How information, social norms, and experience with novel meat substitutes can create positive political feedback and demand-side policy change
New publication by Aya Kachi, Maiken Maier, et al. in Food Policy, Volume 117, 2023
The food system causes more than a third of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, of which half are from livestock. Shifting towards plant-based diets could significantly reduce deforestation, protect biodiversity, and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris climate targets. Arguably, large-scale shifts in meat consumption require ambitious policy change. Yet, deep-rooted eating habits, pleasure, cultural status, and personal freedom are just a few of many obstacles to adopt ambitious demand-side policies and reduce meat consumption. Here, we hypothesize that technological innovation in meat substitutes, if effectively combined with social norm and factual informational triggers for behavioral changes, can foster positive political feedback to transform the food system. To test our hypothesis, we conducted survey experiments with citizens (N = 2590) in China and the US – the globally largest meat markets – and analyzed data using different machine learning methods. Our findings show that personal experience with novel plant-based meat substitutes strongly predicts individuals’ intentions to reduce their meat consumption, eat more substitutes, and support public policies to catalyze a transition to more plant-based diets. We also find that in both countries factual and social norm information about the benefits of more plant-based diets can increase citizens’ behavioral change intentions and support for meat reduction policies. Overall, however, social norm information had no significant additional effects on the outcomes compared to the simple factual information treatments. In the US, prior experience with innovative meat substitutes potentially can boost the positive effects of informational campaigns on public support for meat reduction policies. The results offer promising implications for a policy sequencing strategy to create positive political feedback and enable socio-technical tipping dynamics for sustainable food system transformation.