Meat the future and Meat your Persona: starting the conversation about sustainable diets

Public engagement activities developed by the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) programme have taken the message about food production, climate change and health around the UK – encouraging people to consider how diet affects personal and planetary health. 

food exhibition with peopleMeat Your Persona

(Photo credit: Lucy Yates)

LEAP (Livestock, Environment and People) is an inter-disciplinary project, investigating how the production and consumption of meat and dairy products impact human health and the environment.

‘Our research shows that food production is responsible for around 25% of the global carbon emissions driving climate change, and livestock farming is by far the greatest contributor to this,’ explains Lucy Yates, LEAP’s Public Engagement Lead. ‘We knew when we started in 2018 that around 70% of people in the UK didn’t understand the environmental damage meat causes so we wanted to try to change this.’ 

Public engagement is vital to any initiative to promote more sustainable diets, so LEAP developed two major exhibitions to allow audiences to engage with its research, and researchers to learn more about the public’s views on diet and meat consumption.

‘Meat the Future’, developed with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, explored the challenges and choices we face regarding food and the environment. The exhibition was aimed at a large and diverse local audience. The accompanying events included panel debates, science fairs, school learning programmes, and an ‘Eat the Future’ café offering vegan and vegetarian food. The exhibition ran from May 2021-May 2022, attracting more than 200,000 visitors.

The ‘Meat Your Persona’ yellow horsebox, developed in partnership with creative agency The Liminal Space, took the message about diet and planetary health out to six cities around the UK. The exhibition was hosted in a variety of public spaces – including shopping centres, the Prom at Blackpool, and The Festival of Thrift in Redcar – engaging people who are often less aware of research on this topic. The horsebox offered evidence-based information and activities including quizzes, fact-cards, and plant-based recipes, and interacted with more than 100,000 visitors. 

‘We had wanted visitors to feel surprised by new knowledge, inspired by the options for reducing meat consumption, and empowered to make their own choices,’ says Yates. ‘So, we were delighted with the public response to the exhibition. Most visitors felt that they had new information about meat and climate, and around 80% of regular meat eaters said they would talk to others about the issues and consider their food choices in future.’

Professor Susan Jebb, Co-director of LEAP, comments: ‘As we build the evidence on the impact of livestock on the environment, and start to explore solutions, we need a conversation with the public. Our public engagement showed that people are open to changing their diets, but the cost of lower-meat diets remains a barrier and people are worried about the impact on livelihoods for farmers and our rural landscape.’

Public feedback about diet and climate change was shared at a roundtable and a policy briefing was circulated to DEFRA, DHSC and others. Meat Your Persona appeared at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from 7-9 July 2023 and Meat the Future is on display at The Food Museum in Stowmarket, Suffolk, from 22 June 2023 until 5 May 2024.

Jebb continues: ‘We hope that our research evidence and public feedback will help develop the public conversation about sustainable diets, and ultimately inform structural change in the food system. We look forward to continuing the conversation with people in different regions and with many more groups over the coming months.’ 

Lucy Yates is the Public Involvement and Engagement Lead for LEAP

Susan Jebb is Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford and co-director of LEAP

Funder: Wellcome Trust