When ordering a pizza on-line recently I noticed a new menu category called “The Conscious Connoisseur.” This section contained all kinds of choices that they felt were “sustainable and environmentally friendly.” Most of these were plant-based (not real meat) toppings because they felt that somehow these were more sustainable and better for the environment than livestock and dairy farming.
While the marketing people at food companies think this is going to be a big motivator for consumers, research says otherwise. A recent report from Purdue suggests that, in general, consumers don’t give a hoot about food claims like sustainability and environmental impact.
According to the latest Purdue Consumer Food Insights Report, a monthly report identifying trends and changes in consumer food purchases and preferences, such issues as sustainability and the environmental impact rank very low in what determines what food people choose to eat. Sam Polzin, a food and agriculture survey scientist for the center and co-author of the report said, ”Most Americans understand their food choices affect the environment; but survey results also have shown that sustainability beliefs do not necessarily play out through consumer behaviors, and environmental impact is low on the list of purchasing considerations.”
There are persistent misunderstandings when it comes to food and sustainability, noted Jayson Lusk, the head and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue. “More people believe local food is better for the environment than believe eating less meat is better for the environment,” he said. “However, scientific studies show little evidence of benefits of local food production and significant evidence of the negative impact of meat production. To me, this highlights the need for consumers to have better access to information and more transparency in the food system, which is what we aim to do.”
So, if people are all that worried about the sustainability of the food they eat, what is the top concern: GMOs, animal welfare, carbon footprint? NO, none of the above. According to the Purdue survey, the top issue on the minds of food consumers is bird flu, and 60% of consumers are concerned about the impact of bird flu on food prices.
Yet, here again, misinformation and false impressions are at work. While disease is a serious threat to the livestock industry, supplies and prices have not been impacted greatly by the current avian influenza outbreak. Yes, poultry prices are increasing, but there are many factors causing this and the virus is a very small part of it. The poultry industry and state and federal agencies have responded quickly to limit and contain the virus. The media reports on millions of birds being killed or euthanized, but what most people don’t understand that this is still a very small number of animals compared to what is in production each day.
So how about if we knock off the Conscious Connoisseur BS and instead stress being an Informed Connoisseur. Take a few minutes and learn what foods are actually non-sustainable, which really have an environmental impact, and what is really driving up your food costs.
That’s how I see it.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Hoosier Ag Today, its employees, advertisers, or affiliated radio stations.