LLike many families, we have discussed the environmental and animal welfare impacts of the meat we eat and have resolved that we should do better. I wouldn’t say we’re big carnivores, especially since the Guardian’s Anna Jones and Meera Sodha cookbooks entered our lives. But a packet of ground beef, some chicken thighs, and some hot dogs or bacon often make it into our grocery cart because, frankly, they’re things everyone in our family will eat.
Also, having been raised as an omnivore, my default recipes when I’m feeling tired or uninspired are still chilli con carne, spaghetti bolognese, or something that involves chunks of chicken.
I am not alone: according to a annual survey of UK dietary trends according to finder.com, 14% of British adults are now vegetarians, and another 12% said they intended to become vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian during 2021. However, of those who took one Similar resolution in early 2020, only 9% managed to maintain their new diet.
So could an app based on psychological principles similar to those employed by weight loss apps like Noom reinforce our resolve?
The Optimize meat tracker (which stands for Online Program to Address Individual Meat Intake Through Self-Regulation) is a nine-week program designed by researchers from the Livestock, Environment and People (Leap) initiative at the University of Oxford. The idea is to test whether behavioral interventions that have previously been shown to be effective in helping people lose weight could also help people reduce the amount of meat they eat, both to benefit their health and that of the planet.
Launched in June, it invites participants to log in via their computer each morning and record the amount of meat they ate the day before, as well as to select a goal for the next 24 hours from a list of options, such as “try a meat-free alternative ”,“ double the veggies – halve the meat ”or“ make your lunch and dinner vegetarian ”.
Participants are also asked to take a moment to think about when and how they are going to take this action, what might make this difficult, and what they could do to overcome these problems.
“There is evidence that people tend to lose sight of the amount of meat they eat and also underestimate it. Therefore, prompting people to monitor their meat consumption has also been shown to be quite effective in helping people reduce their consumption, ”said Dr. Cristina Stewart, nutritionist and health behavior researcher at Leap, who helped to design the program.
People’s existing eating habits can be another barrier, even if they have the firm intention of reducing their intake: “One way to bridge that gap between intention and behavior is to try to break people’s current meat eating habits and then encourage them to experiment with meat. free alternatives and other strategies, to try to develop new eating habits, “said Stewart.
“Previous studies have also shown that if people plan how to achieve a specific goal, such as reducing meat consumption, they are more effective in closing the intention-behavior gap when faced with an obstacle.”
Finally, because people often underestimate the impact of their meat consumption on their health and the environment, at the end of each week they receive feedback, in the form of a colorful page of graphs that tells them how many fewer kilograms of gas from greenhouse effect would consume. produce each year, and by what percentage your risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease would decrease if the average person continued this pattern of meat consumption.
Having previously tried keeping a food diary to lose weight, I had doubts about the possible time commitment associated with recording my daily meat intake. However, Optimize only asks participants to record the number of servings of red meat, poultry, fish or shellfish they consumed, which I soon found takes no more than a minute. I quickly realized the rabid nature of my meat and fish consumption: a drop of tuna mayonnaise here, a leftover piece of chicken there, and how quickly it builds up.
Previously, I was quite satisfied with the little meat I ate, but during that first week I found that I had consumed an average of 73g of meat or fish per day, which is roughly equivalent to 1.5 pork sausages or half a can of tuna .
If I continued to eat like this for a full year, my meat intake would be tied to roughly 1,094kg of greenhouse gases, the same as driving a regular gasoline car 2,793 miles or heating an average UK home for 173 days. I also learned that throughout the year, my level of meat consumption would require as much water as 2,351 showers and would require the use of land equivalent to a tennis court.
My salvation was that I did not consume red meat (mainly like chicken, fish and shellfish), which means that the impact on my personal health was minimal. And yes, I know that industrial chicken production is cruel, and some farms have negative environmental consequences, but I try to buy free-range and wild-caught whenever possible, and no, I’m definitely not perfect.
Still, I resolved to do better and set an initial goal of reducing my weekly meat intake by 50% for the next month. Accomplishing that would mean having the rest of the family on board, including our meat-loving eight-year-old son. So we sat down with the kids and asked what they thought of the idea of giving up meat.
Surprisingly, they were up to the challenge: they too were concerned about the impact of meat consumption on the environment and cruelty to animals, but they felt conflicted because they really enjoyed the taste of meat. As a starting point, we agreed that we would allow ourselves one meat day a week (although that meat would have to be ethically sourced), and we could still consume some fish or shellfish during the week.
We’d try this for a month or two, and if it worked out, and we could find some new veggie recipes that weren’t too lemony, too much sumac, or too spicy for kids to like, we might consider cutting down on our meat and fish consumption still more.
Powered by the app, I visited my local co-op and tried some meatless burgers with the kids, who rated them as tasty as beef burgers – high praise, given that one of our son’s favorite foods is a cheeseburger. Emboldened, I ordered a copy of David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Little green kitchen family cookbook, she handed it out to the children and asked them to choose three new vegetarian recipes to try.
Having noticed in my food journal that I often consumed leftover meat or tuna to prevent them from going to waste, I became more conscious of portion sizes when cooking meat or fish so there were no leftovers left.
During our food shops, I deliberately avoided putting out any of the sausage or wafer-thin chicken that I used to rely on for quick school takeout lunches or kid’s dinners, instead stocking up on Quorn, mozzarella, and hummus. Not having these meaty staples in the fridge made a big difference and forced me to get more creative with the kids’ lunch boxes: rice ball onigiri, hard-boiled eggs, pitta hummus, and toasted avocado sandwiches and mozzarella are now weekly lunches. the kids are really looking forward to it. They are also healthier than what we gave them before.
Feedback provided by the Optimize app was also encouraging. During weeks two and three, I cut my personal meat consumption by 40g a day on average, which is more than half. If I continued like this for a full year, I’d get the equivalent of greenhouse gas savings as driving my car 1,696 fewer miles and save as much water as 1,371 showers – more than it would take in about four years.
And I will continue to do so. Because I have learned that reducing the amount of meat that I eat is not that difficult. And indeed, the more I explore meatless alternatives and the more my repertoire of delicious vegetarian recipes grows, the easier it becomes for all of us. But breaking old habits and being pushed to try something new is a crucial first step.
Day 1: 1 serving (89 g) of non-breaded chicken (jerk chicken breast); 1 serving (72g) of canned tuna
Day 2: 1 serving (72 g) of canned tuna; 1 serving (129 g) of non-breaded oily fish (salmon fillet)
Day 3: 0.5 servings (36 g) of canned tuna
Day 4: 1 serving of mixed dish low in meat (<25%) (chicken and vegetable curry)
Day 5: no meat or fish
Day 6: 2 servings (118 g total) small shellfish (moules mariniere)
Day 7: Without meat
Typical week in the Optimize program
Day 1: Without meat
Day 2: 1 serving (58g) of small seafood (orzo with prawns and feta cheese)
Day 3: Without meat
Day 4: Without meat
Day 5: Without meat
Day 6: 1 serving of moderate fish (25-40%) mixed dish (fish and vegetable curry)
Day 7: 1 serving (127 g) of roast pork
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism