Report Shows Americans More Open Than Ever to Plant-Based Foods

February 18, 2020 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — The Earth Day Network and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released a new research report last week on “Climate Change and the American Diet.” The report claims that Americans are more open than ever to plant-based foods.

In advance of this year’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the co-sponsor organizations surveyed 1,043 American adults to get a sense of Americans’ interest in plant-based diets and concerns or barriers to a diet transition away from meat. 

Meat is a staple of most American diets, but the meat industry has been criticized for its strain on planetary resources, its significant carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, and global warming from methane. New meat-alternatives made from plants, that have similar taste and texture, are growing in popularity and may signal the start of a diet transition.

According to the survey population, Americans would willingly eat more plant-based foods if they better understood their meals’ environmental impact. Also, Americans generally find the idea of eating more fruits, vegetables, and even meat substitutes, attractive, but they are unsure of what to buy or how to cook it.

The report’s results come on the heels of other recent reports, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, which have shown a connection between food industry trends and climate. Yet experts suggest that the general public is not being adequately informed of the interrelation. 

According to EarthDay.org, “More than half of those surveyed have rarely heard about the environmental impact of food in the media. And nearly two-thirds said they rarely talked about how their food affects climate change. That same number said nobody has ever asked them to eat more plant-based foods.”  

But there are those who have made it a personal mission to do just that. Like Olympic silver medalist Dotsie Bausch, an Earth Day Network Footprints for the Future ambassador and vegan activist, who was on hand at the National Press Club to lend her support at the Climate Change and the American Diet report’s release.

Bausch has previously said that transitioning to an entirely plant-based diet helped her body to become “a machine.”

“I want to cut it down to ‘What can we all do to make a difference? How can I help reduce my impact on the planet three times a day?’ Changing over to a plant-based diet was so fulfilling, and it fueled my body to an Olympic medal.”

But even those who aren’t ready to completely cut meat out of their diets are starting to make small changes. For example, though only about 4% of the report’s surveyed population identified as vegan or vegetarian, 20% claim to already be using plant-based dairy alternatives between two to five times a week.  

The availability and consumer friendliness of alternatives is one reason for the transition. The report’s authors believe that Americans are also starting to think more about food choices not just in terms of personal consumption, but also for how they affect the planet. 

“We’re at the early stages of what may be a profound shift in the American diet,” said YPCCC Director Anthony Leiserowitz. “That shift is driven by… growing concerns about health [and] the environment and environmental issues, the drop in cost for [plant-based] alternatives, and technological changes.”

Health is an important motivator for diet change; some reports link red meat consumption to heart disease and weight gain. But the barriers to changing to a plant-based diet are real as well.  

Lower-income Americans worry about access to plant-based options as well as the cost of changing their diet. Many truly believe that fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive, despite Leiserowitz assertions that plant-based foods are generally cheaper or around the same price.

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