We eat way too much meat in the Netherlands and have no plans to change that anytime soon. Large-scale intervention is therefore necessary, warns knowledge center and information organization Milieu Centraal.
Long queues at McDonalds, lavish Christmas dinners and cozy barbecues in the backyard. They are traditional Dutch images. The Netherlands is a meat country par excellence. On average we eat about 38 kilos of meat per person per year. That may not seem like much, but it is almost one and a half times as much as the Wheel of Five advice to eat a maximum of 26 kilos of meat per year. “Meat is tasty, social and it is part of life, but this means we live far beyond what we as a planet can handle,” says consumption expert Hans Dagevos.
A majority of 4,000 people polled by Milieu Centraal say they are open to more sustainable behavior, such as going on holiday by train instead of by plane. Leaving the steak more often is a different story: only one in five Dutch people is willing to give this a chance. And not even everyone in that group acts accordingly. This means we are missing out on enormous opportunities for environmental gains, says Milieu Centraal. “This is one of the most impactful steps you can take as a consumer to drastically reduce your footprint,” says director Ika van de Pas. And that is necessary, because our footprint is almost 30 percent above the European average and even twice above the global average. “So that is quite dramatic.”
The Dutch currently get about 40 percent of their proteins from plant products and 60 percent from animal products such as meat. But animal products have a huge impact on the environment. Our meat consumption is therefore a ‘bottleneck’, says behavioral researcher Judith Roumen of Milieu Centraal. “The Netherlands is not slowing down and only a minority is open to this. Large-scale interventions are necessary to change support, but certainly also behavior. Although this will be a long-term matter.” According to experts, the fact that we have not yet seen this acceleration has to do with the gap between thinking and doing, making unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyles easy and accessible, and the fact that we are constantly stimulated to consume in supermarkets and cheap fast-food restaurants. “But it must be made possible,” Roumen emphasizes.
Can we humans survive without meat? Is it healthy? (video):
Sustainable and healthy should be attractive, easy and self-evident, but it is now often the opposite. “Complicated, not very accessible and often more expensive,” sighs Arjen Wals, professor of sustainability at Wageningen University. According to him, the government has an important role in accelerating that change, by working to make unhealthy more expensive and more difficult and healthy and sustainable cheaper and easier.
Ecologists are unanimous: eating less meat helps to reduce greenhouse emissions by 60 percent by 2030. “But it is not that simple,” says Laurens Hoedemaker, chairman of the Central Organization for the Meat Sector. “Anyone who stops eating meat for the sake of the climate overestimates their impact. One meat is not the same as the other. 85 percent of our beef comes from dairy farming. Our ecological footprint of meat is therefore much lower than average. Unfortunately, we now see that all types of meat are being lumped together in the discussion.”
Moreover, it is an ‘illusion’ to think that we could do without meat, says Hoedemaker. ,,That is not true. Eating meat has been ingrained in humans for centuries. It is not only tasty and social, but also extremely healthy. Meat contains important building blocks that are very important for children, pregnant women or the elderly. We really need to stop the credo that ‘meat is bad and plants are good’.
The Milieu Centraal report also discusses the sustainable behavior that Dutch people are already demonstrating. The majority already hand in items and waste separately, so that they can be recycled. Some people also sometimes give away things so that they can be used again. Furthermore, the Dutch try to save energy at home.
Other important conclusions from the Milieu Centraal report (Sustainable Living Monitor)
– The majority of sustainable behaviors have not increased in absolute terms. The exception that proves the rule is energy consumption behavior. A sudden, drastic price increase could therefore possibly encourage different behavior.
– HBO/WO educated people live less sustainably on a number of ‘climate hits’, i.e. behaviors with a high climate impact. They fly more often, buy more new clothes, take the car for a short trip more often and live in larger houses.
– In general, there are few drastic absolute increases in sustainable behavior compared to 2021. There are a number of relative but small increases, such as reducing dairy products and buying furniture from recycled materials.
– There has been no or only a small increase in other behaviors that people were open to in 2021, such as buying an energy-efficient or electric car, repairing a washing machine or giving away your clothes and belongings. Openness does not automatically lead to different behavior, but more is needed for this.
– A large proportion of Dutch people already want to exhibit this behavior, but do not yet do so: mobility (taking the train for vacation instead of the plane and buying an electric car or fuel-efficient car) and things (purchasing furniture made of environmentally friendly materials, less buying clothes). Milieu Centraal sees opportunities here.
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