This study was undertaken to address the detrimental environmental impacts resulting from common diets in the UK. Lower carbon dietary change is recognised as a practice which could contribute towards the achievement of national climate change targets. In this study, lower carbon dietary change consists of diets which involve reduced traditional meat consumption, as well as those with increased levels of insect meat consumption, either as a partial or primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources. Using Southampton as a study area, an experimental intervention was implemented within questionnaires (N=507) to determine whether awareness of the environmental benefits of insect consumption over traditional meat sources could be used to facilitate a shift towards the adoption of lower carbon diets. Experimental intervention influenced preparedness for different forms of lower carbon dietary change. Reducing consumption of traditional meat sources was found to be the most favourable form of lower carbon dietary change. The consumption of insects as a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources was more favourable than consumption as a primary protein source; however, a large proportion of individuals were reluctant towards the concept. Education, age and gender were all factors which influenced preparedness for insect consumption, but did not impact upon preparedness to reduce traditional meat consumption to the same extent. It is evident that environmental awareness can impact upon preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change; however, other drivers such as personal health and animal welfare were found to exert stronger influence. It is suggested that future research efforts in the UK should be directed towards ensuring the relationship between the environment and dietary choices is better understood amongst consumers.
Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger (2), Good Health and Wellbeing (3), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Climate Action (13)
In 2008, the UK situated itself at the centre of international efforts to address climate change by passing the world's first Climate Change Act, setting a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. To meet such an ambitious target, downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions is necessary for all areas of economic activity (Hoolohan et al. 2013). Globally, the food sector accounts for 24% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with the livestock sector alone contributing 14.5% (Gerber et al. 2013; IPCC, 2014). Studies have proven that changing dietary choices to one of less meat can greatly contribute towards climate change mitigation through a reduction in these emissions (González et al. 2011; Scarborough et al. 2014).
Despite the increasing popularity of vegetarian and vegan–based diets in many developed nations (Janssen et al. 2016), a high demand for animal–derived protein by 2050 is predicted due to the combined effects of population growth and increasing standards of living (Boland et al. 2013). A recent UK study found that although respondents were generally willing to consider a 20% reduction in meat consumption as a means of climate change mitigation, a 70% reduction in meat was considered too drastic (O'Keefe et al. 2016). Furthermore, a reduction in meat consumption in western societies is sometimes unfavourable due to meat being perceived as a symbol of wealth and high cultural status (Niva et al. 2014).
A common trait among studies suggesting a reduction in meat consumption as a means to lower carbon dietary change, is the assumption that this reduction will be substituted by increases in other food groups such as vegetable products (González et al. 2011; Hedenus et al. 2014; Scarborough et al. 2014). However, it is important that diets lacking in meat have protein substitutes in place, since it is difficult to obtain sufficient quantities of micronutrients from plant–based sources alone (Murphy & Allen, 2003).
One such substitute following a reduction in traditional meat consumption could involve the consumption of insects, frequently referred to as entomophagy (Verbeke, 2015). Micro–livestock (insect) production is associated with significantly lower carbon emissions in contrast to traditional macro–livestock (i.e. cows, pigs etc.), as well as a higher feed conversion efficiency and reduced land and water requirements (Van Huis, 2013). The term 'lower carbon diet' will be referred to throughout this study and is defined here as a diet which exhibits a reduced carbon footprint relative to one based on traditional meat consumption. Hereafter, this term will refer to diets involving reduced traditional meat consumption, as well as those with increased levels of insect meat consumption.
It is widely acknowledged within the research community that entomophagy could play a pivotal role in contributing towards the sustainability of western diets. This is currently applicable to the UK where the majority of the population follow a meat–based diet in place of less environmentally harmful vegetarian, pescetarian and vegan diets (Scarborough et al. 2014). Despite this, a prominent barrier to the introduction of such food sources to the western world is the lack of consumer acceptance (Yen, 2009). There has been a recent increase in the volume of peer–reviewed research addressing consumers' stance towards adopting insects into their diet in western societies (Verbeke, 2015; Balzan et al. 2016; Verneau et al. 2016). Such studies have generally found a reluctance in willingness to consume insects due to typical neophobic reactions from consumers, although this can vary between different demographic groups as well as the country in which the research was carried out. However, despite the UK being regarded as an environmentally conscious society (Gatersleben et al. 2014), there is limited research which uses the environmental benefits of entomophagy as a means of gaining public acceptance of the concept.
