Too much meat in Dutch diet; Food waste still problematic

On average, Netherlands residents' eating habits are unhealthy and unsustainable, according to the Food Consumption Change report by the Netherlands' environmental assessment agency PBL. For more sustainable eating patterns, Dutch people will have to eat less meat and waste less food. And the government needs to do more to influence these collective habits, the PBL concluded. 

With sustainable eating habits, the PBL means wasting less food, buying products that were sustainably produced, and switching to a more-plant based diet. On average, Netherlands residents eat 98 grams of meat per day, well above the 70 grams advised by the Health Council. They get 60 percent of their proteins from animal products and 40 percent from plant products, while the scientific consensus is that at least 50 percent plant based protein is healthier and better for the environment and climate. 

Netherlands residents say they want to eat less meat, but few make the switch. According to the PBL, this is partly because our food routines are deeply rooted in society - barbecuing with friends in the summer, turkey on Christmas, steak at the restaurant, hamburgers from takeaways. And these routines are hard to change individually.

The government's current policy is too focused on the idea that consumption is mainly an individual choice. Only informing consumers about healthier options, but not also teaching them to cook differently and changing the supply, will not work in changing their habits. "Policy that approaches behavior as an individual choice implicitly places a lot fo responsibility on consumers," the PBL said. And that could also undermine support.

The agency gave the government seven "building blocks for policy" to consider in its attempts to break through cultural food routines. During times of life-changing events, such as the current coronavirus crisis, consumers are more open to developing new routines, the PBL said. The government can take advantage of that. Experimenting more with a wider plant-based offer in restaurants is also an option, as long as this is done in consultation with consumers. The government could also implement stricter regulations, such as limiting meat offers at fast food restaurants.

Companies, social organizations and influencers could be recruited to promote healthy eating habits. According to PBL, consumption patterns can be changed if the government teams up with these parties and work on a "collective, coordinated and simultaneous" approach.