PEI hosts conference on relationship between climate and consumption| Feb 19, 2017
Caring about sustainability does not imply action. It's not enough that people care about sustainability because sometimes caring doesn't catalyze them into action, according to Richard Waite GS ’79, who presented on how to make eating habits more sustainable at the Feb. 17 conference on "Changing Climate, Changing Appetites.”
The Princeton Environmental Institute hosted the event as an instillation in their sustainability series. The conference showcased five panels that sought to allow discussion based sessions about how to manage feeding the world while also protecting it.
Recently, it has become increasingly apparent that human eating habits are not sustainable. Not only do developed countries waste large amounts of food, but the energy and resources put into preparing that food also presents a serious challenge to sustainability, according to the panelists.
The series of panels addressed how to fix current eating habits. One panel entitled “Changing Minds: Marketing a more sustainable diet,” discussed ways in which to efficiently shift the diets of millions of people. To begin the talk, three panelists polled the audience consisting mostly of adults involved in culinary practices. Polling questions touched on such topics as how audience members define their diet, how often they look at food labels before purchasing food, and what the biggest barriers to reducing their meat consumption are. A large percentage of the audience identified as omnivores, but there were also some vegetarians, vegans, and “flexitarians,” a term which loosely means a person who is vegetarian when it is convenient.
During the panel “Changing Minds: Marketing a More Sustainable Diet,” Waite said that the mentality behind how people maintain their meat eating habits is often unsustainable. He offered four goals that must be achieved before conceivably shifting the eating habits of millions of people: prevent disruption, sell a compelling benefit, maximize awareness, and evolve social norms.
Waite gave an example of a solution to fit these four goals in the form of a “flip burger,” a burger which contains mushrooms and other vegetables in addition to beef. The inclusion of beef with other ingredients ensures that consumers do not feel cheated or deprived of meat, Waite said.
He added that while people want to protect the environment, there are other factors that come into play when consumers buy their food in order to shift social norms around and encourage eating sustainably. For example, he explained that the link between eating meat and masculinity also contributes to people's reluctance to change their diet.
Following Waite was Kristen Rainey ’97, a Global Food Program Vendor & Supplier Relations Manager at Google Food. Rainey discussed the methods employed by Google to help their workers make healthier, more sustainable eating choices.
Some of these methods, are subtle, Rainey explained, noting how Google places a salad bar in the front of a dining facility and puts the animal parts of the salad bar at the end so that by the time a consumer reaches it, his or her plate is already full.
Rainey said that her colleagues “know that messaging matters.” She added that people do not intend to eat in ways that damage the environment, but that people eat what is most readily available. She used this reasoning to justify why, at Google, sugary drinks and candy are housed behind frosted glass instead of being presented in the open.
Conference attendees such as Edible Jersey writer Fran McManus thought the event was helpful for understanding sustainability in their jobs. McManus said she “was very interested to hear the perspective that Princeton University, as an academic institution,” would have for “their vision of this exact idea of how are we going to eat in a sustainable future.” She said that these types of events allow her to see the academic side of the discussion about living sustainably and added that she believes the answer to the question of how to become a more sustainable society will most likely be found by evaluating both academic and empirical sides of the discussion. New Jersey food writer and restaurant reviewer Pat Tanner found the event to be reinvigorating, stating that she found “some of the current issues, the future issues,” discussed at the event to be “the stories [she] should be writing about.”