The aim of this study is to investigate whether environmental awareness can act as an influencing factor in facilitating lower carbon dietary change in the UK. Using Southampton as a case study, this will be explored by addressing four key research questions:
Questionnaires comprised the principal methodology for this study and were carried out on the main high street of Southampton City Centre. Southampton exhibits a human population of approximately 249,500 and is located on the south coast of England (SCC, 2015). In order to ensure Southampton was an appropriate study area, different demographic categories including societal classes, household incomes and ethnicities were compared between the city and the UK. Demographics of Southampton and those of the nation as a whole were found to closely match, therefore deeming it suitable for use in this study (SCC, 2011; HCC, 2016).
A pilot study was initially carried out among ten individuals of varying age groups, after which only minor modifications to the questionnaire were necessary. A separate record sheet was completed by the interviewer while the respondent verbally answered written questions. Questionnaires were used to accurately gauge public acceptance, which is a necessity in determining if lower carbon dietary change can be implemented on a large scale in the UK.
Responses for the primary study were collected over a period of six weeks in June and July 2016. Questionnaires were kept anonymous to increase reliability, as respondents are more likely to provide honest answers (Cohen et al. 2007). As many questionnaires as possible were conducted within the six weeks in order to provide a representative sample of the population.
The data obtained in this study were collected using a quota sampling approach. Quota sampling is a non–probability equivalent of stratified random sampling whereby a sample is divided into strata based on common characteristics (Górny & Napierała, 2016). In this instance, individuals were approached and asked to participate in a short face–to–face questionnaire based on their expected age category. This was done in order to reflect the relative proportions of each age category based on national census data. Prior to undertaking the questionnaires, a risk assessment was carried out and ergo ethics approval was obtained.
A two–page questionnaire was designed to gain insight on individuals' dietary preferences, self–proclaimed environmental behaviour, opinion and reasoning towards lower carbon dietary change.
Each questionnaire began with a short statement on the purpose of the research and emphasised that results would remain anonymous with the opportunity to opt out at any time. Structured, closed questions were predominantly used in order to determine preferential differences between respondents and ease subsequent quantitative analysis.
Respondents were first asked to disclose their current dietary preferences by classifying themselves as either: 'Meat–eater', 'Vegetarian', 'Pescetarian', 'Vegan' or 'Other'. Respondents were then asked how regularly they consumed seven different foods, measured on a five–point Likert scale ranging from 'Regularly' to 'Never'. The use of a five–point Likert scale enabled a mid–point to act as a neutral option, specified as 'Undecided' in this instance. The presence of this option prevents an unrepresentative increase in either positive or negative results which could otherwise polarise the data (Garland, 1991). 'Insects' was listed as one of the foods and this was the first instance in which entomophagy was introduced to respondents. This option was placed fourth in the list of food groups in order to prevent isolation of this group, which respondents may have considered unusual.
A five–point Likert scale ranging from 'Strongly Agree' to 'Strongly Disagree' was used to measure respondents' environmental awareness and behaviour. Awareness was measured by asking respondents to determine the extent to which they agreed with 'I care for the environment'. Four subsequent statements focused on respondents': recycling participation, use of public transport, energy saving at home and eco–friendly purchasing of food products. These topics were selected as they have been previously identified as effective and engaging subjects for communicating with respondents, regarding their environmental behaviour (DEFRA, 2008).
Further statements were used to gauge respondents' preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change. These were measured on the same five–point scale as the environmental awareness and behaviour statements and were used to determine the level of agreement to which respondents would: a) be prepared to consume less meat, and b) consider eating insects as both a partial and a primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources. Insects were proposed as a partial, as well as a primary, protein replacement since the concept of completely substituting protein sources is often unfavourable among consumers (Hoek et al. 2011).
Additional statements required respondents to provide one or more reasons from a pre–set list to justify any preparedness for lower carbon dietary change. The pre–set list included reasons concerning environmental impact, namely: 'Concern for biodiversity loss', 'Concern for increasing climate change' and 'Concern about the loss of land for agriculture'. Other reasons included popular reasons for dietary change, consisting of health and nutrition, animal welfare and financial costs (Haslam et al. 2000). An 'I wouldn't' option was also available for those respondents who were not willing to change their diets. Additionally, an open 'Other (please specify)' option enabled respondents to provide their own answers, should they want to build upon the list of pre–set answers or add their own. This allowed the entirety of respondent opinion to be captured, which may not have been possible if the questionnaire had solely consisted of closed questions.
