Sumary of I tried an app to reduce my family’s meat consumption and it worked:
- I wouldn’t say we are massive meat-eaters – especially since cookbooks by the Guardian’s own Anna Jones and Meera Sodha entered our lives.
- But a packet of minced beef, a few chicken thighs and some sausages or bacon often make it into our supermarket trolley, because, frankly, they’re things everyone in our family will eat.Also, having been raised an omnivore, my default recipes when feeling tired or uninspired are still chilli con carne, spaghetti bolognese, or something that involves chunks of chicken.I am not alone: according to an annual survey of UK dietary trends by finder.com, 14% of British adults are now vegetarian, and a further 12% said they intended to become vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian during 2021.
- The idea is to test whether behavioural interventions that have previously proved effective in helping people to lose weight could also help people to reduce the amount of meat they consume, both to benefit their health and that of the planet.Launched in June, it invites participants to log on via their computer each morning and record how much meat they ate the previous day, as well as select a goal for the coming 24 hours from a list of options, such as “try a meat-free alternative”, “double the veg – halve the meat” or “make your lunch and dinner vegetarian”.Participants are also asked to take a moment to think through when and how they are going to perform this action, what might make this difficult, and what they could do to overcome these problems.“There’s evidence that people tend to lose track of how much meat they consume, and also underestimate it.
- So prompting individuals to monitor their meat consumption has also been shown to be quite effective to help people reduce their intake,” said Dr Cristina Stewart, a nutritionist and health behaviour researcher at Leap, who helped to design the programme.People’s existing eating habits can be another barrier, even if they strongly intend to reduce their intake: “One way to overcome that intention-behaviour gap is to try and break up people’s current meat eating habits, and then encourage them to experiment with meat-free alternatives and other strategies, to try and build new eating habits,” said Stewart.“Previous studies have also shown that if people plan how to achieve a specific goal, such as reducing their meat consumption, they’re more effective at bridging that intention-behaviour gap when they’re faced with an obstacle.”Finally, because people often underestimate the impact of their meat consumption on their health and the environment, at the end of each week they receive feedback, in the form of a colourful page of graphics informing them just how many fewer kilograms of greenhouse gases they would produce each year, and by what percentage their risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease would decrease, if the average person continued this pattern of meat consumption.Having previously tried keeping a food diary to lose weight, I was dubious about the potential time commitment associated with logging my daily meat intake.
- I quickly became aware of the snacky nature of my meat and fish consumption – a blob of tuna mayonnaise here, a scattering of leftover chicken pieces there – and just how quickly it adds up.Previously, I’d felt quite smug about how little meat I ate, but during that first week I discovered that I had consumed an average of 73g of meat or fish a day – equivalent to roughly 1.5 pork sausages or half a tin of tuna.If I continued eating like this for a full year, my meat consumption would be linked to approximately 1,094 kg of greenhouse gases – the same as driving a regular petrol car 2,793 miles, or heating an average UK home for 173 days.
- Achieving that would mean getting the rest of the family on board, including our meat-loving eight-year-old son.