Friday Digest: Pushing plants, pulling (9.2 million) pints and poultry problems

When it comes to shifting sustainable diets, words count. So says the wordsmith. But don’t take my, ahem, word for it. Research published in the journal BMC Public Health showed the value of indulgent language in promoting sustainable food choices. “[…] appealing dish names significantly increased the amount of [plant-based] food taken per plate by 43.9% relative to baseline compared to basic dish names,” the experts from Compass Group, Google Food, WRI and Yale and Rice Universities in the US wrote. Across the workplace canteens where the study took place, ‘Nonna’s garden ragout’ and ‘Wine simmered French vegetable medley’ proved more enticing than ‘Eggplant and chickpea stew’ or ‘Seitan stew’. Hardly surprising. 

However, the researchers found “no substitution effect between plant-rich and meat dishes”. Sophie Attwood, senior behavioural scientist at WRI, said “we need to boost appeal for plant-based at the same time as reducing appeal for meat, because otherwise we see additions not switching”.

ProVeg International has also just published two new pieces of research on the best ways to label plant-based products. Understanding of terms like vegan and plant-based is high, and few people are confused about meaty terms like nuggets being used for meat-free foods. They are a little bit unsure about whether products labelled as meatless or meat-free contain any dairy or eggs. “Our hope is that these results will contribute towards creating a favourable regulatory and labelling landscape for plant-based products, particularly at a time when we're seeing uncertainty around such topics in Europe,” said ProVeg director of corporate engagement Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr.

Vegans spend less on their weekly shop, according to a survey of 2,000 UK adults by retailer MyVegan. Average spend was £203.51 per month among vegans, compared to the £238.29 and £229.66 spent by omnivores and flexitarians respectively. Pescatarians spent the least (£203.02). The rise in cost of living has also seen 19% include more plant-based meals into their diets. 

MPs on the Efra committee were given stark warnings of the situation facing millions of people as they struggle with the cost of living crisis. Some 9.7 million adults and 4 million children are going hungry or skipping meals, explained Anna Taylor from the Food Foundation. Those levels […] have doubled since January of this year. We have been tracking regularly and we are seeing the graph rise incredibly fast,” she explained during an evidence session for the committee’s inquiry into food security. Taylor has also noted “very marked drops” in reported purchasing of fruit and vegetables among the households that are food insecure. 

And the price of food keeps rising at record ratesNew data from the British Retail Consortium showed meat, eggs, dairy and coffee climbing particularly sharply. Increases in the price of energy, animal feed and transport were to blame, the BRC said. 

However, that hasn’t stopped people buying bacon, it seems, with the FT reporting on a new £100m plant for Danish Crown. Jais Valeur, chief executive, said that rising inflation meant that more consumers were turning to cheaper staple foods such as bacon and sausages. “People are dialling back into what they feel most comfortable and safe with,” he told the paper.

And so to turkeys (it is December after all). The BBC reports that 600,000 of the 1.3 million free-range birds produced for Christmas have been culled due to avian flu. The British Poultry Council said about 36% of poultry farms in the country are now covered by some form of control, whether they've been affected by the outbreak or not. A “big, big” shortage of free-range turkeys is expected.

And finally we move from birds to Baroness Manningham-Buller. The former MI5 chief warned that food supplies are a matter of national security, and that the UK needed to be more self-sufficient and should increase visas for seasonal workers. “We need to acknowledge that we should produce as much of our own food as we can, with due regard to sustainability, and be able to export what we can,” she said in a lecture to members of the NFU.

Stat of the week: 9.2 million – the number of pints sunk during the England versus Wales World Cup clash on Tuesday. Whether it was mostly Welsh fans drowning their sorrows or English fans celebrating is unclear. It was good news for pubs though.

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