At this point in the questionnaire, an experimental intervention was introduced in the form of a written statement which emphasised the environmental benefits of entomophagy. The statement compared beef against cricket meat, in order to highlight the advantages of entomophagy in terms of environmental sustainability. Beef was selected due to the high carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions and extensive land and energy use associated with its production, in comparison to livestock such as pork and chicken (de Vries & de Boer, 2010). Cricket meat was chosen due to the wealth of research and data regarding the comparatively lower environmental impact of its production. The information for the statement was collated from a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2013) and was presented to respondents as follows:
Inclusion of this statement allowed the integration of a pre–test post–test design into the questionnaire. A pre–test post–test design can be described as two identical measurements which take place before and after an experimental intervention. Differences between pre–test and post–test results can then be treated as an indication of change attributable to the intervention (Lam & Bengo, 2003).
'Insects are increasingly being considered as a food source in western societies due to their environmental benefits. For example, beef production produces 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of cricket meat. The production of edible insects also requires significantly less water and land than cattle rearing. Additionally, the majority (80%) of a cricket's body can be eaten, whereas less than half (40%) of a cow can be eaten.'
In this study, two sets of identical questions took place before and after this experimental intervention. Questions determining preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change and reasons justifying any changes were repeated immediately after the statement to gauge the extent to which opinion had been influenced. This would additionally determine if the environment now played a more prominent role in these responses than previously so. Hereafter, pre–test and post–test will refer to responses prior to and following the experimental intervention.
A 'General Information' section was included to ascertain socio–demographic information regarding gender, age and level of education. This was necessary in order to identify any broad trends between dietary preferences and particular groups of the population.
Responses to the quantitative questions were inputted and numerically coded to ease analysis in Microsoft Excel and IBM SPSS Statistics 22, whereas open responses were logged separately. Open responses which were either nonsensical or repetitions of pre–set closed questions were omitted from data collation and analysis.
All statistical tests were non–parametric, since no assumptions were made regarding the nature of the distribution (Marques de Sá, 2007). A critical probability of α=0.05 was applied to all statistical tests.
In order to determine whether environmental concern was reflected in respondents' preparedness for lower carbon dietary change, a Spearman's rank analysis was employed. This analysis was utilised to determine the strength of the relationship between two ordinal variables (Huizingh, 2007). More specifically, this tested for the existence of any significantly moderate, strong or very strong correlations between levels of agreement to the five statements regarding environmental awareness and behaviour, and preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change.
Wilcoxon signed rank tests were used to test for significant differences between two related groups (Huizing, 2007). In this case, tests were used to determine the existence of significant differences in preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change between responses pre– and post–test. One test was designed to determine whether knowledge of the relative environmental impact of meat sources led to an increase in preparedness to reduce traditional meat consumption, whereas the second and third tests determined whether this knowledge led to an increase in preparedness to consume edible insects as both a partial and primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources. A supplementary Mann–Whitney test was used to establish if a significant difference existed in the extent of agreement between responses to the concept of eating insects as a partial protein source, and the responses to the concept of eating insects as a primary protein source.
Wilcoxon signed rank tests were also utilised to test for any significant changes in reasoning behind lower carbon dietary change between pre– and post–test. As a supplement to this, significant changes in the use of individual reasons were also tested for. This allowed for the determination of which individual drivers had been significantly affected by the environmental statement.
All tests on demographic variables were applied to pre–test data to gauge initial preparedness before the experimental intervention was introduced. Two Mann–Whitney U tests were employed to determine whether there was a significant difference between two independent samples (Huizingh, 2007). In this instance, this established if the level of preparedness for lower carbon dietary change differed between males and females. This was additionally tested between groups based on the possession of an academic degree in order to determine if the level of education influenced preparedness. Three Kruskal–Wallis tests with pairwise comparisons were also used to establish if these same differences existed between age groups.
Interviews were to be carried out with major food retailers including: Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury's and Tesco. This was intended to identify the main reasons as to why edible insects are not currently stocked in food retailer stores across the UK and to determine if retailers would be willing to stock insect–based products in the near future. This would have been on the premise of reducing their carbon footprint and leading environmental change within the food sector. However, after numerous attempts of contact via emails and letters to head offices, it became evident that no retailers were interested in undertaking the interview.
The total number of complete questionnaires (N=507) were completed by 252 males, 253 females and two individuals who preferred not to identify themselves as either. The sample was representative in terms of age structure, which closely mirrored that of the UK population, with the exception of age categories 56–65 and over 75 (Table 1).
Table 1. Proportional age demographics of Southampton, England and the UK calculated from National Census Data 2011, in comparison to those of the sample population (excluding age group 0–17) (SCC, 2011).
With regards to current dietary preferences, 88.8% of respondents identified themselves as a 'Meat–eater', 5.3% as 'Vegetarian', 4.9% as 'Pescetarian', 0.8% as 'Vegan' and 0.2% as 'Other'. Insects were the only meat source which was infrequently consumed, with the majority of the sample group consisting of individuals who consumed traditional meat sources (Table 2).
Table 2. Frequency at which respondents claim to consume different food groups (N=507).
The majority of respondents (94.6%) agreed to some extent with caring for the environment. However, a greater degree of disagreement was observed in response to environmental behaviours regarding sustainable transport use and energy saving habits (Fig. 1). The largest variation in responses was evident when respondents were questioned as to whether they considered the environment whilst purchasing food products. Considerably more individuals disagreed with this in comparison to other subjects of environmental behaviour (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Levels of agreement to environmental statements.
Results of the Spearman's rank correlation analysis revealed no significant moderate, strong or very strong relationships between any proclaimed environmental behaviour and preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change.
Notably, significant weak relationships were observed between variables such as food purchasing choices and preparedness to reduce consumption of traditional meat sources (r=0.379, P<0.001), as well as between caring for the environment and preparedness to eat insects as a primary protein replacement (r=0.89, P=0.045). Overall, there was very limited association between agreement with the environmental statements and self–proclaimed preparedness for lower carbon dietary change.
Experimental intervention was found to have an observable effect on respondents' preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change, as indicated by reductions in mean respondent agreement scores towards each concept (Table 3). Prior to the experimental intervention, the majority of individuals sampled (56%) were prepared (to an extent) to reduce their meat consumption. This was notably higher than the number of individuals who were initially prepared to consume insects as either a partial or a primary protein replacement (Fig. 2).
Table 3: Descriptive statistics of agreement scores regarding preparedness towards lower carbon dietary change, pre– and post–test. Scores measured on a five–point Likert scale ranging from 1=Strongly Agree to 5=Strongly Disagree
Figure 2: Level of agreement with: (a) 'I would be prepared to change my diet to one of less meat', (b) 'I would be prepared to eat insects as a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources', (c) 'I would be prepared to eat insects as a primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources', pre– and post–test. Percentage figures represent proportions of the sample population responding to each statement.
Reduction in meat consumption experienced the smallest change in overall agreement score (Table 3). Despite this, opinion was still found to be influenced positively by the experimental intervention, and 62% of individuals agreed with the concept once the environmental benefits had been conveyed (Fig. 2). As a result of the observed changes, a highly significant difference in responses to 'I would be prepared to change my diet to one of less meat' was identified between pre– and post–test (Z=–5.331, P<0.001).
Comparatively, a greater shift in mean agreement scores took place regarding the consumption of insects as both a partial and a primary protein source. The slightly lower standard deviations for insect consumption also infer that there was less variation among responses, indicating that individuals were providing relatively consistent answers to one another (Table 3).
Entomophagy was initially unpopular among the sample population, with 68% of respondents disagreeing (to an extent) with consuming insects as a partial protein source, and 75% disagreeing with consuming insects as a primary protein source (Fig. 2). However, following experimental intervention, there was a notable shift in mean agreement scores (Table 3), indicating that the intervention may have influenced respondents' preparedness to shift to an increasingly entomophagy–based diet. More specifically, a highly significant statistical difference was found in preparedness to eat insects as both a partial (Z=–9.940, P<0.001) and a primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources (Z=–8.929, P<0.001) between pre– and post–test. This shift in opinion predominantly resulted from increases in agreement to 31% from the initial 19% regarding partial protein replacement, and to 20% from the initial 12% for primary protein replacement. This was accompanied by simultaneous decreases in disagreement towards the concept post–test (Fig. 2). Incidentally, a significant difference was identified in preparedness to eat insects as a partial protein replacement compared to a primary protein replacement (Z=–3.080, P=0.002), with fewer respondents expressing preparedness towards consuming insects as a primary protein replacement (Fig. 2). Overall, the experimental intervention exerted the greatest influence on respondent preparedness to consume insects as a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources (Table 3).
