Eating Better 5th birthday – a time to reflect
Sue Dibb looks back on Eating Better’s first five years and looks to the future.
It is 5 years since 25 UK civil society organisations came together to launch the Eating Better alliance. At that time, in 2013, the horsemeat scandal saw growing numbers of people becoming more discerning about the meat they eat, although talking about eating less meat was still tricky territory. Local and seasonal food and cutting back on food waste all ranked high as the ‘acceptable’ face of food sustainability, while the meat we eat remained the elephant in the room.
Yet a growing weight of evidence was increasingly demonstrating the huge environmental, health and animal welfare impacts of the livestock industry – particularly for climate change with the Food and Agriculture Organization confirming the livestock industry’s responsibility for 14.5% of global Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions. And with global food security a political concern, Eating Better highlighted the challenge in its launch press release:
“Feeding a growing and more affluent global population healthily, fairly and sustainably simply isn’t possible unless we make significant changes. One vital, simple step for people in the UK is to eat less and better meat and a greater variety of plant-based foods.”
Eating Better’s strength lies not just in its size – now 53 national organisations – but also in its ability to bring together organisations across a broad spectrum including the environment, health, animal welfare, international development, responsible producer, professional and faith interests. Key to the formation of the alliance was the recognition of the need to move beyond the highly polarised ‘meat good vs meat bad’ arguments to create a new positive conversation centred around a ‘less and better’ approach and a culture where we place greater value on the food we eat, the animals that provide it and the people who produce it.
So, five years on, there is much to celebrate! Awareness of the impact of our high consuming meat culture and a generational shift, has created a whole new language of ‘flexitarian’, ‘reducetarian’ and ‘plant-based’ eating, endorsed by bloggers, chefs and celebrities. With Eating Better’s own 2017 YouGov survey demonstrating that 44% of the British public are willing to – or already – cutting back on the meat they eat, smart food companies are responding. In 2017 Eating Better highlighted over 20 companies leading the way. And with investors – including meat companies - tapping into the potential of plant-based start-ups, it’s easy to understand why flexitarian eating has been billed as the growth opportunity for the future.
But the scale of transformational change necessary will require much more than the current excitement in the market place. The gap between what countries have so far committed to and are achieving through the historic 2015 Paris Climate commitment to keep global temperature rise below 1.5oC is scarily large. A missing trick - what we’re eating - stares us in the face three times a day, yet no country has so far set targets for reducing the climate impacts of our diets. The UK is one of a small number of mainly European countries that has started to integrate the sustainability and health message of moderating meat and dairy we eat into its national dietary guidelines , but in most respects – including Brexit – policy makers are silent towards the need for integrated food, climate, agriculture and public health policies that put healthy and sustainable diets at their heart.
As I step down as Executive Director of Eating Better, I’m hugely proud of the lead that civil society organisations have taken in raising awareness, campaigning and developing practical initiatives towards Eating Better’s goals. I believe we are starting to witness a sea-change in attitudes and behaviour. Taking meat off the menu – at least some of the time – is no longer the radical position it was once thought to be, and I challenge policy makers and more food companies to see radical as the new reasonable.
As our 2014 Let’s Talk about Meat report said: let’s no longer be fearful that we can’t have a sensible conversation about reducing the meat we eat and making sure that the meat we do eat is better for our health and the health of the planet. There remains a huge job to do and an important role for Eating Better and civil society to help catalyse a fair, green and healthy food future for all.
Happy Birthday, Eating Better and here’s to the next five years!
Sue Dibb is retiring as Executive Director of Eating Better and Simon Billing has now started in this role.