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Q: How can we encourage sustainable diets? A: Subsidies.


Instead of punishing people for their food choices, study finds we should subsidize plant-based meals.

What compels people to ditch beef for beans and broccoli? A desire to do the right thing for the planet? Social pressure? A new study finds that while both these factors play a role in shaping people’s decisions about what to eat, it’s actually the straightforward appeal of cost savings—in this case, subsidies for more sustainable meals—that has the greatest chance of getting people to eat less meat.

Understanding human psychology is key when it comes to food choices and sustainability, and the researchers on the new study wanted to identify the specific drivers that steer how people eat. That’s especially important in the current context where the idea of a carbon tax is often treated as the default option for getting people to ditch carbon-intensive meat products in favor of less intensive, vegetable-based meals—yet there’s still little real insight into how those taxes might guide behavior, and why.

The study investigates whether, instead of effectively punishing people for their food choices (which is how carbon taxes may be perceived) a more incentivizing approach could have greater success in getting people to switch from meat to veg.

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