Although there has been a collective shift in awareness towards more eco-friendly and sustainable methods of living in the past decade, many of the world’s ‘developed’ countries are still behind with regards to sustainable eating habits, according to the latest Greendex survey by the National Geographic Society.
The Greendex is a quantitative study of 18,000 consumers in a total of 18 countries asked about energy consumption and conservation, transportation choices, food sources, the relative use of green products versus conventional products, attitudes toward the environment and sustainability, and knowledge of environmental concerns.
This year’s report, the fifth since 2008, focused on food. It found noticeable improvements in eating habits even as environmentally sustainable behavior when it came to housing, transportation, and consumer goods appeared stuck or had worsened.
Consumers in 11 countries, including South Korea, Hungary, Australia, and Canada, had higher food scores compared with their scores in the previous survey, in 2012.
India, which has ranked first in food sustainability in every Greendex, came out far ahead again, thanks to its culturally dictated eating habits. Nearly one in four Indians is a vegetarian, and those who aren’t tend to avoid beef, the most environmentally damaging meat. Indians have reduced the amount of imported food they eat and increased their consumption of locally produced, homegrown, and organic foods.
Which Countries Eat The Most Local?
Nearly 77% of Russians admitted to eating locally daily or several times per week. Followed by Indians and the Chinese.
Russians, Hungarians, Swedes, and Germans are also eating more organic whole foods compared to other countries.
Surprisingly, only 43% of consumers believe they have any influence over where their food is coming from.
“Consumers feel somewhat alienated from the food system,” says Eric Whan of GlobeScan. “They don’t feel particularly empowered to affect how food is produced.”
Food Vs Culture
Mexicans ranked last in the Greendex measure of food due to a diet heavy in beef and chicken.
The Japanese, who eat more fish and seafood than anyone, ate the next least-green diet.
Swedish and Spanish consumers saw the biggest drops in their food scores since 2012, thanks to bigger appetites for fish and seafood in both countries and for chicken in Spain.
Meanwhile America’s junk food culture means its consumers eat the most processed and packaged foods and the fewest fruits and vegetables. And not surprisingly for island nations, the British and Japanese eat far more imported food than homegrown.
Countries Which Stated It’s “Not Our Problem”
British, German, Australian, American, and Canadian consumers showed little interest in changing their consumption habits to diminish their environmental footprints—even though theirs were among the biggest.
The most stubborn consumers lived in Japan, which last week announced it will resume whale hunting and where nearly half eat pork several times a week.
Sustainable Hope In Five Countries
Despite the industrial world’s relative resistance to change, the Greendex offers reason for hope.
Consumers in five countries with a total of 1.8 billion people—Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, and India—all have a keen appetite and a great potential for change. Many consumers in those countries, when given information about how their habits affect the environment, indicated that they were open to altering their behavior in ways that would contribute to a more sustainable planet.
It seems that countries in the developing world were more aware of their environmental impact and were more open to change. What does this say about the Westernized culture?
Perhaps there is an unwillingness to change because the full reality of the consequences of our decisions have not yet been made clear enough.
Whatever the case may be, these findings make it evident that we still have a lot of work to do to help the collective consciousness make sustainable eating and living higher on our priority list.
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