1. The questions / Research Direction

 

Can I help people lead healthier lifestyles?
Can I help people make lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on the world (environmental/social)?
Can I help promote plant based diets?
Can I help empower people with skills: cooking, budgeting, socializing opportunities?
Can I help people connect in real-life scenarios as opposed to digital spaces?
Can I help people detach from material objects, by valuing experiences over stuff?

 

Revised research question: work-in-progress:

Can we engage (whom and through what) the average middle class consumer in a developing country scenario (ie: England) in food-habit changes, by helping them reduce the overconsumption of animal products present in their diets and develop a new and sustainable lifestyle pattern that is healthier and can help mitigate climate change?

 

 

A possible route towards solutions:

Coming from the field of communication and information technologies design, I understand there is an opportunity to work on possible solutions to our problem focusing on these tools and technologies. These technologies (online tools and apps) have a high level of engagement and accessibility (especially with the defined audience). Very often, these tools are relied upon when trying to tackle time-constraint and sociability challenges – usually present in busy lifestyles. My intention is to, therefore, explore the possibility of generating an online tool that would help people engage with the problem and approach it from an active, social and experiential way.

 

My initial intention is to devise a solution (online tool) to help people make better choices related to habits around food, focusing on reducing animal products consumption. The tool will need to approach the problem in a wide and open way, trying to avoid the judgement of personal diet choices and the general ethical discussion (to improve acceptance). On the contrary, focus will be on health and wellbeing, considering the social aspect of the experience resulting as key. Overall well being including physical, and emotional, coupled with a personal perception of the experience of eating in a new way will prove the case made, and encourage lifestyle change. The tool will also target to provide all the necessary resources needed to both set up the eating experience and enable people to sustain such new habits in the future.

 

The work process will rely on:

Cross-disciplinary approaches
Collaboration
Stress on Information dissemination/democratization – Education
Co-creation (working for and with end users)
Empathy (social design)
Design for sustainable behavior – models trying to determine ways in which users’ behavior can be shaped through the design of experiences

 

I would like to find out what is the opportunity presented in the field of design for sustainable behavior coupled with social design, when designing services or experiences rather than products. The importance is laid on co-devising those solutions – working collaboratively to try and find a model that doesn’t force actions upon users but first have them plan and experience the results of those actions and understand the need for those changes to happen.

Emotional/Personal engagement is key to trigger a later more positive response. Establishing new habits around actions that are meaningful and easy to relate with, rather than putting a burden or challenging users. By empowering people to make decisions and actions that would improve their health and wellbeing, and strengthen the bonds with their communities, the new adopted habits could have profound effects, not only directly on the overall environment, but especially, in further changes lead by governments and businesses as a result of new social habits and norms.

 


2. The work process

In order to understand the complexity of the problem and to understand current solutions available that could relate to my intentions, the first step of the process was to continue the literature review that I had started last term, and focus on an extensive yet very focused data collection. The goal during the data collection phase was to find out about the different currently available online solutions (websites and mobile applications) that focus on providing a service or a tool related to food-related issues, ingredients, and eating. In order to classify and record the list of solutions found, I devised a Google form that made the review of each item go through the same process enabling the recording of the same type of data. This form was adapted after the first two records when some details came up through data recording. The first two records are not used for the evaluation of results as they only serve as top-level resources for my individual work. It is important to note that some entries have not been taken into account for reviewing results as they did not seem relevant by the end of the work (and again, served mainly as resources).

 

I created a categorization plan in order to record data from the beginning, and even though these categories helped during the work process (and for possible discussion), they are not useful at the time of looking at the general outcomes and results, therefore, this will be explained and introduced here, but it will not be reflected later.

 

Moreover, during the last phase of the work process, attention was drawn to the need to narrow down the scope of the study. I understood that, in order to state the goals of the work and address the problems more effectively, the problem or research question needed to be re-addressed and re-defined. Therefore, data collection phase was put on hold and no further analysis was made at this point, but will be resumed at a later stage, since, it still depicts and explores the field of work and the gaps that could be addressed.

 

The last phase of the work carried out here, focuses on communicating the problems and the research directions in a clearer way. In order to do that, I made use of my visual communication skills to review and illustrate the ways in which the work is being carried out, the area of choice with its challenges and problems, together with the discussion and studies being carried out in relation to the issues that we are dealing with.

 

Design outcomes for Studio 1

As part of the plan of work as specified earlier, there were two directions of work: Firstly, a literature review to explore and support the problems or gaps found in design solutions related to: food, food education, consumer education. Secondly, an exploratory research on current solutions in use / groups working to solve similar issues (data collection).