Prior to experimental intervention, personal health and nutrition, along with animal welfare were valued higher than environmental factors such as climate change and biodiversity loss (Fig. 3). This indicated that initially, these were the predominant drivers behind a reduction in meat consumption. However, it is evident that a proportion of the sampled population do recognise the environmental implications of meat consumption. 'Concern for increasing climate change' was the most commonly selected environmental reason, with 17.7% of individuals identifying it as a motivator for reducing traditional meat consumption. More respondents opted for 'I wouldn't consider consuming less meat' over those that opted for environmental reasons, although this only accounted for a quarter of the population sampled. 'Concern about financial costs' was valued on a similar level to environmental factors, which overall, was relatively low (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: Responses to (a) 'Please state the reasons why you might consider consuming less meat' and (b) 'Please state the reasons why you might consider counsuming edidle insects', pre– and post–test (multiple answers permitted)
Following experimental intervention, there was limited change in reasoning for reducing meat consumption (Fig. 3). However, a Wilcoxon signed rank test identified this difference as significant (Z=–2.513, P=0.012). Additional analysis revealed that 'concern for increasing climate change' and 'concern about the loss of land for agriculture' were those reasons which differed significantly as a result of the experimental intervention and were therefore those that were influenced the most. 'Concern for biodiversity loss' was the only environmental factor which was not significantly influenced by experimental intervention.
Entomophagy was viewed as a less popular lower carbon dietary approach compared to reducing traditional meat consumption, with 59.6% of individuals claiming that they would not consider eating insects (Fig. 3). Initially, environmental concern was not a predominant driver for entomophagy since concern for increasing climate change was only opted by 12% of individuals, despite being the most popular environmental reasoning choice. Even after experimental intervention, 'I wouldn't' remained the most popular answer choice, indicating a high reluctance towards entomophagy amongst the majority of respondents. Nonetheless, a difference in reasoning to consume edible insects before and after the intervention was found to be highly significant (Z=–3.649, P<0.001), as a result of 15.4% of respondents changing their reasoning.
Further analyses revealed that all areas of reasoning differed significantly once respondents had been informed of the environmental benefits, with the exception of 'Concern for personal health and nutrition' and 'Other, please specify'. Following experimental intervention, fewer individuals opted for 'I wouldn't consider consuming edible insects', whereas other answer options exhibited an increase in selection. Of the environmental reasons, 'Concern about the loss of land for agriculture' exhibited the greatest increase from 10.7% to 15.4% of respondents, although 'Concern for increasing climate change' remained the most highly valued environmental factor. However, as with responses to the concept of reducing meat consumption, 'Concern for personal health and nutrition' was valued higher in comparison to other environmental factors (Fig. 3). Animal welfare was also identified as another prominent driver for entomophagy, and was valued higher than other reasoning options following experimental intervention (Fig. 3)
In addition to pre–set answer choices, 10.5% of respondents answered 'Other, please specify' for reasons to consume edible insects both pre– and post–test (Fig. 3). Similar open answers were grouped into categories with popular reasons including 'Out of curiosity', 'Out of necessity' and 'Resource and sustainability–related concerns' (Fig. 4).
Figure 4: Grouped responses to 'Other, please specify' for reasons justifying edible insect consumption.
Trends between socio–demographic factors and preparedness to consume insects as both a partial and primary protein replacement were found to be consistent. Figures presented hereafter regarding insect consumption therefore use data based purely on partial protein replacement.
Significant differences were found in opinion towards eating insects as a partial and primary protein replacement between groups categorised by level of education (Z=–3.306, P<0.001 & Z=–3.084, P=0.002 respectively). Those that were qualified to degree level or higher were more likely to consume insects (Fig. 5). Similar results were also found in preparedness to change diets to one of less meat between groups based on possession of a degree (Z=–2.031, P=0.042), whereby those that were educated to a higher level were more prepared for this form of dietary change.
