: Would eat more plant-based foods if celebrities did, too.

The findings point to several easy solutions that could spur Americans to eat more sustainable diets. Because more than half of people surveyed said just having more information about how food affects the environment would push them to eat more plant-based foods, making these facts more accessible may make a real difference. Food labels could be the ideal medium, for example.

Peer pressure could also make a big difference — a far larger one than any celebrity, athlete, or other influencer. So if you are out to dinner with friends and you have made the switch to a more sustainable diet, then just talking about it might sway others, too.

Climate scientists have repeatedly encouraged people to eat more plant-based foods as part of a sustainable diet that benefits both the body and the environment. Growing fruit and vegetable crops generally has a lower environmental impact than raising animals for meat. They have also implored people to waste less food — a massive problem that research this week revealed is even worse than we thought.

What we choose to eat is directly linked to the pace of climate change.

“Food production is among the leading sources of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming,” the study authors write. Food production makes up 30 percent of emissions worldwide, contributing significantly to loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and use of fresh water.

But while people report that more information would push them toward plants, 65 percent of people said they “rarely” or “never” seek that information.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said in a statement that closing the information gap is key.

"Many American consumers are interested in eating a more healthy and climate-friendly diet," Leiserowitz said. "However, many simply don't know yet which products are better or worse — a huge communication opportunity for food producers, distributors and sellers."

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