As an outcome of the work carried out so far, the plan was to build a website that would display the research done, including both the conceptual framework and discussion behind the issues presented here, together with the display of the data collected. The focus was then, to try and set up a website that would work as a directory, listing all solutions for personal use but with the potential of being an useful resource for others. With this in mind, and understanding that listing resources in a friendly new way could be of use by many actors working on similar issues, as through the review phase, I came to understand that there was no such tool available, especially in a way that would make searches easier for any user. However, it was pointed out that this direction may not be the one that would be of great benefit for my own work, and rightly so, would take up time and shift the focus of direction to cater for a specific need that I am not trying to address at the moment. As a result, the website took a slightly different direction and the result now focuses on communicating the visual exploration of the problem, hoping to add useful visual assets for the discussion (within the design discipline and beyond), while being extremely useful for the development of the work to be carried out. In this sense, the website is the discussion platform, and a resource archive to draw upon and revisit during the duration of the course, not only for myself but available to others that may wish to engage in the discussion as it is open and public.


 

3. Foundations and references


Data categorization and frameworks used

When working within the field of sustainability, there are different areas that have to be addressed and touched, as broadly stated in different sustainability definitions and they include considering the natural world (environment and its resources), people and all living creatures, and the third layer of man-made systems such as cultures, ethics and economies. Because of this, many authors have used a 3-lense approach to determine the three main areas from which to look at the problem. They necessarily represent the cornerstones of any approach from within the sustainability perspective.

 

tree-tier-models

 

Key concepts:

The three p’s: people, planet, prosperity

The main initial categorization of problems and solutions is based on the idea of the Three Ps. This phrase, coined by John Elkington in 1995 derives from his own definition of the Triple bottom line economic framework. I prefer to use the Three Ps model in this way as a way to generalise terms and remove the inextricable link to the economic field that the Triple bottom line model implies. However, the main ideas behind the categorization are present here, and account for the fact that the three areas are inextricably interconnected in how the world works. “The concept acknowledges the interrelationships between these three areas, which are in constant flux due to social, political, economic, and environmental influences” (note)

What do we mean by…?

People: include human and social aspects – human rights, wellbeing, quality of life
Planet: environmental implications (climate change, resource depletion…)
Prosperity: value derived from all forms of capital: human, social, cultural, natural, financial/profit

 

The Three Ps vs the Three ethics of Permaculture
Permaculture, has defined their three main principles to be:

Care of the Earth: Related to organic growth (key in sustaining life on Earth): soils, rivers, forests, etc.. All life forms need to be respected no matter what.

Care of People: Beginning with ourselves and expanding it to include our families, neighbours and wider communities. Self-reliance and personal responsibility are stressed, just like collaboration.

Fairshare: Setting limits and redistributing surplus. The importance of taking what we need and sharing what we don’t whilst recognising that there are limits to how much we can give and how much we can take. Finding the right balance.

 

“The S Macroscope”

Because none of these models have been devised for the design field, I believe there is an opportunity to re-define this model, to one that is broader and more flexible (considering the variability of applications) while detaching it from specific worldviews or agendas related to other fields. In an attempt to do this, I have started working on a new model that I have named: The S Macroscope. This alludes to the idea of a tool used to view, inspect, analyse and understand a complex system or problem. The use of Macro instead of micro, is due to the understanding that big areas or problems are to be looked at from those different angles, so the action is that of bringing the focus on a specific problem that because of the complex interconnections usually present, seem too confusing to see, just as a macro/closeup lense works in photography. In a way, unlike a microscope, this tool helps to see closely, issues that are far too big for the naked eye.  

(Note: The development of this idea/model will need to be developed and evaluated further)

04-Macroscope


 

Food: the problems

Establishing the scenario of food-related issues around sustainability

 

03-Scenario

 

Sustainability challenges related to food:

Environmental (Climate change): PLANET

Pollution from food production (waste and CO2 emissions)
Food wasted (landfill burden and emissions + wasted resources)
Resource depletion (energy – water – soil – vegetation – animal extinction)

 

Social/Economic:PROSPERITY

Social inequalities – exploitation/poverty
Weak local economies – prosperity and endurability
Poverty

 

Human health and wellbeing (body/mind): PEOPLE

Malnutrition/Obesity
Food-related/lifestyle related illnesses (cancer, hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes)
Depression/Isolation

 

Defining the problems – references

Different organizations and scholars have been studying the problems arising from Food in the modern world scenario, especially considering the challenges we are facing and will soon be facing in relation to environmental issues, being Climate Change, the main one under which most of the rest fall into. To define what we mean by Sustainable food, it is useful to take two main organizations that have been working on these issues for some time. First of all, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) has clearly defined what a sustainable diet consists of, which can be summarized as one that with a low environmental impact, ensures accessible food and nutrition security for people to lead healthy lives, yet in harmony with all ecosystems in a fair way.

 

Sustain (Alliance for Better Food and Farming), has also looked at this definition in depth and has noted the importance of looking at all of the actions involved in the food chain, which include: production, processing, purchase, sale and the very act of eating.

 

The interesting point to note about considering the actions involved is that recognizes all of the roles involved in it, including consumption, so it relates it to all of us. This organization has also determined seven main areas of work if we are to tackle the issues revolving around food. I have found this definition of the scope of action to be extremely useful, but have adapted it to rename the aspects for clarity and contextualization, and have included an additional area that I have named: Community and Wellbeing. A brief explanation of these areas is provided below.

