The Science Museum Group, supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, has published a report which reveals widespread public concern about food waste – alongside an inherent lack of understanding about the link between food production and climate change.
The report Sustainable Food: Public Attitudes and Engagement in the UK, Brazil and India, revealed few people know that around one third of total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the food system.
Roger Highfield, Science Director, Science Museum Group said: “In the run-up to COP26 our five museums have been focusing on climate change, from our popular Climate Talks to exhibitions exploring carbon capture technologies and the Amazon rainforest. In this report we explored public attitudes to sustainable food options and discovered that people are looking for clarity on how their consumer choices can benefit sustainable global food systems. Museums have an important role to play in informing the public about critical issues such as the relationship between food production and climate change and we hope the report will help shape approaches to engaging visitors globally on this important issue.”
Research for the report was carried out by Flow Associates, with Flow India and People’s Palace Projects do Brasil, with the help of two long-standing museum partners — the National Council of Science Museums in India and the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro. The study was based on the responses of 1,604 people from across the UK, India and Brazil (300 in-depth and another 1,304 in a broad survey).
The research also revealed an eagerness to learn more about the solutions to the challenge of sustainable food, with suggestions from respondents that museums be transformed into greenhouses, laboratories or restaurants, with more sensory opportunities to engage.
Olivia Swift, Senior Programmes Manager for Lloyd’s Register Foundation added: “As a global charity dedicated to making the world a safer place, food safety is very much a key focus for us. As a result, we work in partnership with organisations such as the Science Museum Group to look in more detail at food safety issues and work collaboratively to create solutions which make an impact.”
Key points from the research included:
- The responses revealed a very high level of interest in food issues, and even higher concern about the environment amongst all 1,304 survey respondents, with the majority self-scoring 7 or above on a scale of 1 to 10 (85% for interest in food, 89% for concern about the environment).
- Ending waste is important to all audiences. Food waste and plastic waste were top of mind in the three countries as major problems in the food system, with food waste selected by 51% of all survey respondents as one of their top 5 issues, while plastics and packaging was selected by 43%.
- Indian survey respondents had the widest range of concerns about the climate, with 34% mentioning specific issues such as climate refugees, Delhi pollution and food waste. In Brazil the top category was ‘politics and industry’, with 28% of comments about the role of these sectors in environmental harm. In the UK the top category was ‘nature’ and the ‘more-than human world’ at 29%.
- In all three countries people felt that, though knowledgeable about some food sustainability issues, they did not feel able, informed or motivated enough to take effective action on them. All want change and yet many feel disempowered.
- Using three ‘lenses’ to study public attitudes — Self & Family; Society & Community; and Ecosystems & Climate — the researchers examined the differences between people in Brazil, the UK and India. When asked which one issue was most important, Indian respondents were most likely to select medium term issues relating to community and society (38%) such as pollution affecting health, hunger and population, while Brazil and UK respondents were most likely to select long term issues relating to ecosystems and climate (44% and 46% respectively) such as deforestation, pesticides and climate change affecting food.
- Regenerative farming, community-supported farming and greener aquaculture were popular solutions, out of the nine the researchers suggested, although people wanted to know more about their benefits and how they might support them.
- From the choice of nine solutions, eating insects, lab-grown meat and genetically modified organisms were the least popular across the three countries, as they raised more challenges about uncertain benefits, costs and ethics.
- In Brazil, people feel the least motivated to make changes on a personal level, with 29% feeling that changes must be made by those in power; those in India were most likely to mention initiatives to educate people for societal change; those in the UK were the most likely to focus on making small step changes as consumers.
- In Brazil and somewhat in India, people talked of needing to reconnect to family roots, culinary traditions and ancestry of native peoples. People in both countries expressed empathy for those living in poverty, and concern for human rights to access nutritious food (33% of surveyed respondent In Brazil and 24% of those surveyed in India).
- In the UK, themes such as either household budgets or children’s needs (coded in relation to ‘Self & Family’), or nature disconnection, animal welfare and global food transportation (coded as ‘Ecosystems & Climate’) were raised more often. Conversations revealed a yearning desire for a greater sense of community and local society-based solutions, but these weren’t at the forefront of their thoughts.
- When it comes to solutions, Brazilians were more likely than in the other countries to favour, and know about, solutions that provide alternatives to industrial land-grabbing and deforestation, and solutions that support communities to grow food fairly and sustainably.
- In India, all audiences surveyed (adults, families, teachers and students) were more likely than those in Brazil and UK to focus on household choices and practices that reduce waste, provide good nutrition, and that increase demand and supply of a diversity of unprocessed, plant-based foods. More than half — 57% — were motivated by self, family and a focus on food consumption, with ‘food as basic need’ and ‘food for nutrition’ being the most popular themes that emerged.