A new report, titled "Climate Change & the American Diet," found that half (51%) of Americans surveyed said they would eat more plant-based foods if they had more information about the environmental impacts of their food choices. However, 70% rarely or never talk about this issue with friends or family. Nearly two-thirds of the Americans surveyed reported having never been asked to eat more plant-based foods, and more than half said they rarely or never hear about the topic in the media.
The nationally representative survey of 1,043 American adults, released by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) and the Earth Day Network (EDN), also showed that Americans would eat more plant-based foods if they cost less than meat options (63%) and if they tasted better (67%). The barriers of cost and access, including distance from grocery stores and access to fresh produce, affect lower-income households in particular.
More than half of Americans think the production of beef, pork, dairy and/or poultry contributes to global warming at least “a little,” but only about one in four (27%) think beef contributes “a lot.” Fewer Americans think the production of dairy (17%) contributes “a lot” to global warming. More than four in 10 Americans think beef does not contribute to global warming at all (23%) or do not know (20%). Similarly, 23% think dairy products do not contribute to global warming at all, and 23% do not know, the study found.
Although most Americans think that if everyone ate a more plant-based diet it would reduce global warming at least “a little,” more than four in 10 Americans say it would not reduce global warming at all (23%) or do not know (19%).
The report found that more than half of Americans are willing to eat more vegetables and plant-based alternatives and/or less red meat. Although 4% of Americans self-identify as vegan or vegetarian, 20% choose plant-based dairy alternatives about two to five times a week or more often. Roughly the same percentage chooses not to buy products from food companies that are not taking steps to reduce their environmental impact.
"Many American consumers are interested in eating a healthier and climate-friendly diet," YPCCC director Anthony Leiserowitz said. "However, many simply don't know yet which products are better or worse -- a huge communication opportunity for food producers, distributors and sellers."
YPCCC conducts research on public climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences and behaviors and on the underlying psychological, cultural and political factors that influence them. It is based at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Americans identified other barriers to eating more plant-based foods, including perceived cost, taste and accessibility. About half (49%) of Americans think a meal with a plant-based main course is more expensive than a meal with a meat-based main course.
More than half of Americans (58%) say it costs too much to buy plant-based foods, but 63% say they would be willing to eat more plant-based foods instead of meat if plant-based foods cost less than meat options.
More than four in 10 Americans (44%) say they don’t like the taste of plant-based foods. However, two in three (67%) say they would be willing to eat more plant-based foods instead of meat if plant-based foods tasted better than they do today.
About three out of four Americans (77%) say the ease and speed of preparation is at least “moderately” important to them when choosing to purchase or eat plant-based foods, and 44% say it’s too much of an effort to buy plant-based foods.
When asked about reasons (i.e., motivations) for purchasing or eating plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and meat/dairy alternatives), the majority of Americans say the following are at least “moderately” important to them: their health (91%), how food companies affect the environment (71%) and/or helping to reduce global warming (64%).
About one in four Americans (27%) say they have rewarded food companies that are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment by buying their products at least once in the last 12 months, while 21% say they have punished food companies that are not taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment by not buying their products over the last 12 months.
Although most Americans think reducing food waste and/or composting would reduce global warming at least “a little,“ many engage in food waste behavior, and most do not compost food waste.