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Meat consumption as a challenge: evidence from data and policies

Francesca Allievi - The President of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Alumni Association and researcher at the BCFN Foundation, shares with us details on her inspiring PhD research topic on meat consumption and its effect on our environmental resources through an interview conducted by Stacy Hammond - the YPARD Europe Communications and Fundraising officer.

Enjoy the interview below:

Stacy: Can you give a brief description of yourself and the research, its aims/objectives, mission and vision? How did the idea come about?

Francesca: My background is in Environmental and Land Planning Engineering, I got a MSc from Politecnico di Milano in Italy, and I have just defended my PhD in Geography at University of Turku in Finland. I am also a food lover and a newbie farmer, so I am lucky enough to research a topic I am truly passionate about.

My PhD research started with a statistical analysis of meat consumption globally and an investigation of the converging trends in different regions of the world: this puts incredible pressure on environmental resources, which is further underlined in the analysis of the situation of Madre de Dios, an important biodiversity hotspot heavily affected by deforestation driven by meat demand. I wanted to combine this evidence from quantitative data with a policy perspective. The analysis of food policies worldwide revealed how scarce is the attention put on favouring the reduction of meat consumption and I also looked at the untapped potential of academia, both in terms of education and food services offered. The idea was to approach the issue of meat consumption globally from different perspectives and demonstrate that it is a wicked problem, which requires the cooperation of all stakeholders in order to move towards a more sustainable direction.

Stacy: What were the benefits and importance of the research? What did you seek to achieve?

Francesca: This study combines quantitative and qualitative evidence to highlight the relevance and complexity of meat consumption at a global level. My aim was to offer an assessment of this issue which was as complete as possible, also as a result of the activities which I have carried out alongside to my PhD studies. I was also seeking to demonstrate that academia should not act in isolation from society, but on the contrary should seek to cooperate with its surrounding communities for a greater impact. Especially when it comes to food systems, academia has a significant potential to act as a role model for the rest of society and create new norms and values.

Stacy: How do you see the research contributing to the SDGs?

Francesca: By providing evidence to encourage the reduction of meat consumption, it can contribute directly to a number of SDGs, including SDG12 - Responsible consumption and production - and SDG13 - Climate action. However, more sustainable diets can generate a range of positive effects on other SDGs too, for example SDG15 - Life on land - has greater chances of being achieved if we choose food that promotes biodiversity of plants and reduces the use of harmful chemicals, on the contrary of what industrially farmed meat does. 

Stacy: Why is awareness important regarding the environmental impact of meat? How do you see this study contributing to creating awareness in civil society?

Francesca: During my PhD studies I had several chances to give open lectures to the general public and every time I was struck by the surprise that most people showed upon seeing the connection between meat production and deforestation or biodiversity loss. Most people still fail to see how individual dietary choices affect the environment, and how complex is the current food system, so increasing awareness in this sense is fundamental to bring about changes. Meat consumption is increasing significantly in many developing countries and I believe that if the “western model” changes, it will be easier to favour the adoption of sustainable diets also in those areas, with huge environmental benefits.

This study has received a good amount of media attention (including from two of the major Finnish newspapers) and I have been looking for various opportunities for dissemination: by providing evidence from both data and policies, I hope it will be easier for people to grasp how serious is this problem and how large can be the environmental (and health) benefits if meat consumption is reduced.

Picture credit: Francesca Allievi