 

For a clearer understanding of these problems, I’ve created a graphic to illustrate the challenges, the lenses from which they’re looked at (or related with) and the interrelations between them. I’ve also adapted this basic model to include an additional element, the Social/Community aspect that is also key.

01-Map

 

Definitions of the eight areas of work:

 

1- Waste Free

Reducing food waste (and waste from food packaging) is needed to lessen energy, resource and financial consumption during production and disposal. Efficiency during production, consumption patterns and waste management are necessary to avoid resource depletion and prevent landfills to be expanded (with the environmental and health problems that include). Composting organic matter is a must.

 

2- Plant-based diets

Better eating patterns including reduction of meat and dairy consumption. This takes into account animal welfare as well as environmental implications. Agriculture is the biggest factor contributing to climate change (CO2 emissions). Promoting the consumption of vegetables, fruit, grains and pulses also reduces health risks like cancer and cardiovascular problems.

 

3- Farm to table

Buying local, seasonal and organic food, especially from farms. Choosing organically produced foods ensures the health of soils and the whole ecosystems around them. Buying local and seasonal produce benefits the local economy and minimizes energy consumption during production, transport and storage (reducing food miles and carbon footprint).

4- Fair and Ethical

Choosing Fair-trade and ethical products. When buying products that are not available locally and we cannot learn about their production process, choosing certified products ensures the process has been done in ethical and fair ways, where producers (usually poor or disadvantaged) can secure a fair wage and improve their livelihoods through their work.

 

5- Resource Renewability

If choosing to consume fish, select sustainable sources such as wild-caught certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Similarly to Fair-trade, they work towards securing the future health of rivers and seas, and the creatures that live there.

 

6- Food growing

Growing our own food should be encouraged as there are many ways in which this can be achieved no matter the space available. Preferably, choose community gardens or allotments that provide a whole experience of reconnection with nature and the nature of food. If growing is not possible, opt to buy from farmers markets, local producers or shops that source their products from such places.

 

7- Healthy foods

Focusing on the right balance of food intake to ensure healthy diets. It is important to reduce consumption of overly processed and fast foods (that might also contain genetically modified ingredients), and opt for natural, cooked from scratch and raw options. Sugar, salt and fat intake needs to be reduced as they have been associated with health risks and diseases.

 

8- Community & Well being
The social aspect associated with food consumption is also important. Humans are social creatures by nature and sharing food is deeply rooted in all cultures. It improves the enjoyment of the experience as well as help with general (spiritual) well being of individuals, reducing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.

 

 

Reading the map:

Using a map approach derives for two main ideas: the direct reference to finding directions and defining areas or zones to focus on, and secondly, the potential for easy visualization of how the problems interconnect, especially considering modern lifestyles.

The city and outskirts model simplifies the idea of a city, but reflects many models of cities where we can find: the central area characterized by a conglomerate of buildings and businesses, as well as spaces for social interaction (such as parks and squares), a residential area (where houses with more green space available around them can be found), a port and industrial area (where foods shipped from abroad are brought into) and water sources (freshwater or not) that represent other resource sourcing including water and fish. As we head towards the outskirts, we find Supermarkets and large-area retailers, farmers and food production including vegetables as well as animal produce (dairy, eggs, all meats), and finally areas for disposal including recycling, incinerators and landfills in general.

 

As it can be seen on the map, all areas (defined as 1 to 8) are linked (represented by the roads). This illustrates the idea that when one area is altered in any way, this will eventually affect or touch other areas as well. The understanding that the food scenario is complex and may need to be approached in a holistic way, has been a challenge to try and focus the areas of my work and interventions. Understanding the need to define and reframe the main focus of work to a smaller section of the map, I have decided to focus on Area number 2, that is, working towards the reduction of over-consumption of animal products (mostly meat, dairy and eggs), especially in richer economies. A detailed explanation of this issue is provided in the next section.

 

What is clear, however, is that selecting this area will still have an effect on the others, and, as some authors tend to suggest, there is potential for ideas and changes to have a strong impact on people’s attitudes and have this change spill over to most, if not all, of the other areas that also need urgent action.

 


 

 

4. How to (re)frame the problem

 

As stated before, there is a lot of potential for work from within the design disciple tackling issues related to food and sustainability. More importantly, is the understanding that no matter the area of work, and interdisciplinarity should be stressed here, the future of food and its link to climate change, concerning this every human in this planet in any possible way, is of utmost and urgent need for action.

 

The issue has been brought up years ago, FAO has touched on this point (FAO, 2010) confirming the fact that the discussion has been around since the 1980s, however, little has been done to tackle this complex issue, accepting the fact that because of the overarching UN goals related to end world poverty, the issue was disregarded as less important, with the wrong understanding that these two issues are ultimately connected.