Figure 5: Variation in agreement to 'I would be prepared to eat insects as a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources' with regard to level of education.
A highly significant difference was found in preparedness to eat insects as both a partial and primary protein replacement to traditional meat sources between genders (Z=–5.094, P<0.001 & Z=–5.206, P<0.001). Males were generally more inclined to eat insects than females, as a smaller proportion of males strongly disagreed with the concept compared to females (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: Variation in agreement to 'I would be prepared to eat insects as a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources' with regard to gender.
There was little observed variation in the extent of agreement between genders regarding preparedness to change diets to one of less meat, since 56% of males and 57% of females agreed with this statement to some extent (Fig. 7). However, a highly significant difference in preparedness to change diets to one of less meat between gender groups was still observed (Z=–4.289, P<0.001). This can be attributed to greater levels of indecision among males as compared to females (Fig. 7).
Figure 7: Variation in agreement to 'I would be prepared to change my diet to one of less meat' with regard to gender.
Differences in responses to the level of preparedness to eat insects as a partial protein replacement across age groups were found to be highly significant (χ2=24.927, df=6, P<0.001). Pairwise comparisons revealed that a number of age groups significantly differed from each other, with 18–25 year olds differing to the greatest extent from other age groups. It was identified that levels of disagreement towards the concept of eating insects broadly increased with age (Fig. 8).
Figure 8: Variation in response to 'I would be prepared to eat insects as part of a partial protein replacement to traditional meat sources' between age groups.
Similar trends were found in preparedness to eat insects as a primary protein replacement, with age groups differing significantly from each other (χ2=20.570, df=6, P=0.002). Contrastingly, it was found that age did not significantly influence the level of preparedness for individuals to change their diet to one of less meat (χ2=2.195, df=6, P=0.901). This was illustrated by no observed significant differences in any pairwise comparisons between age groups, indicating that no single age group agreed or disagreed more than another.
The sampled population was evidently environmental conscious. However, with the exception of recycling, concern for the environment is not fully reflected in respondent environmental behaviour (Fig. 1). This was particularly prevalent when respondents were questioned on whether they considered the environmental impacts when purchasing food products. This indicates that the environmental impact associated with purchasing food products is not considered to the same extent as it is in other aspects of daily life such as recycling, transportation and energy usage. These findings support other European studies which found changing non–food related behaviours such as transport and energy to be more publicly accepted practices for climate change mitigation as opposed to changing food and dietary habits (Vanhonacker et al. 2013; Macdiarmid et al. 2016). Despite the significant impact food choices have on the environment, this information is evidently not being considered among UK consumers regarding food purchasing choices. It is unlikely that this is due to a lack of concern for the environment (Fig. 1), but perhaps a lack of sufficient knowledge surrounding the relationship between purchasing decisions and the associated environmental impact. Future research efforts and policies may therefore be directed towards ensuring this relationship is better understood among consumers.
Despite the initial disassociation between food choices and environmental concern, predominantly positive responses regarding preparedness to reduce traditional meat consumption were observed. However, experimental intervention had a limited effect on preparedness to reduce meat consumption compared to its influence on preparedness for entomophagy (Table 3). This is likely due to initial agreement among the majority of individuals, whereby there was less scope for opinion to be influenced further (Fig. 2). This agreement contrasts to the findings of another UK study, which found participants to be generally unwilling to reduce their meat consumption (Macdiarmid et al. 2016). This reluctance was partly due to the benefits that individuals associate with meat consumption, including pleasure, personal identity, as well as elevated social and economic status (Macdiarmid et al. 2016). These social and cultural values may also account for the 30% of individuals in the present study who disagreed with reducing their meat consumption, even after knowledge of the environmental impacts had been conveyed (Fig. 2). Knowledge of the environmental impact had little influence on respondents' preparedness for reducing traditional meat consumption. However, it should not be inferred that respondents were unaware of the environmental impacts of meat consumption, and pre–existing knowledge may have partly influenced initial agreement from some respondents (Fig. 3).
Although a large proportion of individuals were initially opposed to insect consumption (Fig. 2 & Fig. 3), preparedness towards the concept marginally increased following experimental intervention. Thus, awareness of the environmental benefits of entomophagy can at least partly influence levels of preparedness to consume insects.
