Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Vegetarian Diets: A Way towards a Sustainable Society

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Vegetarian Diets: A Way towards a Sustainable Society

Article excerpt


We wanted to find out how Finnish university students (n = 210) assess their ability to adopt vegetarianism and their dietary behaviour. Participants assessed 36 aspects of sustainable development with an eight-step scale. They were also invited to write free comments about their assessments. We applied Triandis' Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour (1977). The importance of vegetarian diets was rated lower than that of any other of the 36 items assessed. However, the feasibility of vegetarian diets was considered to be relatively good. We identified two types of barriers to a vegetarian diet: social groups and habits. However, the participants were 6 percent more likely to favour a vegetarian diet than predicted by the calculated Rational Behaviour Expectancy (RBE) based on the rated importance and feasibility of vegetarian diets. The RBE of vegetarian diets was the second highest of all of the 36 items of sustainability rated. The gap between importance and behaviour was also narrowest in the case of vegetarian diets. Our study showed that Finnish university students are in the process of adopting a more sustainable way of food consumption. They need, however, supporting information about the beneficial effects of vegetarian diets on health, environment, global food security and animal welfare to overcome barriers raised by social groups and their own habits.

Keywords: vegetarian diet, sustainable development, sustainability, behaviour change, sustainable society

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

-Albert Einstein

We are still on the way towards a sustainable society where diverse life forms flourish-and can continue to do so over the long term. One essential step on the way seems to be a large-scale shift from meat-eating towards vegetarianism.

The benefits of vegetarian diets (Note 1) are remarkable, whether it be in terms of human health, environment, global food security or animal welfare. This makes vegetarianism a rational way of promoting sustainable development. However, meat and seafood are the two most rapidly growing ingredients in the global diet (Halweil & Nierenberg, 2008). The global average for vegetable consumption is only 2.7 percent of the daily energy intake (not including vegetable oils). It is highest in North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, the USA and Cuba, and in the southern part of Europe (World Cancer Research Fund, 2007).

In the study reported in this article, the research focus was on complex individual decision making and behaviour change processes affected profoundly by values, attitudes and social structures. We wanted to find out how Finnish university students rate the importance and feasibility of the vegetarian diet and their own dietary behaviour. We were also interested in discovering what obstacles they felt there were in the way of switching to a vegetarian diet.

Our article proceeds as follows. We start by summing up the benefits of vegetarian diets. Second, we describe Harry Triandis' theory of interpersonal behaviour and the factors it identifies as leading to or preventing behavioural change. We then move on to a presentation of our study and its results. We end our article with a discussion about the implications of these results for sustainable development.

2. Vegetarian Diets and Sustainable Development

There are four main factors that make vegetarian diets a recommendable means for transitioning to a sustainable society. They are: human health, environment, global food security and animal welfare.

Human health. A worldwide shift towards a diet high in fat and processed foods and low in fiber corresponds to increases in degenerative diseases (Michels et al., 2005; Popkin, 1993; Tukker et al., 2011; 1785). Diseases related to imbalanced diets, especially insufficient vegetable and fruit consumption, are among the top mortality risk factors all over the world (Ezzatiet et al. …

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