 

“Regardless of the many successes of agriculture during the last three decades, it is clear that food systems, and diets, are not sustainable (…) The agreed definition (of Sustainable Diets) acknowledged the interdependencies of food production and consumption with food requirements and nutrient recommendations, and at the same time, reaffirmed the notion that the health of humans cannot be isolated from the health of ecosystems. (…) A close involvement of civil society and the private sector is needed to engage directly all stakeholders in the fields of agriculture, nutrition, health, environment, education, culture and trade, along with consumers.”

(FAO, 2010)

 

Where to start:

What changes and by whom?

 

“As Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of the FAO, stated at the World Summit on Food Security 2009: “food production must expand by 70% in the world and double in developing countries, to meet the food needs of a world population expected to reach 9.1 billion in 2050” (FAO, 2009, p.2). At the same time this will need to be realized at reduced social and ecological impact to prevent the depletion of nonrenewable resources and to reduce the level of CO2 emissions. It is unlikely that these “required” changes can be accommodated within existing production and marketing systems, simply because of the environmental and social constraints.

In order to meet these challenges, substantial changes at the systemic level (doing better things) are required, rather than incremental changes in existing business practices (doing things better). (…)

Nevertheless, it is clear that greening the production in itself will not be sufficient for true sustainable development to become realized. Such efforts will need to be complemented by fundamental changes in consumers’ lifestyles as well as purchase and consumption behaviour. (…) Therefore, it is the new middle classes who are best equipped to distinguish themselves by consuming the increasing variety of foodstuffs on offer. (…)

(Ian) Cook concludes that an intricate picture emerges where, ‘through “our” everyday food consumption practices, “we” become involved in a complex and connected “post-colonial gastropolitics’ and take an active part in the plays of domination and resistance which delimit the possibilities for “third world development”

(Trijp, J. , 2014)

 

The line of thought developed by Trijp is clear: with the challenge of a growing population, meaning more mouths to feed, and facing the environmental and social challenges we face nowadays, there is a need for change since current systems will eventually collapse. That lays the burden especially on richer economies, finding the middle classes to be the ones with the most potential as change agents, especially due to their consumer habits. It is clear from this statement, which different authors have discussed, that eating choices and consumption patterns are actions loaded with sociopolitical and economic impact, not only on their own contexts but more importantly, on the rest of the world that does not benefit from the same opportunities. Targeting this population is, therefore, crucial, and will invitable have a massive impact on other socio economic levels, leading to a need for changes both in the governmental and industrial spheres.

Additionally, the potential of targeting consumers also benefits from the fact that once people become aware of the problems and decide to take action, it is likely that such actions or new habits and lifestyle choices affect different areas of the bigger problem. Combining efforts and most importantly, focusing on the most basic of human activities holds, therefore, great potential.

 

“It is important to consider whether and when interventions to promote the adoption of food related options may benefit from positive spillover effects created by energy-related interventions in the last few decades. The literature shows that a behavioral intervention can have a positive spillover effect on other pro-environmental behaviors not initially targeted by the intervention, which may be accounted for by common motivational or cognitive causes of the behaviors, such as useful knowledge (Lanzini & Thøgersen, 2014; Thøgersen & €Olander, 2006; Truelove, Carrico, Weber, Raimi, & Vandenbergh, 2014).”

(de Boer, J., de Witt, A. & Aiking, H., 2015)

 

Moreover, it is very clear from statistics and many authors agree that the burden of urgent change is laid upon the richer economies:

 

“Because rapid reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions per unit of livestock production would be technically and culturally difficult in the short term, the prime objective must be to reduce consumption of animal products in high-income countries, and thus lower the ceiling consumption level to which low-income and middle-income countries would then converge.”

(Haines, A. et al., 2007)

 

However, action is needed at many levels and in all contexts, but it is important to understand the limitations and act wisely.

 

“A universal policy of demand reduction for all animal products in all countries, irrespective of current levels, would be politically infeasible, not least because of its obvious inequity. Not surprisingly, then, many key policy documents seem to have sidestepped this issue (by contrast with the readier use of demand management in areas such as energy policy). “

(Haines, A. et al., 2007)

As it is clear from the previous points and the graphic, working from the consumer’s perspective represents a quick route to address issues, especially because, at the end of the day, business leaders and policy makers are, just like everyone else, consumers as well. We all need food.

 

The importance of avoiding the blame factor

It is important to note, as it has been brought up, that the problems arising from the sustainability of food systems is not a burden that lays upon consumers only. It is clearly a very complex matter and as stated before, actions are necessarily required from all actors, however, the consumer’s perspective is the one that provides potential to explore urgent effects, and at the same time, is the area that touches all other sides of the problem, especially from within the design-thinking disciplines. It is of utmost important however, to articulate solutions on all three levels or isolated actions will not be efficient enough. Moreover, consumers are not to be held responsible to carry the blame for the issue, this approach would only result in increased reluctance preventing further actions. On the contrary, positive, holistic and emotional approaches should be taken.

 

What area to tackle?

