Younger generations are anxious about climate change, reporting that they feel "very" or "extremely" worried about the planet with more than half noting that the concept makes them feel "powerless" or "afraid." And despite almost 54 percent of Millennials adopting "flexitarian" diets to minimize their environmental footprints, new research suggests that more young consumers lack understanding about what exactly a planet-friendly, sustainable diet is.

Researchers from Bournemouth University set out to figure out how much British and European consumers understood about sustainable diets. The research pointed out that current estimate claim that diet contributes to between 20 to 30 percent of the total environmental footprint. Published in Appetitethe research found that participants felt unsure or simply did not know about what makes food sustainable or environmentally friendly. The study interviewed 21 young adults to collect this data.

"When thinking about how to live more sustainably, people seem to understand that this can mean taking fewer flights, using the car less, recycling more, but it seems that not everyone is aware of the difference that changing their diet can make as well," Katherine Appleton, Professor of Psychology at Bournemouth University, who led the study, said.

What Is a Sustainable Diet?

Sustainable diets are defined as "diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations," according to the United Nations. Some considerations about a food's environmental impact may include:

  • Production efficiency
  • Farming practices
  • Employment practices
  • Food waste
  • Ingredient availability
  • Processing
  • Packaging
  • Shipping distance

The study claimed that most participants claimed that they would adopt sustainable food habits, but felt uncertain about how to make the changes. The interview data revealed that participants were more likely to make small changes such as reducing meat consumption but not completely cutting it out.

The researcher emphasizes that the study showed that more education is necessary to persuade consumers to adopt sustainable diets. The research team concluded that considering consumer preference and increasing food accessibility will help curb this lack of understanding.

"We were surprised by our findings. We had originally intended to look at how we can encourage people to eat more foods such as beans and pulses, but we discovered that people still don't know enough about why this is important, so to talk about increasing the consumption of specific foods is getting too far ahead for many," Appleton explained.

"We need to promote greater awareness and knowledge of how changes to eating habits can go some way to helping the planet, while also offering some suggested changes that are likely to be acceptable and acted upon."

Plant-Based Diets Are Planet-Friendly

Even though consumers need more information about sustainable diets, approximately 85 percent of the world is experiencing the effects of climate change directly. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of climate "disaster" ahead of the United Nations' COP climate change conference.

Eating plant-based diets can help curb food-related emissions by 61 percent, and that's largely due to reducing beef and dairy intake. Nearly 40 percent of methane emissions worldwide can be attributed to cattle production. UN researchers announced that the world must cut methane emissions by 33 percent by 2030 to effectively slow down climate change.

In Europe, several countries have reduced their average meat consumption, according to the Good Food Institute Europe. The report found that over 50 percent of consumers in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany have cut their meat consumption. The survey found that over 60 percent of respondents felt that alternatives to animal-based meat and dairy products should be available in stores.

For more planetary happenings, visit The Beet's Environmental News articles. 

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