Written by Sara Streeter / Faunalytics
A successful transition to a more plant-based diet requires not only motivation but capability and opportunity. This review summarizes existing research on what helps (and hinders) that process.
Food needs to be accessible and abundant across the globe. However, our current food system is unsustainable. It depletes land, water, and energy and reduced biodiversity. As global wealth increases, people eat more and more meat and dairy products, leading to poorer health. Transitioning to a more plant-based diet would resolve many of these issues. Plant-based diets can improve human and environmental health while avoiding animal suffering. As such, they are attracting more attention from consumers, researchers, and policymakers.
Of course, there are a variety of factors that drive our food choices. We eat what’s available, affordable, culturally acceptable; familiarity and taste also matter. Food is part of social context, so when we sit down to a meal, it’s for more than just sustenance. Thus, changing what we eat requires action on many fronts. But according to the researchers, we currently have no overarching conceptual framework on how best to foster a transition to more plant-based diets.
To fill this void, they suggest adopting the COM-B model. This model was originally developed for the field of psychology. It views behavior as influencing and being influenced by three components: capability, opportunity, and motivation. For sustained behavior change to occur, each of these elements must be in place.
Each element of the COM-B model can have barriers, as well as enablers/facilitators. Enablers move people towards a behavior and barriers have the opposite effect. This review catalogs the barriers and facilitators that affect adherence to a plant-based diet. To gather the data, the authors performed a comprehensive search of multiple data sources to locate relevant peer-reviewed research that covered meat curtailment, meat substitution, and plant-based diets. A final set of 110 articles were subjected to data extraction and synthesis. The results were then mapped into the COM-B framework.
This analysis identified a set of barriers and facilitators to consuming a more plant-based diet. Under the capability element of the COM-B framework, barriers included difficulties in finding reliable information about plant-based eating and the challenge of developing new cooking skills. The opportunity element highlighted social prejudices favoring meat-based over plant-based as barriers. Support from family and friends, the perceived danger of contaminated meat, and high meat prices all enabled eating more plants. Motivational barriers included an individual’s perceived lack of responsibility to change, lack of environmental concern, moral disengagement, belief in meat as necessary for health and negative perceptions of meat substitutes. An interest in healthier or more sustainable diets, reducing animal suffering, environmental consciousness, favorable attitudes towards plant-based eating, and altruistic values all fostered meat avoidance.
Over 90% of the studies in this review focused on the motivation component. As a result, this category lists far more barriers and enablers than the other COM-B elements. More research is needed to fill in knowledge gaps about facilitators and barriers to plant-based eating under the capability and opportunity elements.
In the meantime, these findings point to several opportunities for animal advocates. They can make reliable information about plant-based eating more available and accessible. They can offer classes on how to cook tasty and satisfying plant-based meals. Creating a cachet around plant-based eating will make it seem desirable. Requesting plant-based options in a school or employee cafeteria creates opportunities for those who want to try plant-based foods but don’t know how. And asking grocery store managers to stock more plant-based meat alternatives brings attention to the wide array of meatless options available today.