A pan-European study carried out in 2020 across 27 European countries provides insights into the beliefs and attitudes of 27,000 citizens to sustainable eating and who they feel should be responsible for making our food system more sustainable. Whist eating more fruit and veg and following a more varied balanced diet were top of the list for sustainable eating, the message to ‘Eat meat less often’ was clearly not a popular one. This was particularly true with Eastern and Southern European citizens, who ranked this 12th out of 15 options. When it comes to who European citizens feel are the most influential actors for improving our food system, the responsibility was placed with manufacturers, retailers, farmers and national government.
The survey was undertaken face to face in person or via internet to accommodate for COVID restrictions. A total of 27,237 European citizens were interviewed about their beliefs of what a more sustainable diet comprises of and which actors they felt should take responsibility.
Assessing consumers beliefs about what a sustainable diet means: citizens were provided with 15 options to pick from – see figure 1.
Assessing which actors consumers believe have a critical role to play in sustainable food systems: citizens were provided with 12 options to select from – see figure 2.
Consumers could select as many options as they wished.
Results were presented separately for Northwest and Southern and Eastern European countries.
Assessing consumers beliefs about what a sustainable diet means – figure 1
Eating a variety of different foods, having a balanced diet & eating more fruits and vegetables were by far the most commonly associated aspects of sustainable eating.
Eating meat less often was not top of mind for European citizens. For Northwestern Europe, this was the 7th most commonly selected of 15 options, whilst in the Southern and Eastern European countries it right at the bottom - 12th.
Sustainable eating was also more associated with avoiding waste, eating seasonally and without pesticides/organic and cooking more from scratch.
Southern and Eastern Europeans, also prioritised reducing HFSS foods, consuming more fish, less calories and more wholegrains over reducing meat intakes.
Assessing which actors consumers feel have a critical role to play in sustainable food systems – figure 2.
Food manufacturers and producers (farmers and fisheries) were selected as the key actors that can help improve the food system to become more sustainable. Out of a choice of 12 actors, consumers also placed national governments and shops and retail in the top 5 influencers.
Interesting, individual citizens were ranked highly influential for improving the food system also – ranked within the top 5: 3rd for Northwestern and 5th for Eastern and Southern Europeans.
Northwest European countries: Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, and Austria
East & South European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Republic of Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Spain and Portugal
de Boer J & Aiking H. Do EU consumers think about meat reduction when considering to eat a healthy, sustainable diet and to have a role in food system change? Appetite 2022;170: 105880. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105880