As time goes on and the human population rises, the need to feed more and more mouths creates more pressure on the environment. The issue with generating “enough” protein to feed so many people is something we have heard being discussed. Experts often refer to this as “the protein gap.” And it’s especially problematic because producing animal proteins requires a lot of resources. In contrast, producing plant proteins requires much less input.
Unfortunately, consumer demand for meat remains relatively high in developed countries. And an emerging middle class in developing countries is demanding more and more meat as their income rises. The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization “predicts that global demand for meat will increase by 73% from 2010 levels in the next 40 years.” The situation is a dire one.
Decreasing meat consumption is likely one of the only viable ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the meat industry. Making people aware of the impacts of food choices is an important step—and a major hurdle—in addressing the problem. This recent study from New Zealand aims to find out if information that’s targeted at people’s values can “influence concern about the climate impacts of eating meat, people’s attitudes towards eating meat and people’s intentions to reduce meat consumption.” The researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 people. They wanted to examine “the effect of climate change communication on key outcome variables.”
The researchers found that human values are a huge factor when it comes to making “sustainable food choices.” Relative to no provision of information about the climate impacts of meat, the provision of such information to survey takers “was associated with higher levels of concern about these climate impacts and lower intentions to eat meat.” But, the researchers also found that ”the information did not affect attitudes towards meat consumption.” This was not what they expected.
The researchers explain the findings by noting that people can have a favorable attitude toward eating meat despite an intention to eat less of it. They note that since meat eating is so integral to self-identity, trying to influence people can be seen as a personal attack. Changing ingrained habits and values like meat-eating takes time and effort. And “providing a single message may not be enough to sway attitudes associated with meat consumption.”
For animal advocates, the study suggests that pre-existing values have a role to play in how people respond to advocacy. If we want to get people from point A to point B, we need to know what point A is. More specifically, people’s concern for the environment can be heightened by the provision of information. But the effectiveness of this depends on pre-existing values. This means that message framing is of the utmost importance when creating messages to appeal to a variety of people. A single strategy may not be effective for everyone.