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Why Doesn't Anyone Care That Eating Less Meat Benefits the Environment?

Despite significant scientific evidence to the contrary, people don’t think that giving up meat is an effective way to solve our environmental problems.

Annick de Witt and her colleagues at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands just published a study that examines how we can transition to a low-carbon society and mitigate climate change—all by eating less meat. The study looks specifically at motivation and comes to this conclusion: Consumers in the Netherlands and the US really don't get it. Despite significant scientific evidence to the contrary, people don't think that giving up meat is an effective way to solve our environmental problems. Talk about a shocker!


In the study, over 1,000 participants—roughly half from the Netherlands and half from the US—were asked to evaluate various options to lessen climate change. Some of the options were food-related—eating less meat, buying local food, eating organic—and others were energy-related. The bottom line is this: Only 12 percent of the Dutch people sampled and a measly 6 percent of the Americans recognized the ameliorative impact of eating less meat on the environment.

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The researchers point out that eating less meat is, in fact, "outstanding" in its effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another recent study with a similar focus showed, in de Witt's words, "a global transition toward low-meat diets could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050."

So why don't people know this? Why aren't people getting the message that eating less meat would benefit the environment?

Why do people still eat meat

Photo via Flickr user wallyg

In an opinion piece published in Scientific American, de Witt says we need to take a new approach in educating the public. Although committed environmentalists are willing to learn from a "pointing the finger approach," others aren't.

Sure, those really committed to a green world are motivated by "creating guilt, shame, and stigmatization among committed carnivores, and activating psychological mechanisms of denial and downplay," she says. But the rest of the population is not so taken with being reprimanded about their meat-eating in an aggressive way.lingness to commit


De Witt writes, "We seem to be in dire need of an inspiring and empowering narrative about climate change and the impact of our diets." If the general population learns that less meat eating leads to "better health, weight control, creativity in the kitchen, and animal welfare" in addition to all the environmental benefits, maybe they'll buy into the program.

DeWitt states this doesn't mean we all have to give up eating meat entirely and explained to MUNCHIES that she herself "do[es] eat meat, though very infrequently, and only organic." Basically, it comes down to the willingness to commit to a flexitarian approach.

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One of the more intriguing points DeWitt brought up when we talked was just how liberating it can be to not center your meals around meat.

"Because we are not creating our meals around meat anymore we start experimenting, discover new vegetables and ingredients, and generally become more creative in our cooking. In other words, it is fun and can lead to many surprising, colorful, and delicious results. Let's start showcasing that, so people can become excited."

Nowadays, de Witt says, "People pay more attention to the origins of their food, value their connection with nature, and generally show more concern for their health and well-being, including food habits and body awareness… We have the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, working in favor of us."

A shitload of cows, and the environment, will thank you.