Despite the absence of UK–based studies to benchmark against, a handful of European studies have used questionnaire designs to assess public preparedness towards entomophagy. An Italian study found that 31% of respondents were willing to eat insects (Cicatiello et al. 2016). Whereas, two Belgium–based studies found contrasting results, one reporting that 19.3% of the sample were willing to eat insects, and another which noted a larger proportion of individuals (77.7%) to be willing to eat insects in the future (Caparros et al. 2014; Verbeke, 2015). These results can be compared to those reported here, whereby 31% of individuals were prepared to consume insects as a partial protein replacement and 20% as a primary replacement (Fig. 2).
Variation between studies may be attributed to the type of audience targeted. Capparos et al. (2014) reported a comparatively high number of individuals willing to eat insects. However, there was an evident imbalance between gender and age groups in their study, whereby more males took part and 56.6% of individuals sampled were under 25 years old. It is evident from both this present study and other research that younger and typically male respondents are more likely to be willing to consume insects (Verbeke, 2015). Contrastingly, Verbeke (2015) and Cicatiello et al. (2016) sampled a more evenly distributed age spread, as well as a balance between males and females, which may explain how their results more closely align with the findings of this study.
The high initial levels of disagreement towards entomophagy (Fig. 2.) are likely due to negative prevailing attitudes and neophobia towards the concept in western societies (Yen, 2009). These attitudes are further influenced by social factors, whereby individuals use the behaviours of others to decide what is socially acceptable to eat (Larson & Story, 2009).
This study has outlined that consuming insects as a partial protein source, as opposed to a primary protein source, to traditional meat sources is likely to be more widely accepted. The presentation of insects as food is vital for gaining consumer acceptance (Tan et al. 2016). Studies focussing on the sensory perceptions of insect–based food recognise that incorporating insects into familiar products which are aesthetically attractive is more likely to facilitate acceptance (Hartmann et al. 2015; Tan et al. 2015). A suggestion for future marketing strategies might therefore be to discreetly incorporate insects within traditional meat products as a partial protein substitute.
Animal welfare is recognised as a common motivator for meat reduction and as an influential factor in dietary choices (O'Keefe et al. 2016). However, whilst investigating the drivers behind entomophagy, the large increase in 'concern for animal welfare' following experimental intervention was somewhat unexpected. The reasoning behind this is unclear and may be due to confusion surrounding the meaning of the term. Respondents may have also judged the suffering of traditional livestock to be greater than that of micro–livestock. However, no such studies have focused on the relative suffering of micro– and macro–livestock, thereby making it difficult to attribute this increase to a specific reason.
Although valued comparatively lower, the increase in environmental reasons post–test indicates that environmental knowledge can to an extent drive lower carbon dietary change, particularly surrounding concern for increasing climate change and loss of land for agriculture. Indeed, there is a general awareness of climate change amongst the public, whereas issues such as biodiversity loss are less well–known (Miller, 2005). This implies that concern for climate change may be the most effective environmental factor in facilitating lower carbon dietary change.
Due to the comparatively high value of health and nutrition in relation to environmental factors, highlighting the link between human health and environmental benefits could be a pragmatic method in facilitating a shift towards lower carbon diets. Concern for personal health and nutrition as a prominent driver for lower carbon dietary change is unsurprising since dieting is a common and widespread practice in western societies (Story et al. 2008).
The 'level of availability' and 'out of curiosity' were both additional reasons justifying insect consumption. Exploiting this curiosity by making samples readily available to try could be an effective method in gaining consumer acceptance of the concept. Previous research into the provision of insect samples to consumers has suggested that initial exposure to insect–containing products can lead to positive responses among individuals when exposed to edible insects again at a later date (Looy & Wood, 2006). However, this initial curiosity by no means implies that insect tasting on one occasion will lead to complete subsequent consumer acceptance of this as a protein source (Tan et al. 2016). Nonetheless, a combination of education on the benefits of insect consumption, as well as the opportunity for individuals to sample them, could be a viable option in promoting entomophagy within future UK study designs.
Increased preparedness to consume insects among males is recognised in this research, as well as in other literature (Verbeke, 2015; Megido et al. 2016; Verneau et al. 2016; Gere et al. 2017). The reasoning behind this remains unknown, but may be related to greater adventurous taste orientation among males (Verbeke, 2015). Contrastingly, the responses of males and females towards the concept of reducing meat consumption was found to be more uniform (Fig. 7). This conflicts with the findings of another study, which infers that males are less likely to reduce their meat intake due to the perceived association of meat consumption with masculinity (Rothgerber, 2013).