Reducing overconsumption of animal products, promoting plant-based diets

 

“Meat production has a higher environmental impact than fruit and vegetables production. The global livestock sector contributes about 40 percent to global agricultural output. Meat and dairy animals now account for about 20 percent of all terrestrial animal biomass (Steinfeld et al., 2006). According to the Livestock, Environment and Development initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation, at local and global scale, contributing to deforestation, air and water pollution, land degradation, loss of topsoil, climate change, the overuse of resources including oil and water, and loss of biodiversity. The use of large industrial monoculture, common for feed crops (e.g. corn and soy), is highly damaging to ecosystems. The initiative concluded that the livestock sector emerges as one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems.(…) A person existing chiefly on animal protein requires ten times more land to provide adequate food than someone living on vegetable sources of protein (MFAF-DK, 2010) which means a much higher ecological footprint.”

(Martine Padilla, Roberto Capone, Giulia Palma, in FAO, 2010)

 

And studies specifically about the UK state that:

“In the United Kingdom, it has been calculated that the CO2e emissions per capita due to dairy products and meats consumption equal 2194 kg CO2e, whereas those due to vegetable products consumption (cereals, fruits and vegetables) correspond to 450 kg CO2e. A diet with a 30% decrease in animal products and a 15% increase in vegetables would allow a reduction of emissions of 590 kg CO2e per capita per year. This reduction would be equivalent to a total decrease of 5% of the global emissions per capita, equal to 10.3 Mg CO2e expected in 2008.”

(Massimo Iannetta, Federica Colucci, Ombretta Presenti and Fabio Vitali in FAO, 2010)

 

A recent report issued by illustrates the main problems as follow:

Chatman-Report-findings

Chatham House’s Report (2015) – Key Findings image from: https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/changing-climate-changing-diets

 

So what is the potential of work from within the design field?

divers-change-04

 

How to move forward?

Addressing lifestyle and habits change in consumers. Reducing meat consumption. Public perceptions and challenges

A study performed last year in Scotland (Macdiarmid, Douglas & Campbell, 2015) looked at people’s perception on the environmental impact of foods versus and understanding the challenges when trying to persuade people to reduce meat consumption .

Here is a visual representation of the data and findings, that will help us understand the problem even further and identify a possible action route forwards.

 

Infographic-Reducing meat consumption - study-01

 

The challenges of changing people’s behaviours, especially diet

By addressing issues starting with food, we enable every person to become part of the solution. It is an area that touches and should concern us all, for the future of our very own survival and that of our descendants is undeniably at risk.

 

Sam Kass (Kass, S., 2015) has clearly defined this issue to be a social one:

“A dramatic cultural shift is needed if we are to fully reach our goals, and the dinner table is the place start. Consumers will need to make changes to their diets. (…) Because food is one of the deepest expressions of our culture, it holds tremendous power to move our values forward. (…) The food world has the opportunity to establish itself on the most important platform of our times, and in doing so become a true political force.”

 

Because of the social and cultural aspects of food and eating, and the weight of traditions and social pressures, the social and cultural aspect of the problem might be the most challenging one. As it has been concluded in the study carried out by Macdiarmid, Douglas & Campbell, (2015), that is one aspect to take into account together with addressing policy changes and consumer education. Tim Lang (FAO, 2010) clearly states how single-approach methods such as labelling (which could be expanded to regular campaigning or informational methods) fall short in addressing the issue due to its wider complexity:

 

“If we want consumers to act as food citizens, surely they need help in the form of new, overt ‘cultural rules’, by which I means guidelines on the 21st century norms of eating. We have quite a range of means by which to do this, from ‘hard’ such as fiscal and legal measures, to ‘soft’ ones such as education and labelling. I doubt any system of labelling could capture sustainable dietary advice. Labels have not stopped the nutrition transition. The introduction and design of labels themselves tends to become a battleground, when they ought 25 to be policy means rather than ends.”

(Tim Lang in FAO, 2010)

 

A complex multi-faceted issue requires multi-disciplinary approach

The matter clearly needs to be addressed in innovative and creative ways, using interdisciplinary approaches that can benefit from the knowledge and experience of different areas of knowledge.

“To date, improving dietary habits in line with dietary recommendations has proved extremely difficult. Integrating social dimensions of dietary habits with the objective health, environmental and economic goals provides an opportunity to develop more realistic policy interventions that reflect the complex, subjective lived experiences of individuals and society. Messaging around sustainable diets to eat less meat may be met with resistance among the general public and given a degree of scepticism around dietary messages a staged approach may be more effective in changing dietary habits in the long term.” (…) If healthy, sustainable dietary habits are to be achieved, cultural, social and personal values around eating meat must be integrated into the development of future dietary recommendations.”

(Macdiarmid, Douglas & Campbell, 2015)

 

The health perspective

As stated before, one of the key terms when dealing with the issue of food is its link to health, and taking a broader sense of the idea, wellbeing in general, when we not only take into account physical health, but also emotional and spiritual.

