As the saying goes, out of a crisis comes opportunity and it may be that COVID-19 is just the kick up the proverbial we all needed to critically assess how we live our lives.  In only a few weeks we have effectively shrunk our climate footprint as millions are working from home and enjoying the benefits this brings.

New research on the impact of COVID-19 on our food habits

When it comes to food, the pandemic has the potential to be a real catalyst for positive change.  With the predicted extent of global warming, a greater understanding of the impact of food on our health, and the possibility of food supply chain interruptions due to global events, most of us know the way we relate to food has to change.  Research currently underway at the Danish Technological Institute and the Copenhagen Business School is attempting to understand whether COVID-19 will shape our approach and relationship to food, and if it will, how.  Specifically, they are trying to understand whether people are adopting more sustainable behaviour when it comes to food, the impacts of these changes on the supply chain and market for food, whether these changes will remain constant, and the lessons that can be learned for the future.

Demand for plant-based meat alternatives is soaring

In early May, US President, Donald Trump, clearly keen to ensure his penchant for hamburgers did not go unsatisfied, signed an executive order to force meat processing plants to remain open during the COVID-19 crisis.  This was in direct response to a temporary closure of some plants due to confirmed cases of the virus among staff members.  As a result of the interruption of the supply of meat to American consumers, the demand for plant-based meat has soared in recent weeks.  This pattern has been repeated on this side of the ‘pond’ with plant-based meat alternatives reaching new levels of popularity.  Indeed, we only need to visit our local supermarket to see this for ourselves.  Almost every conceivable animal-based food product now has a vegan alternative, including cheese, sausages, chicken, beef, yoghurt, and even eggs.

To underpin the shifting appetite of British food consumers, the Vegan Society recently revealed that around 20% have reduced their meat consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that 15% have reduced their dairy/egg intake.

Will COVID-19 really lead to a lasting change in food habits?

It is unlikely that COVID-19 will be the catalyst for wholesale change by society to a wholefood plant-based diet, but rather it is the latest in a series of events which are driving changes in consumer behaviour in that direction.  For example, COVID-19 has made many people think about protecting their health, and reducing their chances of contracting the virus.  Given that our immunity and overall health is improved with the regular consumption of foods rich in key nutrients such as copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D, more people may increase their consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and grains.  Ultimately, if anything positive can come out of COVID-19, including a further shift by society towards a sustainable and healthy way of eating, this has to be warmly welcomed.