How do you define your meat-consumption practices? Meat-eater? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Or ‘flexitarian’ –abstaining from eating meat at least one-day-a-week, but not eliminating meat from your diet? (1) As a vegetarian, negotiating foodscapes forces me to consider the significance of meat-consumption in a place. A visit to Hong Kong, highlighted the influence of the, overtly promoted, flexitarian campaign ‘Green-Monday’, which encourages behavioural-change – avoiding meat on Mondays. It argues this action will:
“tackle… global food-insecurity by making low-carbon and sustainable living simple… and actionable.” (2)
But, can flexitarianism tackle global food-insecurity? This blog argues Green-Monday’s “green” discourse simplifies and ‘green-washes’ over the complexities of tackling food-insecurity, e.g. cultural valuing of meat affecting consumption. It recognises reducing meat-consumption reduces animal husbandry demands for resources and rerouting these resources to humans, is a means of reducing food-insecurity, in terms of providing adequate food globally. But argues Green-Monday’s promoted flexitarianism doesn’t necessarily result in significant changes that tackle food-insecurity.
Despite reducing ‘food-insecurity’ being an aim, Green-Monday don’t define it. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) (3)
“Food-insecurity exists when people don’t have adequate physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and health life.”
So does reducing meat-consumption reduce food-insecurity?
Green-Monday argue reducing meat-consumption is a more efficient use of resources and a means of tackling food-insecurity (4)
(5) Grain can be fed directly to humans rather than an indirect food source as animal feed. The FAO (6) argue “if grain currently used to feed livestock were reallocated to people, there could be immediate food-security for the foreseeable future.”
Green-Monday’s understanding of food-insecurity focuses on the ‘adequate’ and ‘sufficient’ aspect of food-security. Green-Monday doesn’t address social, economic, nutrition or safety dimensions. As Green-Monday promotes flexitarianism to ensure individuals have sufficient food, this blog will consider the success of achieving this aspect of food-security, before criticising: the limitations of Green-Monday’s campaign discourse and limited understanding of food-insecurity.
Do flexitarian practices in Hong Kong reduce food-insecurity?
According to Green-Monday, flexitarianism is increasing in Hong Kong, from 5% of individuals in 2008 to 23% in 2014 (7).
But an increase in those self-defining as flexitarian, doesn’t mean food-insecurity has reduced. There’s scant academic research on ‘Flexitarianism’ (8) or Hong Kong’s flexitarian foodscape specifically. But in the Netherlands, Dagevos et al (9), proved contradictions are present in the flexitarian foodscape. Despite more people claiming to be flexitarian, in the Netherlands, this hasn’t resulted in an aggregate decrease in national meat-consumption. Therefore, the anticipated impacts from reducing meat-consumption, namely decreased food-insecurity, haven’t necessarily been realised. Although this is a different context, it shows disparities exist in the flexitarian landscape. Just because more Hong Kongers self-define as ‘flexitarian’ doesn’t mean there’s been a reduction in meat-consumption.
Therefore, Green-Monday’s aim of decreased meat-consumption being a method of reducing global food-insecurity is questionable as meat-consumption hasn’t necessarily reduced. Green-Monday’s campaign message that food–insecurity can be tackled through more efficient resource use for food-production hides the disparity in the adoption of ‘flexitarianism’. Especially as flexitarianism encompasses a range of consumption practices. (10) Marketers recognise within “green” marketing there are often disparities between intention and impact, (11) which Davegos et al proved. The marketed behavioural-change, doesn’t necessarily occur and result in the marketed social impacts advertised- i.e. reducing food-insecurity. I was unable to find information on the impacts of Green-Monday’s campaign, beyond the figures of those who are adopting flexitarianism. Making me further question the success of Green-Monday’s campaign in tackling food-insecurity.
What does Green-Monday’s discourse hide?
The “Green-Monday” campaign has an explicit “Green” focus to its ‘food-choice-architecture.’
Food-choice-architecture encompasses all aspects of how a food choice is framed and how this influences food selection. (12)
“Green” and “sustainable” are ‘buzz words’- with subjective definitions. Green-Monday’s food-choice-architecture uses “green” ‘nudges’ to encourage individuals’ towards a certain behaviour, without removing choice. (13) In this case “green”–marketing aims to nudge individuals to reduce their meat-consumption, ‘framing’ it as being ‘green’ and reducing food-insecurity.
But, as shown in the Netherlands, tackling the multi-dimensional nature of food-insecurity is more complex than nudging people towards altering their consumption practices one-day-a -week. The “Green” discourse hides complexities, simplifying the ‘problem’ and ‘solution’ of food-insecurity to the consumer. Janda and Trocchia (14) found flexitarians are more like meat-eaters than vegetarians in their environmental beliefs. Therefore, the message promoted by Green-Monday to abstain from meat-consumption one-day-a-week doesn’t necessarily alter fundamental beliefs or provide an understanding of the complexity of the problem. For example, individuals may believe the weekly change they’re making is sufficient to tackle food-insecurity.
Therefore, other dimensions to tackling food-insecurity must be considered. E.g. Wealth is typically associated with high meat-consumption. (15) Change in cultural value of meat is necessary if reduction in meat-consumption is to result in a decrease in aggregate meat-consumption and tackle global-food-insecurity. An increased demand for meat, in Asian counties over the past 50 years (16) suggests a cultural society-wide shift in meat-consumption is necessary if the flexitarian diet will result in fundamental changes to global food-insecurity. But until the food-choice-architecture provides alternatives that consider other dimensions of food-security, this is challenging. E.g. the beyond-the-meat burger is a vegetarian alternative promoted by Green-Monday, which although reduces meat-consumption, is expensive and has limited availability. It’s physically and financially inaccessible to many, and not a solution to all dimensions of food-insecurity. Is it promoted as a meat-alternative because Green-Monday financially benefit from it’s sale?
- Moderate approaches to reducing meat-consumption aren’t sufficient to establish global-food-security. Tackling food-insecurity is multifactorial and multidisciplinary.
- The greenwashing of Green-Monday’s campaign doesn’t explain these complexities and as such simplifies the complexities of food-insecurity. The marketing of positive outcomes of ‘green’ food choice campaigns shouldn’t be taken at face value. One small behavioural change alone won’t tackle global food-insecurity.
- Achieving food-security isn’t isolated to consumption and adequate food. If we’re to tackle food-insecurity other changes in the landscape must occur as part of this, e.g. cultural valuing of meat. It takes time to shift practices and this must occur at a mass-scale.
- Green-Monday’s food-choice-structure encourages consumers to reduce meat-consumption to tackle food-insecurity. As shown in the Netherlands meat-consumption doesn’t always change. The Green-Monday message should educate Hong Konger’s about broader factors that influence food-security,
- Perhaps the future will require hard-policy-initiatives to enforce this change? E.g. regulatory-policy or market-based-solutions?