Eating and Ethics in Europe: Getting to the Meat of Our Consumption Habits
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - Compassion in World Farming
We are always on the lookout for juicy data that explores our relationship with food. So we were fascinated by a recent EU Commission survey that gives great insights into dietary habits around Europe. How much meat do people actually eat? And how willing are they to eat less but better meat? We crunch the numbers to find out.
Several times a year, the EU Commission undertakes public-opinion surveys – known as Flash Eurobarometers – that address a wide variety of topical issues. The most recent of these to catch our eye examined Europeans’ knowledge of environmentally friendly products and their reasons for buying, or not buying, them.
The important study, which investigated everything from recycling habits to consumers' confidence in companies' environmental claims, set aside a sizeable chunk to analysing people’s meat-eating habits.
So what’s the verdict: are we needlessly greedy or refreshingly measured when it comes to eating animals?
According to the study, Europe is currently a pretty meat-hungry continent. More than a third of EU citizens said they eat meat at least four times a week – a fairly large proportion. Nearly half of people said they opt for meat only a handful of times a week, while one in ten people reported eating it only once a week. The remainder eat meat less than once a week, or not at all.
Some enlightening country-specific data also emerged from the study. The highest meat consumption is in Denmark, where more than half of people admit to eating it at least five times a week and more than a quarter indulge four to five times a week. At the other end of the scale is Greece, the most restrained meat-eating nation. Here, less than one in ten people said they eat meat four of five times a week, with only 3% claiming to eat it more than five times a week.
Hope for the future
Luckily for us (and for animals and the planet!), tucked away in the amongst the countless charts, tables and lengthy paragraphs of the study were some heartening statistics – notably, the willingness of people to improve their diets by eating less but better meat.
A robust four out of five EU citizens claimed that they would be willing to eat less meat, but of certified origin, and half said they’d be willing to replace most of the meat they eat with vegetables for environmental reasons. Music to our ears!
The greatest willingness to eat less but better meat was reported by the Portuguese (89%). By contrast, only 40% of Estonians would be open to this change. And the nation most willing to replace a large proportion of the meat they eat with vegetables was Romania (69%). In the United Kingdom, only a third would be prepared to do this.
The gender gap
But it doesn’t end there. One of the most striking facts to jump out at us was the difference in male and female attitudes to reducing meat consumption. Women, the report deduces, are considerably more willing than men to replace a large proportion of the meat they eat with vegetables (59% and 40%, respectively). It’s uncertain why this divide exists, although some have attempted to explain it. The Daily Mail cites a study from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, which claims that men believe eating meat is linked with 'manhood, power, and virility'.
What these eye-opening statistics suggest is that Europeans are, on the whole, aware of the environmental impact of the meat they consume and are willing to reform their diets by eating less, but better quality, meat.
It’s a promising start, but actions speak louder than words. It’s now vital that we get the right mechanisms in place to allow people to change behaviours as easily as possible. We’re working on it!
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