It is clear from the work mentioned before, carried out by different authors that: firstly, there is potential to create more impact and inspiring changes if the health dimension is brought to the table. Secondly, the health of people is naturally connected to that of their environments and ecosystems, not only because they directly influence people’s health in different ways, but also because the “health” of the natural world will make or mar the future of communities, will determine or hindrance people’s access to food as well as secure decent and safe living conditions. Healthy people equals healthy planet and vice-versa.

Overconsumption of animal products has been linked to an increase in obesity and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular conditions, certain types of cancers, diabetes and obesity.

 

“TheWorld Health Organization (WHO) (2013) estimates that approximately 1.7 million (2.8%) deaths per annum worldwide are linked to low fruit and vegetable consumption and are therefore, important components of a healthy, balanced diet. The WHO recommends a minimum consumption of 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers, to help prevent chronic disease and nutritional deficiencies.”

(Rekhy, R. & McConchie, R., 2014)

 

The richest countries carry the heaviest weight, still not without its complexities. Despite a clear over consumption leading to the idea of overnutrition, there is an increasing rise in malnutrition as well. A higher intake of calories by means of larger amounts of foods, does not necessarily ensure the right balance in diet, and therefore, a lack of nutrients leads to different types of conditions. Obesity and malnutrition can, surprisingly, be two sides of the same coin.

 

“Meat consumption per capita in the USA and UK (supply per capita) is almost three times and double the global average, respectively (FAOSTAT)”

(Macdiarmid, J.I., Douglas, F. & Campbell, J., 2015)

 

While at the same time:

 

“TheWorld Health Organization (WHO) (2013) estimates that approximately 1.7 million (2.8%) deaths per annum worldwide are linked to low fruit and vegetable consumption and are therefore, important components of a healthy, balanced diet. The WHO recommends a minimum consumption of 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers, to help prevent chronic disease and nutritional deficiencies.”

(Macdiarmid, J.I., Douglas, F. & Campbell, J., 2015)

 

 

It is clear that, reducing meat and dairy in diets will eventually lead to an increase in plant-based foods, especially resulting in an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. This is an area that has been targeted before, especially using campaigns and public awareness. Some studies have looked at the effectiveness of the different approaches carried out worldwide.

 

The main conclusions of the study carried out by Rekhy and McConchie (2014) as as follows:

“Holistic interventions support research that suggests that promoting a group of inter-related behaviours such as diet and exercise, with a health and lifestyle focus are likely to have a higher success rate compared with just campaigning for increasing daily fruit and vegetable consumption (Dutta-Bergman, 2005). “

And,

“A “compelling emotional benefit” was required to inspire consumers to consume more fruits and vegetables and that the message needed to be repeatedly relayed in the national, state and local campaigns. (…) Success is higher for those campaigns where there is a high degree of collaboration between industry (producers), retail, government and quasi-government organisations. Collaboration helps in promoting a consistent message across all stakeholders and the community and assists in the creation of a larger pool of funds available for promotional initiatives. (…) Other studies have shown that the provision of information for raising awareness and knowledge is insufficient to bring about a sustainable change. Health based promotional campaigns may need to be supported with a variety of initiatives including economic subsidies, reduced taxes and other policy measures to lower the price of fruits and vegetables for increasing accessibility and availability to consumers at all levels of the economic strata (Halicka & Rejman, 2007; Monsivais & Drewnowski, 2007).”

(Rekhy, R. & McConchie, R., 2014)

 

In terms of economical influence, choice availability and and decision patterns, a few other aspects came up during the studies:

  1. Offering discounts and reducing prices for fruit and vegetables increases purchases, because higher prices are an obstacle for some budget-restricted individuals who would otherwise consume more fresh produce.
  2. Improving the availability of fruits and vegetables in different scenarios like school cafeterias, work spaces and even retail areas, is linked to increased consumption. Visibility and accessibility is an important factor to consider.
  3. Overriding choices by setting fruits and vegetables as “default” options also impacts on consumption increase, as the required extra effort to ask for a change usually acts as an inhibitor.

 

In relation to social aspects:

“Social support and family values around healthy eating impact consumption and those families in which parents are good role models and encourage children to eat healthy, have a long term positive influence on fruit and vegetable consumption (European Food Information Council, 2012; New South Wales. Dept. of Health et al., 2003). Shared family meals and food consumed in a shared environment also have a positive effect on fruit and vegetable consumption.”

(Rekhy, R. & McConchie, R., 2014)

 

The communal aspect of food consumption cannot be disregarded, and in fact, may be one of the most powerful tools to use if we are to engage people in real, dramatic, and challenging changes.

 

In terms of culture and traditions:

A study that compared attitudes towards reducing meat consumption in the Netherlands and the USA concluded that:

(…) It was relatively new for the American participants to link meat eating with climate mitigation. One of the explanations for this may be that meat consumption in the United States is culturally more important and substantially higher than that in the Netherlands, although both countries are leading meat producers (FAO, 2014). This may be indicative of broader differences in worldviews, including the strength of motivation to justify and promote existing social and human-nature hierarchies. This particular motivation is related to both climate change denial (Jylhä & Akrami, 2015) and higher meat consumption (Dhont & Hodson,2014; Hedlund-de Witt et al., 2014).”

