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Habits and Food

I am previously read The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change by Charles Duhigg back in October. I had a thought while reading it but didn't write it down until now.


The book discusses changing peoples eating habits and in particular, changing as the result of government led initiatives. Acording to the book, the only time that a government program has been successful in changing the nation's1 eating habits was a drive during the 1940s. Meat supply was limited due to the need to support the troops during World War II and the government wanted to encourage the use of organ meats.

A committee was set up and did more than 200 studies which came up with the conclusion:

To change people's diets, the exotic must be made familiar.

So effort was put into making the food look, taste and smell like what people were already eating. This could be adding kidney to your steak pie to create the new popular steak and kidney pies or adding liver to meatloaf. All other changes such as using low fat options, or the five-a-day fruit and veg have not managed to make the change seem familiar and have all failed to make any significant change to peoples diets.

My thought

I know lots of people are getting upset by the idea of vegetarian or vegan burgers, particularly the ones that try to be as realistic as possible. "If eating meat upsets you, why would you want to eat something that looks like meat?" is the general objection. But the section on habits gives a good reason, to change a large fraction of the population, you need to make the change seem simple and within the habits and rituals they are already used to.

If people have grown up eating burgers and pizzas, it is a big sacrifice to give up something they are used to. It requires a lot of dedication to change, but if a meat/animal free alternative is available, then that will satisfy the habit. Over time, they may well reduce the amount of burgers they eat anyway, but when starting out, it can help them keep on track.

I never had a problem with vegetarian or vegan foods that attempted to replicate other animal derived foods, but after reading The power of Habit, I fully support these attempts.

  1. The book is referring to the USA
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