Nudging meat off the menu

How do you convince people to break the habit of a lifetime?

how to get people to stop eating meat

To keep global heating below 2°C, the world's appetite for meat must change.


This will mean reducing meat consumption in most developed countries and limiting the increase in developing countries. But how do you convince people to break the habit of a lifetime?

Our recent paper, published in the journal Appetite, looked at how “nudging" might help. This is an approach from behavioural psychology that aims to subtly change a person's behaviour. In the same way a gentle nudge on the shoulder might alert you to something nearby, subliminal nudges in advertising or on signs help to affect the subconscious choices people make. To change a person's diet, nudges could help them choose meat substitutes over the real thing.

It's possible for people to still enjoy the taste of meat with alternatives – varieties of insects are high in protein, and their environmental impact is minimal. About 2 billion people already eat insects as part of their daily diet. But given that many people associate insects with dirt and disease, it's not guaranteed that bugs will make the cut as a major source of protein in the future.

But plant-based meat substitutes are surging in popularity in many developed countries. There is now a range of plant-based products that attempt to mimic the texture and taste of a variety of meats using ingredients such as soy or peas. The market share of these products has grown significantly in recent years – and the market is projected to expand by 28% per year until 2030. Our recent study found that people who regularly work out and opt for high-protein diets are particularly interested in alternative sources that can deliver the same benefits as meat.

Despite this growth in plant-based substitutes, meat consumption is still predicted to rise around the world. So alternatives are not enough – behaviour has to change.

will insects replace larger animal-based proteins

The face of protein in the 21st century?

Nudge, nudge

Nudging people away from meat could include changing the layout of places where food is bought or eaten, or designing menus so that vegetarian options are given equal or greater prominence than meat dishes.

But the complexity of food choice means that these may not be as effective outside experiments. In the real world, what people choose to eat is driven by a whole host of factors including the smell or texture of food and cultural norms.

Nudges tend to work by targeting unconscious thoughts and behaviours. Many of our food choices tend to rely on this, through habit or convenience. You're more likely to pick the option you've tried before and enjoyed, or that you know is easy to prepare, without carefully thinking about it. People remain reluctant to buy food that their partners or children may reject. So attitudes to meat and plant-based substitutes still need addressing to alter eating behaviour.

One area that shows particular promise is targeting people at specific stages in their lives. We found that older people would still want to eat foods which they had eaten as children. If children are given access to more plant-based proteins – and educated on their benefits for health and the environment – they might remain a valued component of their diet throughout their lives.

There are reasons to be optimistic that the dietary changes needed to limit global heating are achievable. Attitudes towards meat consumption are already changing, and there are plenty of options to try and encourage more people to pursue a diet that's better for them and the planet.The Conversation

David McBey, Project Co-ordinator and Sociologist, University of Aberdeen and Alex Johnstone, Personal Chair in Nutrition, The Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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