(de Boer, J., de Witt, A. & Aiking, H., 2015)

 

Reviewing the problem in a visual way:

research-direcion-05

 


 

5. Research and Data collection

 

Data collection:

Date collection looked at exploring solutions available mostly online or as mobile applications that use food as the main subject (and related to health, community, resources and waste). Solutions listed, include those that are relevant to the project only and that are based or targeted at the UK or/or the World (unless an innovative solution is worth considering regardless of being specific to a different location).

Main categorization of solutions started by focusing on the 3-lense model (three Ps or macroscope lenses): social, environmental, financial. However, this classification is not being used at the moment, even though it was recorded. This framework helps determine the areas that the solutions are dealing with (or being looked at from). Ideally, the best solutions should target, or have some impact, on all of them as defined by sustainability terms.

It might be necessary to asses, later on, the corporate responsibility behind each solution, together with the financial/business model (for-profit – non-profit – co-operative)

 

The second level of classification looked at:

Problem/area trying to solve: health – community – budget – skills – pollution & waste – carbon footprint
Solution delivery: online – offline
Context of application/users: local – global – individual – communal/group
Result deliverable: recipe/plan – experience – product
Main action: education – improved experience – improved product

 

Keywords:

Keywords were introduced to quickly describe solutions so that they can later be used for filtering, grouping and relating findings.

 

Data collection process (steps) was as follows:

Step 1 – Assess main field of action: SOCIAL – ENVIRONMENTAL – FINANCIAL
Step 2 – Who, what, where: Problem – Media – Context – Result/Goal
Step 3 – Results: Solution format – Solution action
Step 4 – Additional notes, comments and keywords

 

Reading the data:

After reviewing the entries, what stands out the most are the most prevalent keywords:

Community (28) – Social (23)
Home (16) – Tool (13) – Sharing (13)
Cooking (9) – Sourcing (8) – Ingredients (8) – Local (8) – Skills (7)
– Kit (6) – Tips (4) – Health (4) – Education (3) – Vegetables (3)
– Diet (1) – Habits (1) – Seasonal (1) – Kitchen (1) – Information (1)

 

And most solutions target the following:
Community (22) – Pollution/Waste (22)
Skills (14)
Health (9) – Budget (9) – Social aspect (9)
Need to service (6) – Carbon Footprint (5) – Time (5)
Poverty (3) –  Localism (2)

 

Therefore, we can determine a category system for website display that groups solutions in 7 main areas:

  1.         Food waste and pollution
  2.         Health and wellbeing
  3.         Social (and/or) experience
  4.         Time/Budget efficiency
  5.         Skill building / Educational
  6.         Carbon footprint / Localism
  7.         Service/Product retail (commercial)

 

correlations-06

Correlation between categories and the main 8 areas of work defined earlier (color coded)

 


 

6. Results

Thoughts:

Vegetables and plant-based diets are not mentioned often, most campaigns that address the issue target to and promote vegetable and fruit consumption (and seasonality) through information and recipes.

Most online solutions, or solutions targeted at professionals and middle-class busy individuals are targeted at providing a social dining experience. They rely on consumerism and the need for shared activities to do during spare time. Most of those solutions are quite pricey (and are purchased and/or booked online – Airbnb model) and are presented mostly as special “going-out” occasions.

Other solutions use the kit or recipe box model. They try to inspire and help build skills by providing a service/product in the form of a kit (easier and more efficient use). They close the loop: provide products and the plan to create an experience on one’s own (home cooking + fresh ingredients + less waste / still a problem with packaging and non sensorial experience).

There are countless groups, campaigns and organizations trying to tackle food waste both set up by organizations and by individuals committed to this (Facebook groups).

Many campaigns and charities focus on poverty alleviation but there is a scarcity of solutions targeting powerful (richer) consumers – those driving the economy because of their purchase power/freedom.

Health is not an issue brought up often as a main goal but mentioned as an added value, especially among solutions that are not targeted at poverty alleviation. We are assuming diets are healthy but not assessing the issues (still debate with sugar / obesity / low vegetable consumption)

Localism and organic ingredients are widely mentioned, especially among top-level services. It is used as an added-value to brands and products/services. Those who can afford it, prefer to benefit from such products.

 

What can be gathered from looking at the solutions reviewed, is that there is no solution at all bringing to the table the problem of overconsumption of animal products and its links to climate change and further environmental problems. Surely, it must be due to the fact that being an issue that generates emotional reactions and overall reluctance, keeps being avoided. No solution targeted at the general public stresses the point of reducing meat consumption, nor do they bring up ethical ideas behind food choices (especially regarding Fairtrade). Localism is promoted in many of them, as a value to safeguard for cultural reasons. Solutions stressing and offering plant-based ingredients (fruits and vegetables) rely mostly on the idea of health.

