Nick Cooney Explains The Impact of Social Norms on Plant-Based Meat
Studies show that if people see a minority behavior (such as eating plant-based meat) becoming more popular, they are more likely to adopt that behavior with the belief that it is likely to become commonplace in the future. More specifically, research on the decrease in meat consumption suggests that social norms play a critical role in defining an individual’s meat-consuming behavior. According to Nick Cooney, who has invested in over 25 alternative protein companies around the world, including Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats, there is a direct correlation between individuals who choose to significantly reduce their meat consumption and individuals who have friends that are vegetarian or maintain a nearly meat-free diet. Relatedly, identity, whether social, political, or environmental, is also an important factor when it comes to meat consumption. Studies have confirmed that individuals who consume less meat or no meat at all consider this to be an integral part of their identity, especially in social situations. Today, we talked to Nick Cooney for his expert assessment on the various impacts social norms have had on the consumption of plant-based meat.
The continuous rise in climate change awareness over the past two decades has led to an unprecedented surge in environmental activism. With research confirming the negative impact of food (more specifically, of the animal meat industry) on the environment, this has inevitably led to a change in perception on meat consumption, especially so for younger generations. Livestock currently comprises 70% of all agricultural land use and is responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Therefore, the reduced consumption of animal meat is touted as one of the most impactful ways that individuals can reduce their footprint and be more environmentally conscious. While Nick Cooney claims that environmental activism is now a badge of honor for many individuals and is quickly becoming mainstream, it is not the only social norm that drives a person to limit their consumption of animal meat in favor of a plant-based alternative.
Nick Cooney further asserts that individuals who make the conscious decision to reduce their meat consumption sometimes view this as part of their political identity (an aspect of one’s identity that is increasingly becoming a point of pride, as political activism continues to gain in popularity). In this vein, adopting a plant-based or low-meat diet could be regarded by some as a political act. This political stance moves away from the Western tradition of a diet based on meat and defines a new agenda of consumption.
Social influence has a significant impact on most types of behavior, but it rings especially true for the consumption of meat. Nick Cooney states that when it comes to social influence, an individual’s meat consumption behavior is based on two main factors: the diets of your friends and wider societal trends. Studies show that people who are surrounded by friends or family members who have reduced their meat consumption, are more likely to decrease their meat consumption as well. A mixture of peer pressure and ease, knowing that there is a circle of people around them who have succeeded in adopting a meat-free diet, both contribute to this pattern. Further, some individuals are influenced by the increasingly widespread societal trend to reduce meat consumption. For example, some research points towards social media and celebrity culture playing a role in the decision to reduce meat consumption. Regardless of the specific motivation, there is no denying that embracing a vegetarian or low-meat diet is a way of claiming a social identity for many people, in both a private context among personal friends, as well as in a public context on social media.
Nick Cooney hopes that by understanding the social situations that have caused other people to switch to eating more plant-based foods, you can consider adding more plant-based foods to your diet.