Flexitarianism and Social Marketing: Reflections on Eating Meat in Moderation

Flexitarianism and Social Marketing: Reflections on Eating Meat in Moderation

Hans Dagevos (Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands) and Machiel J. Reinders (Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4757-0.ch007
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Society increasingly expresses concerns about the meat-centred food system, there is an increasing choice of plant-based meat substitutes and a growing amount of food consumers abstain from eating meat for several days per week (i.e., flexitarianism). However, consumers differ in their engagement regarding meat consumption moderation, leading to different transition routes of reducing meat consumption. Social marketing strategies are relevant when it comes to this transition and can be divided along a spectrum from light (“education”) to heavy (“law”). In the middle of this spectrum, nudging may be typified as aiming to unconsciously change behaviour by intervening in the context of consumption. This chapter presents two field experiments showing how these unconscious behavioural interventions could offer opportunities to effectively reduce meat consumption. Despite the promising contributions of these nudging interventions, a sustainable transition towards less meat consumption also requires changes in both prevalent consumers' mind-set and consumer culture.
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Changes in consumer behaviour and food consumption will be needed, with the need to shift the dietary balance to one with a higher proportion of plant foods relative to animal foods. (Mason & Lang, 2017, p. 2-3)


Anticipations Of A Turning Tide?

The arising flexitarianism, availability of meat alternatives and increasing concerns linked to livestock industry’s impact on sustainability, human and animal welfare are manifestations of a turning tide in people’s diets. They are discussed in turn below.

Arising Flexitarianism

What immediately comes to mind when we start reflecting on (a possible) transition in meat consumption, is the advent of the flexitarian. Flexitarianism means meat reduction on a part-time basis, that is, eating meat occasionally without abandoning meat totally – in contrast to vegetarians and vegans. This flexitarianism has been “detected” in recent years and is appointed as food trend of the year 2017, according to, for example, Whole Foods (Hosie, 2016; Whole Foods Market, 2017). At the same time, the topicality of meat reduction is confirmed by the recent launch of the cognate term “reducetarian” (Kateman, 2017).) Although it is unknown how many flexitarians already existed in the second half of the previous century, scholarly attention to meat reduction practices in the last few years provides evidence that flexitarianism constitutes a genuine food consumer segment. As yet, empirical studies from various countries find that a considerable amount of food consumers regularly abstain from eating meat for several days per week (see Dagevos, 2016, pp. 237-238 or Verain et al., 2015, pp. 211-212 for references).

Such results suggest fertile grounds for a growing normalisation of low and no meat consumption patterns. However, prudence is in order because a gradual normalisation of flexitarianism in terms of a socially accepted mind-set and interesting topic for media-attention does not automatically result in a drastic fall in meat demand figures. On a global level, this is certainly not the case. Meat production and consumption are rising and it is expected that this trend will go on for the coming decades. It appears to be almost a “worldwide law” that as soon as people become wealthier, they yearn for consuming more meat. From this perspective, it is surprising that with respect to the meat market in some affluent countries the end phase of the lifecycle of this “meatification of diets” is discussed in terms of “peak meat” (see Dagevos, 2016; Mathijs, 2015; Spiller & Nitzko, 2015).

Current meat consumption figures in the Netherlands are an example of this tendency. In retrospect, and after a slowly but gradually decreasing meat consumption level during the ’10s, we may suggest cautiously that in 2010 peak meat has been reached. After being largely stable during 1990-2010 on a level of more than 40 kg of meat consumed on average per person a year, since 2011 the line of 40 kg has been passed and a yearly decrease of about half a kilogramme has turned into a level of 37.7 kg of meat consumed in 2015.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Foodstyle: Preferred eating lifestyle and habits; it can describe eating choices, such as flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan or meat-rich diet.

Social Marketing: Making the role of marketing beneficial to social goals and better social outcomes.

Paternalism: A system which regulates the behaviour and supplies the needs of those under its control to the extent that they are not in a position to control matters affecting them individually and in relation to other individuals and the system itself.

Peak Meat: Observed and projected long-term decline in meat consumption following an extended period of growth.

Nudging: Interventions which aim at producing positive behavioural change without banning or excluding unfavourable choices.

Nannying: Providing excessive protection and help to the extent that this prevents the person/s from being independent.

Reducetarian: A person reducing their consumption of meat.

Flexitarianism: Reducing or abstaining from eating meat for several days per week.

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