Finding flexitarians : Current studies on meat eaters and meat reducers

Dagevos, Hans


Background: Much scientific evidence has been found about positive effects of lowering meat consumption on the environment, human health and animal welfare. Nevertheless, particularly in developing economies demand for meat is rising whereas in high-income countries meat intake remains at high levels. Although many of today's Western consumers are unwilling to cut their meat consumption, it appears that a fraction is receptive to limit meat consumption by abstaining from eating meat occasionally. This is called flexitarianism. A great deal of hope has been placed lately on a flexitarian diet to help solving food-related environmental sustainability and human health problems. To determine whether flexitarianism can meet such high hopes, it is – to begin with – important to get an idea about the extent of contemporary food consumers' shift towards more meat-restricted diets. Such an overview has so far been lacking. Scope and approach: This study collected recent consumer research on meat eaters and meat reducers conducted in various affluent countries to explore the state of play in the field of flexitarianism. Key findings and conclusions: The present work demonstrates that multiple studies point to the existence of a group of flexitarians that is distinct from consumers who are deeply attached to meat eating and have no intention whatsoever to limit their meat intake, let alone are already changing meat-eating behaviours. Flexitarians not only differ from meat lovers but they also differ from each other. Against the backdrop of numerous devoted meat eaters, and flexitarians who frequently reduce their meat consumption only slightly, the question is raised whether flexitarianism is enough to tackle the pressing environmental and human health problems.