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Environmentally sustainable food consumption

A review and research agenda from a goal-directed perspective

Iris Vermeir, Bert Weijters, Jan De Houwer, Maggie Geuens, Hendrik Slabbinck, Adriaan Spruyt, Anneleen Van Kerckhove, Wendy Van Lippevelde, Hans De Steur and Wim Verbeke


The challenge of convincing people to change their eating habits toward more environmentally sustainable food consumption (ESFC) patterns is becoming increasingly pressing. Food preferences, choices and eating habits are notoriously hard to change as they are a central aspect of people’s lifestyles and their socio-cultural environment. Many people already hold positive attitudes toward sustainable food, but the notable gap between favorable attitudes and actual purchase and consumption of more sustainable food products remains to be bridged. The current work aims to (1) present a comprehensive theoretical framework for future research on ESFC, and (2) highlight behavioral solutions for environmental challenges in the food domain from an interdisciplinary perspective. First, starting from the premise that food consumption is deliberately or unintentionally directed at attaining goals, a goal-directed framework for understanding and influencing ESFC is built. To engage in goal-directed behavior, people typically go through a series of sequential steps. The proposed theoretical framework makes explicit the sequential steps or hurdles that need to be taken for consumers to engage in ESFC. Consumers need to positively value the environment, discern a discrepancy between the desired versus the actual state of the environment, opt for action to reduce the experienced discrepancy, intend to engage in behavior that is expected to bring them closer to the desired end state, and act in accordance with their intention. Second, a critical review of the literature on mechanisms that underlie and explain ESFC (or the lack thereof) in high-income countries is presented and integrated into the goal-directed framework. This contribution thus combines a top-down conceptualization with a bottom-up literature review; it identifies and discusses factors that might hold people back from ESFC and interventions that might promote ESFC; and it reveals knowledge gaps as well as insights on how to encourage both short- and long-term ESFC by confronting extant literature with the theoretical framework. Altogether, the analysis yields a set of 33 future research questions in the interdisciplinary food domain that deserve to be addressed with the aim of fostering ESFC in the short and long term.


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