Increased preparedness towards entomophagy among young individuals is a consistent finding within the research community (Tobler et al. 2011; Verbeke, 2015; Menozzi et al. 2017). This is likely due to younger individuals exhibiting higher levels of curiosity towards novel foods (Menozzi et al. 2017).
Other literature also suggests that higher levels of education lead to increased preparedness towards the adoption of lower carbon dietary practices (Siegrist et al. 2013; Laureati et al. 2016). There are limited reasons as to why this is the case, although a greater level of understanding among educated individuals on the impact of food choices may be one such explanation. Indeed, previous work by Cotton & Alcock (2012), has suggested that higher education may promote commitment to environmental sustainability through a combination of delivering enhanced knowledge, cotdeveloping cognitive skills, as well as offering a physical and social environment ideally suited to pro–environmental behaviour.
A key limitation which needs to be accounted for in this study is the likely occurrence of social desirability bias, which refers to the tendency of individuals to present themselves in a way which is socially favourable (Krumpal, 2013). It is feasible that individuals claimed to be more prepared for lower carbon dietary choices than they would be in reality.
This study was also carried out in a single UK city, and although measures were taken to match the sample demographics with that of the wider population, socio–demographic factors may differ regionally. Future research could therefore assess the variation between UK regions before considering the nationwide viability of lower carbon dietary change practices.
Due to the specific scope of this study, an exhaustive list of lower carbon dietary choices was not included. However, this provides future studies with the opportunity to determine the level of preparedness of the public for other lower carbon dietary practices such as vegetarianism and veganism in the context of climate change mitigation. Other lower carbon protein alternatives may also be considered in a UK context such as laboratory–grown produce. These dietary options, along with their drivers, can then be compared to the findings of the present research in order to identify common motivators to inform policy surrounding lower carbon diets in the UK.
Finally, it should be reiterated that this study sought to target major food retailers to discuss the likelihood of the future sale of insect–based products. All attempts to communicate were disregarded, implying that the concept of insect–containing produce within UK food outlets is not yet realistic. However, future studies may wish to pursue this further to gauge the potential of implementing entomophagy at a larger scale.
This study was undertaken because of the adverse effects common UK diets have on the environment. Despite the apparent environmental consciousness of the national population, there is an evident disparity between consumer concern for the environment and subsequent food purchasing and dietary decisions among UK citizens. This lack of consideration of the environmental impact of food choices is reflected in the significant but somewhat limited shift in respondent opinion towards lower carbon dietary change following experimental intervention.
Regarding approaches to lower carbon dietary change, the concept of reducing traditional macro–livestock consumption is currently more favourable than adopting entomophagy–based practices. This is due to the consistently high levels of recorded reluctance towards the concept of eating insects among respondents in this study, as well as throughout literature. This reluctance can be attributed to typical neophobic reactions and was notably more prevalent among certain demographic groups, namely females, older respondents and those educated to lower than degree level. Despite this and the likely occurrence of social desirability bias, the adoption of insect consumption as a partial protein source may be feasible in future UK dietary patterns, since a moderate proportion of individuals expressed preparedness towards the concept.
The national population should be encouraged to adopt lower carbon dietary change practices in order to address UK climate change targets; however, this study suggests that raising environmental awareness might not be the most pragmatic method to achieve this dietary shift. Concern for personal health and nutrition, as well as animal welfare, were identified as greater drivers of lower carbon dietary change relative to environmental factors. This, combined with the evident de–coupling of environmental concern and associated behaviour, points towards a significant challenge surrounding the recognition of the impact of everyday food choices on the environment. This is likely due to a lack of sufficient knowledge surrounding the relationship between food choices and their associated environmental impact. Future research efforts in the UK should therefore be directed towards ensuring this relationship is better understood amongst consumers, as well as gauging the extent to which other drivers may facilitate a shift towards lower carbon dietary change.
The author of this study would like to thank Professor S. Kemp for his supervision and guidance with this research project for the past year. Additional thanks are given to all individuals who took part in questionnaires in Southampton city centre during the surveying period throughout June and July 2016.
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