Echoes from FENS 2023 Expert opinion Sustainable healthy diet and yogurt

How to talk about plant-based foods by Esther Papies

How to talk about plant-based foods by Ester Papies - Echoes from FENS - YINI

The 14th European Nutrition Conference (FENS) took place in November in Belgrade, and we were there to cover and share with you some insightful topics.

In the sessions on “Nutrition and the Environment, Sustainability, and Biodiversity,” Dr. Esther Papies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland addressed the crucial theme of “Sustainable Consumption in Practice,” focusing specifically on effective communication about plant-based foods.

“How to Talk About Plant-Based Food”, briefly

As the global community grapples with the escalating health implications of climate change, it has become an urgent public health concern worldwide. The imperative to limit global warming between 1.5°C and 2°C implicated swift and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Food systems play a pivotal role in GHG emissions, varying depending on the type of food produced and consumed. Notably, meat tops the list in emissions, while vegetables, fruits, and pulses have a lower environmental impact.

Climate change’s ramifications extend to food systems and security, introducing challenges such as agricultural droughts and heat stresses. Simultaneously, demographic trends indicate a growing global population, placing increased stress on food production.

Addressing these challenges calls for a shift towards more sustainable diets, emphasizing the reduction of meat consumption and an increase in plant-based foods. Dr. Papies highlighted the need for a focus on consumption and reward simulations to enhance the appeal of plant-based foods.

YINI - Echoes from FENS 2023 - Interview of Esther Papies

Key messages:

  • Both vegans and omnivores approach plant-based and meat-based foods in terms of consumption and reward.
  • Despite this, food packages and social media posts tend to use less consumption and reward language for plant-based foods, even when created by or for vegans.
  • Plant-based foods are often presented in ways that diminish their appeal.
  • To generate desire, there is merit in describing food in terms of the experience of eating it.

This discussion underscores the critical role of effective communication in promoting sustainable dietary choices, particularly the need for positive framing and emphasis on the positive aspects of plant-based food consumption.

Learn more with Esther Papies

Hello, can you introduce yourself?

Esther Papies: My name is Ester Papies, and I’m an associate professor in the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.

How does the way of communicating about plant-based foods impact consumption habits?

Esther Papies: The communication around plant-based foods, in supermarkets, on pack or on social media, often revolves around health, nutrition, and dietary groups, For instance, vegan meals are typically presented in terms of ingredients, nutrients, and preparation methods. However, we know that these factors don’t necessarily drive people’s motivation to consume.

When individuals choose a food, they are concerned about the taste experience, the pleasure derived from it, and the overall reward. Emphasizing those components in foods and especially in plant-based foods, which are often novel to consumers, will make it more appealing for people to try out.

This involves focusing on the overall experience, including taste, mouthfeel, temperature of the food, the social context of consumption, and the immediate emotional impact. Instead of highlighting long-term consequences, the focus should be on the immediate reward.

While this approach may not drastically change existing habits, it can entice people to try new foods. Once individuals give them a chance, they often discover a liking for these options, facilitating a shift in dietary habits.

What would be the Do’s and Don’ts when communicating about plant-based food?

Esther Papies: When communicating about plant-based food, it’s advisable not to overly focus on health and sustainability. While educating consumers about the current Western diet’s impact on health and the environment is important, it’s not the primary driver of food choices at the moment.

Ideally, the emphasis should be on the immediate pleasure derived from consuming plant-based foods. Depicting these foods in consumption settings that inspire enjoyment and positive feelings is crucial. Visuals, such as photographs, should convey the pleasure of eating and be complemented by language emphasizing immediate benefits and enjoyment, rather than solely focusing on health or sustainability benefits.

Esther Papies’ research addresses the cognitive processes underlying the regulation of behavior and behavior change, especially in the domains of health and climate change. Together with her team in Healthycognitionlab.org, she examines the social and psychological processes in the transition to a healthier, more sustainable and more equitable society, with a special focus on food and eating behavior. 

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