All solutions falling under the Social category, are mostly linked to the consumption of cultural experiences (which is a trend), travelling individuals, or even to foodies (food enthusiasts, people with a special interest in valuable and out-of-the-ordinary food experiences). Social experiences do not foster further interactions and are set-up mostly as isolated events. Most of them are a service that is provided and purchased online and are a bit pricey, targeted at professionals and business people mostly. Skill-building solutions are setup to be experienced mostly in isolation or at home – without promotion of sharing or the transmission or exchange of further skills – they are provided by the service in a single-direction approach)

 


 

 

7. Reflections

 

Many authors agree about the special need and urgency for the richest countries to start tackling the issue of reducing meat consumption, one of the reasons being the fact that the amount of meat intake in rich countries such as European nations and the USA, is well above the recommended amount, with strong health and environmental implications. Such problems touch many areas resulting in big challenges for societies and governments, being the rising costs of health services and demand only one of them.

 

From a different perspective, the increasing discussion related to Climate Changes (especially after the recent COP21 held in Paris only a month ago), dealt with the fact the environmental challenges of our current times, have massive impact on worldwide economies. Not only directly from the loss of crops, or the energy crisis, but also, because governments will need to confront to these issues not without a massive economic effort. A concept that has been on the table for some time, especially from within economical backgrounds is the possibility of adopting the Carbon emission trading route, or as some authors propose, the idea that some approaches could benefit from setting a price on nature, and make it part of the economic formula, what is known as the Natural Capital debate.

 

“The emerging idea of ‘natural capital’ rather sums up why this is the case. As is true with financial capital, natural assets, if managed well, provide a flow of benefits. These are seen in, for example, the renewal of soil fertility, the pollination of crops, replenishment of freshwater, protection of property from flooding, the stock of innovations created through evolution, control of disease and predation of pests. All these dividends flow from intact stocks of natural capital, and as is the case with financial capital, the returns can continue so long as the capital remains intact.”

(Juniper, 2013)

 

Regardless of the area we may focus on, be that economic, human health, or environmental challenges, the need for a new radical approach is evident. In particular, what we are lead to conclude is the fact that these changes will result in a completely new cultural shift, a change in social and cultural values and norms. This is the only way in which positive changes can actually happen. What is clear from all the evidence and studies covered here is that, consumerism is a massive problem, and that human activities, especially related to eating habits, are the main triggers of negative effects related to Climate Change and the resulting impacts. Because of this, this is the area that holds huge potential for work and the one that could lead to quicker results.

 

Particularly in relation to aiming at the reduction of over consumption of animal products such as meat and dairy, this represents an area with the biggest opportunity to engage with, being one of the areas that is responsible for the highest emissions as well as being a problem that has been neglected by most actors so far (especially policy makers). Evidently, this is an angle of work that is extremely complex and challenging, as it arouses mixed emotions and especially, reluctance. The matter of food choices falls within an intricate system of social norms, values, traditions and socio-economical ideals. Governments have been especially reluctant to “telling people what to eat”, however, we cannot put off this issue any further, so actions need to be taken from all perspectives: governments, industry and consumers. The complexity of the issue calls for a similarly complex solution method. Solutions will have to be articulated in collaboration and support each other and will necessarily need to address the reality of everyday lives by consumers, their needs and difficulties. Changing mindsets is the biggest challenge.

 

Future potential:

Having understood that the most urgent aspect of the issue lays upon richer economies, does not exclude the rest of the world as attempting to be part of the solution. In fact, in an interconnected worldwide economic and social system, what is happening everywhere is also affective everyone else.

 

Developing nations, who are following the trends set by the aforementioned richer economies, represent a context of massive potential for work, both to try and revert trends before it is too late, and to help themselves become more resilient to the future challenges they will very likely face in the near future.

 

Working in a richer scenario, comparing and understanding patterns in consumers, will be extremely useful and will lead to leapfrog solutions, when adapted to developing scenarios. Noting some similarities in consumption patterns and the likeliness of the mentioned trends to be spread even further, there is potential to use solutions in different settings, for example, comparing UK and USA, versus Argentina and Uruguay.

animail-plat-calories-FAO2011

 

Data extracted from FAO (2011 records).

 


 

 

Next steps:

Continuing with the plan of work as stated before, but with a re-framed focus of research, the following steps of the process could be as follows:

  1. Reach actors involved in similar attempts and discuss their perceptions on the problems to try and find possible partners interested in the work and research. This could lead to collaboration and the facilitation of spaces or people willing to engage in experimentation and discussions. Present the idea of a digital solution and identify whether there is interest and potential or not.
  2. Run focus groups with the target audience to brainstorm and explore ideas of possible solution routes. Present the idea of the digital tool to test acceptability or reluctance.
  3. Determine the next step according to all gathered feedback. If the idea is accepted, move on to try and co-devise (again with target audience) a model for the tool.
  4. Develop the beta solution to run tests. Identify opportunities for partners to engage in the testing.
  5. If possible and the route is still valid, reformulate or tweak the solution based on feedback to arrive at a deployable tool. Determine future scope and/or opportunities of continuing this work, further applications, tests and engage-ability for the continuation of the tool.