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Psychology of climate change, food, and the importance of young people for a better future

As the world becomes geared towards consuming more ecologically friendly products, the popularity and approval rating of vegetarian and vegan diets have increased, and with that, so too have alternative proteins such as edible insects.

In recent years, progress in what we eat has seen around the world through the introduction of new foods such as plant based burgers and cricket based protein powder, and yet, as the new generations grow, it has been found that they are now, more than ever, inclined to change their eating habits to help the environment. Yet despite the willingness for change, a Sky news report has found that “​​a quarter of Britons are unwilling to change key habits to help tackle climate change with 69% of those polled reporting that they were not personally affected by climate change. This survey did not include participants under 18 years old.”.

Through this statistic, it is clear that in order to implement change, the younger generation's opinions must be taken into consideration. A recent psychology paper from The University of Bergen, Norway, highlighted the importance of examining the thoughts and opinions of the new generation by saying, “young people’s environmental attitudes and behaviours are essential for environmental conservation, hence the need to identify facilitating factors. Promoting positive development among young people may empower them to contribute actively to their environment through positive attitudes and behaviours….The potential for plasticity exists because of a mutually influential and bidirectional relationship between the individual and their context, which includes the family, school, and community.”.

With young people expressing their desire for change in the environment, it is clear that fundamental change is needed. In a report from the WWF highlighting the environment along with the future of food, director of food strategy David Edwards said “the National Food Strategy is our first chance in 75 years to create a food system that is good for our planet and our health. The government must satisfy public appetite by setting ambitious standards to achieve this….The way we produce our food is key to the UK reaching its net zero and nature restoration targets, so we must bolster funding of nature-friendly farming and set core environmental standards….We should not waste this golden opportunity to give the British public the affordable, sustainable and healthy food they want and deserve.”

It is evident that environmentally friendly food is the key focus point on the future of what we eat. To expand on this matter, HOP spoke to Dr Verity Jones on her recent study which looks at how young people view food and climate change whilst also assessing the younger generations' willingness to try ‘new proteins' such as edible insects along with how their actions in what they eat can affect the environment.

Dr Verity Jones explained to HOP that “it is important we hear, listen and act on what children are saying and then support the teachers in having those conversations with the young people about subjects of climate change and food because if we think about what we eat, it is, unfortunately, highly politicised, it's bound up not only by climate politics and health but also economics, personal identity and cultural practices, so sometimes it can be difficult to talk about so we have to navigate this and see where we get to.”

To expand on this matter further, Dr Verity Jones told HOP “We’re coming towards this from a sociology perspective as we want to consider how children perceive the environment along with the food system….issues around the food system are complex and abstract, especially for young people, yet food is one way young people can engage in and think about how their actions, their family’s actions and their countries choices all come together on their plate….There is little research being done about children’s attitudes towards food consumption as its usually adults or teenagers so children between 7 to 11 tend to go unheard and I think it’s really important that a child’s voice is added to these issues”

Through this research, it is clear that young people are aware of the current global implications and are open to mitigation strategies, interventions and innovation to help create a circular and sustainable food economy for their generation and along with the ones to follow. It is clear that through personal education on the future of food and alternative proteins, we too can look forward to a more sustainable future.

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