Newswise — NEW YORK -- How can a community and a group of volunteers encourage fellow citizens to shift to a climate-friendly diet?  A new case study shows that a Meatless Monday campaign implemented as part of the Bedford 2020 climate initiative resulted in a significant reduction in consumer meat consumption and an increase in the awareness of the link between food choices and climate.  

The case study was written by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and published in the March 5th issue of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. The researchers examined the attitudes, behaviors, and food choices of residents after participating in the Bedford 2020 Meatless Monday Campaign. The campaign’s volunteers engaged the community across many different sectors, including restaurants, businesses and schools.  

Bedford 2020 was formed in 2010 in Bedford, NY with the mission of lowering municipal greenhouse gases through a community-wide climate action plan. After great success across a number of environmental domains, they added eating less meat to their strategy for climate change mitigation. Meat consumption is one of the major drivers of climate change, and the Bedford 2020 leadership identified Meatless Monday as an easy first step for residents to become more familiar with delicious, plant-based options, both while cooking at home and eating out. Bedford 2020 collaborated with CLF and the Meatless Monday campaign to develop promotional materials and background information based on the latest science.   

In 2018, more than 300 households in the Bedford area pledged to participate in a 12-week long Bedford 2020 Meatless Monday challenge. CLF researchers conducted three surveys -- before, at the conclusion of the campaign, and six months after the challenge -- in order to assess how residents responded to the campaign and whether habits had changed as a result. The survey conducted immediately after the challenge showed that 74 percent of respondents said it raised their awareness about the connections between food choice and climate impact.    

Key findings of the case study:  

  • Over the nine months in which the surveys were conducted, there were significant reductions in the frequency at which households consumed meat, remaining even after the conclusion of the 12-week campaign.  
  • Six months after the program, 90% of those surveyed indicated that they were likely to continue to reduce their meat consumption at least once a week moving forward.   
  • After six months, 84% of survey respondents described eating more meatless dishes and 62% described members of their household eating less meat.   

These changes in behavior coincided with significant increases in residents’ perceived abilities to prepare and order plant-based options, which were often attributed to elevated concerns over climate change, improvements in their own proficiencies as cooks, as well as the changes to their local food environment that made plant-based options more enticing and readily available.   

Midge Lorio, Executive Director, Bedford 2030, remarked, “Our Meatless Monday challenge helped the community make a meaningful connection between food choice and carbon footprint. It continues to inspire behavior change, and provides a strong platform for our organization, now relaunched as Bedford 2030, to create new community programs around sustainable, climate-friendly food practices.”   

Meatless Monday Campaign Director Dana Smith said, “Meatless Monday has long been recognized as a great first step individuals and communities can take to improve their overall health and the health of our planet. This Bedford 2020 case study highlights the lasting impacts that community-based sustainability initiatives could have on residents’ dietary behaviors. Bedford joins cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Sao Paolo, which use Meatless Monday to create healthy school lunch programs, stimulate culinary innovation, and meet climate goals.”

New City Guide from Meatless Monday -- “Inspire Plant-Based Eating in Your City with Meatless Monday” is a new free online guide, filled with inspiring examples of how communities in the U.S. and around the world have used Meatless Monday to promote healthy, sustainable plant-based eating. The guide underscores the powerful ripple effect of how small changes, like going meatless one day a week, can yield global impact. Download the guide:

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Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development