Half of Gen Z in the UK is ashamed to consume animal products in public. This is what emerged from a survey commissioned by the Danish dairy farmer cooperative Arla on the attitude of consumers toward a sustainable diet. While 75% of participants said they are concerned about the future of our planet, only 12% of respondents consider the “environmental impact of food alone” when purchasing food/drink. Arla’s report also reveals that 49% of UK shoppers are willing to make “big changes” to their diets based on what they read on social media, with 34% admitting to making choices based “purely” on information they read on social networks.
As two in five consumers are not entirely sure what makes a “sustainable diet”, the information found on social media tends to have a decisive influence on their opinion forming. What the Arla study shows clearly is that those “opinions” are becoming a stronger driver in purchasing decisions, more than information about food production or indications on product quality. Consequently, the authors noticed a lot of confusion about what makes the food really “sustainable”. 54% of people think that sustainable diets include locally sourced food. 41% believe that replacing animal protein with plant-based alternatives is the right choice to be more sustainable, while 27% of people said that the right thing to do is to cut animal source foods entirely from their diet, and 65% claim to feel “pressured to” but don’t want to give up dairy.
Gen Z, including people born from the late 1990s to the 2010s, appears to be the most significantly influenced. 55% of Gen Z respondents used social media to inform themselves of their dietary decisions. With the “cancel culture” operating on these networks, authors concluded that this has led to a literal fear of consuming animal products in front of others. 49% of Gen Z-ers feel ashamed to order dairy in public, with 29% saying they chose “alternative” milk in front of their peers and revert to dairy at home.
In commenting on these results, Arla argued not to cancel dairy, explaining that, “having a positive environmental impact is not as simple as cancelling food groups entirely”. As Graham Wilkinson, Senior Group Agriculture Director at Arla explained, consumers should look at the issue in all its complexity, from food security to rural livelihoods, as farmers are doing their best to reduce emissions and are a resource in protecting the environment. Arla says their farmers already produce milk with half the global average emissions, and according to Arla’s climate checks programme, they will reduce their emissions even further.
According to Arla, farmers can reduce their carbon footprint significantly thanks to a better feed efficiency to improve milk yields, precision feeding to give the animal the right amount of nutrients avoiding surplus and waste, more efficient land use and better animal health and welfare. Also, by implementing slurry application techniques, already used by 53% of farmers in the UK, emissions can be reduced by 30-90%.
According to Debbie Wilkins, an Arla farmer in Gloucestershire, the image of dairy farmers on social media is often misrepresented and misunderstood, “When this starts to play a role in our decision-making process, particularly regarding our health and well-being, we must take a step back and look at the whole picture. The ‘all or nothing’ attitude that so many groups and brands are pushing is not always necessary. It’s important to use the natural nutrition available to us rather than relying heavily on processed foods. As an important part of our farming heritage, farmers are committed to nature, from protecting biodiversity to acting as beacons of local communities and providing quality, natural and affordable nutrition to the nation. All food production will create emissions, but it’s important to consider the nutritional value of the foods and how it supports the natural environment.” Debbie Wilkins concludes.