I tried an app to reduce my family’s meat consumption – and it worked | Meat

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LLike many families, we discussed the environmental impact and animal welfare of the meat we eat and decided that we should do better. I wouldn’t say we’re big meat eaters – especially since the Guardian’s Anna Jones and Meera Sodha cookbooks entered our lives. But a package of ground beef, a few chicken thighs, and sausage or bacon often ends up in our supermarket cart because, frankly, these are things everyone in our family will eat.

Plus, having been raised as an omnivore, my default recipes when I’m feeling tired or uninspired are always chili con carne, spaghetti bolognese, or something that involves chunks of chicken.

I’m not alone: ​​According to an annual UK food trends survey by finder.com, 14% of UK adults are now vegetarians, with an additional 12% saying they intend to become vegetarians, vegans or pescatarians in 2021. Yet among those who took a similar resolution in early 2020, only 9% were able to stick to their new diet.

So, could an app based on psychological principles similar to those used by weight loss apps like Noom strengthen our resolve?

The Optimize Meat Tracker (for Online Program to Tackle Individuals Meat Intake through Self-regulation) is a nine-week program designed by researchers from the Livestock, Environment and People (Leap) initiative at the University of Oxford. The idea is to test whether behavioral interventions that have previously been shown to be effective in helping people lose weight could also help people reduce the amount of meat they eat, both for their health and that of the body. planet.

Launched in June, it invites participants to log in through their computers each morning and record how much meat they ate the day before, as well as select a goal for the next 24 hours from a list of options. , such as “try a free meat alternative”, “double the veg – halve the meat” or “make your lunch and dinner vegetarian”.

Participants are also encouraged to take a moment to think about when and how they are going to perform this action, what might make it difficult, and what they could do to overcome these issues.

“There is some evidence that people tend to lose track of how much meat they eat and underestimate it. So getting people to watch their meat consumption has also been shown to be very effective in helping people reduce their consumption, ”said Dr Cristina Stewart, nutritionist and health behavior researcher at Leap, who helped conceive. the program.

People’s existing eating habits can be another barrier, even if they have a strong intention to reduce their consumption: “One way to overcome this intention-behavior gap is to try and break people’s current eating habits. of meat, then encourage them to experiment with meat. free alternatives and other strategies, to try and create new eating habits, ”said Stewart.

“Previous studies have also shown that if people plan how to achieve a specific goal, such as reducing their meat consumption, they are more effective at closing that intention-behavior gap when faced with a barrier.”

Finally, because people often underestimate the impact of their meat consumption on their health and the environment, they receive feedback at the end of each week, in the form of a colorful page of graphics. informing them how many kilograms of greenhouse gases they produce less each year and what percentage their risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease would decrease if the average person continued to consume meat.

Having previously tried keeping a food diary for weight loss, I was skeptical of the potential time commitment associated with recording my daily meat intake. However, Optimize only asks participants to record the number of servings of red meat, poultry, fish, or seafood they ate, which I quickly found out takes no more than one. minute. I quickly realized the snacking nature of my meat and fish consumption – a drop of tuna mayonnaise here, a scattering of leftover chicken pieces there – and how quickly it adds up.

I used to feel pretty happy with how little meat I ate, but in that first week I found out that I had consumed an average of 73g of meat or fish per day, which equates to about 1 , 5 pork sausage or half a can of tuna.

If I continued to eat like this for a full year, my meat consumption would be linked to about 1,094 kg of greenhouse gases, which is the equivalent of driving a regular gasoline car 2,793 miles or heating an average house. in the UK for 173 days. I also learned that over the year my level of meat consumption would require as much water as 2351 showers and would require the use of a court equivalent to a tennis court.

My saving grace was that I did not consume red meat (I mainly eat chicken, fish, and seafood), which meant that the impact on my personal health was minimal. And yes, I know industrial chicken production is cruel and some fish farms have negative environmental consequences, but I try to buy free range and wild caught chickens when possible, and no , I’m definitely not perfect.

Still, I decided to do better and set an initial goal of reducing my weekly meat intake by 50% over the next month. Achieving this would require involving the rest of the family, including our meat-loving eight-year-old son. So we sat down with the kids and asked them what they thought of the idea of ​​giving up meat.

Surprisingly, they were up to the challenge: they too were concerned about the impact of meat consumption on the environment and cruelty to animals, but felt conflicted because they really enjoyed the taste of the meat. . As a starting point, we agreed that we would allow ourselves one meat day per week (although this meat must be of ethical origin), and we could still eat fish or shellfish during the week.

We would try it out for a month or two, and if that went well – and we could come up with some new vegetarian recipes that weren’t too lemony, too sumaceous, or too spicy for the kids to taste – we might consider cutting down on our meat and even further fish consumption.

Prompted by the app, I visited my local co-op and tried meatless burgers on the kids, who found them to be as tasty as the beef burgers: high praise, considering that one of the foods Our son’s favorite is a cheese burger. Emboldened, I ordered a copy of David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Little Green Kitchen family cookbook, handed it to the kids, and asked them to choose three new vegetarian recipes to try.

Having noticed in my food diary that I often ate leftover meat or tuna to keep it from going to waste, I became more mindful of portion sizes when we were cooking meat or fish, there was no so had no leftovers.

During our grocery stores, I deliberately avoided putting the frankfurters or the very thin chicken that I usually relied on for quick lunches to go to school or kids’ dinners, and I Stocked up on Quorn, mozzarella, and hummus instead. Not having these staples in the fridge made a huge difference and forced me to get more creative about kids’ lunch boxes – “onigiri” rice balls, hard boiled eggs, hummus. with pitta and toasted avocado and mozzarella sandwiches are now weekly lunches. children are really looking forward to it. They are also healthier than what we used to give them.

The feedback provided by the Optimize app was also encouraging. During weeks two and three, I reduced my personal meat consumption by an average of 40g per day, or more than half. If I continued like this for a full year, I would save the same greenhouse gas savings as driving my car 1,696 kilometers less and save as much water as 1,371 showers – more than I would have taken. in about four years.

And continue I will. Because I’ve learned that reducing the amount of meat I eat isn’t that hard. And in fact, the more I explore meatless alternatives and the more my repertoire of delicious vegetarian recipes grows, the easier it becomes for all of us. But breaking old habits and being pushed to try something new is a critical first step.

Food diary

Week one:

Day 1: 1 serving (89 g) unbreaded chicken (jerk chicken breast); 1 serving (72g) canned tuna

Day 2: 1 serving (72 g) canned tuna; 1 portion (129g) of unbreaded fatty fish (salmon fillet)

Day 3: 0.5 portion (36g) canned tuna

Day 4: 1 low-meat portion (

Day 5: No meat or fish

Day 6: 2 portions (118g in total) of small crustaceans (mussels mariniere)

Day 7: No meat

Typical week on the Optimize program

Day 1: No meat

Day 2: 1 portion (58g) of small crustaceans (orzo with shrimps and feta)

Day 3: No meat

Day 4: No meat

Day 5: No meat

Day 6: 1 portion of moderate fish (25-40%) mixed dish (fish and curried vegetables)

Day 7: 1 serving (127 g) roast pork


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