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How to start conversations about eating less meat – case study

By David Powell on March 5, 2024

One of the biggest carbon reductions we can each make is to eat less meat and dairy, but for many people this is not a popular idea. What we see as normal to eat is closely linked with our identities: it’s personal. For most people, climate arguments alone won’t get over that hump – particularly people like Loyal Nationals, who are distrustful of ‘elites’ and already worried about changes to their way of life.

 In this Climate Engagement Lab partnership with Hubbub and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST), we explore whether different narratives around food, delivered by trusted messengers in a Facebook group, could be more effective at inspiring Loyal Nationals to give vegetarian diets – or at least eating less meat and dairy – a try.

Key messages from this project for communicators

Don’t have much time? These are the key points you need to know.

  • Talk about the health benefits of eating less meat and dairy rather than climate and ‘sustainability’ messaging.  Steer clear of ‘marketing’ language like ‘plant-based food’ altogether. 
  • Authenticity really matters in communications, including when talking about food. What we eat is intertwined with fond memories of family dinners, childhood and friendships. For some, food connects us to our heritage and cultural background. The most trusted ambassadors for changing diets were other participants – not celebrities or ‘experts’.    
  • Be positive and make it easy. Participants preferred ‘can-do’ framings that focus on benefits rather than negative ones. No-one likes to be shamed! For some people cutting down on meat might seem a hassle, or expensive. It needn’t be, particularly if people trust the advice they’re given by others they think are ‘like them’. 
  • Make it a local story. The best stories were those where people saw changing diet as fitting with local life – such as a chance to bring people together, or a sense of ‘our community doing our bit’. 
  • Find out more about your audience. You can’t always properly segment who you’re talking to, but you can find out a lot by understanding who they trust and what they think about the state of the world.

Overview of the project

This project was a three-way partnership between Climate Outreach, the Centre for Climate and Social Transformations (CAST), and Hubbub. It was part of the Climate Engagement Lab, which tests research insights in the real world to understand how best to bring people into the climate conversation. Our partnership took place in 2023. 

The project was based in Moston, Manchester, a proud working-class area of the city where people don’t typically feel involved in the climate conversation. Hubbub has already been working for some time in Manchester as part of ‘In Our Nature’ – a programme that aims to work with communities across the city to inspire practical climate actions everyone can take.

Hubbub spent time getting to know people in the local community, including via F.C United, the largest fan-owned football club in the UK. They heard that although there are active community groups tackling key issues such as litter and improving their local spaces, residents rarely felt included or represented in wider conversations about climate and the environment.  

The focus of this project was food and diet.  15% of global emissions come from meat and dairy consumption so reducing this is a really important part of climate action. But people don’t always like being told what to eat or how to behave at home, and despite increases in flexitarianism, vegetarianism and veganism in recent years, meat is still the norm for most people.  People don’t know that cutting down on meat and dairy can be one of the most impactful lifestyle changes we can make – or aren’t willing to. As CAST has explored, we all have very strong attachments to what we think is ‘normal’ to eat, and these norms can be hard to shift or even allow ourselves to challenge. Food connects to some of our deepest memories, cultural values and ideas about what is healthy. Facts alone won’t do the job. 

Hubbub set up an online food challenge with Moston residents that took place on a community Facebook group over six weeks. The aim of the group was for participants to learn from each other about how to save money on food bills, eat more healthily and sustainably, and share tips and skills – ideally leading to changed behaviour and sentiment. It built on Hubbub’s previous work to encourage diet change by making it feel easy, tasty, low-cost and healthy, rather than relying on climate messaging or attempting to ‘guilt’ people into it. 

Participants would ideally be Loyal Nationals. As Climate Outreach explored in our Britain Talks Climate toolkit, Loyal Nationals care about climate change but would rather get involved in their local community or daily life than take political actions (see a previous case study for more on that).  Given how much of our attitudes to diet are cultural and personal, this makes food and diet an interesting area to explore with this segment.  What frames, stories, messengers and types of conversation would Loyal Nationals in Moston trust and respond to around diet and food?

What we did

To help design, shape and analyse the success of this group, Climate Outreach, CAST and Hubbub did the following: 

  • Hypothesis and measuring impact 

First, we pooled our existing knowledge into behaviour change, diet and food, and how people form and hold their worldviews.  

We agreed on a hypothesis that guided the rest of our innovation partnership: the right messages, designed in conversation with local people and delivered by trusted local stakeholders, can increase sentiment that eating less meat and dairy is desirable, easy and socially acceptable. 

  • Finding participants 

Through local partners, Hubbub found local advocates who could act as ambassadors for the project and get the word out to people who would likely be Loyal Nationals. Interested people were asked to fill in a survey as part of expressing interest in joining the group, to find out more about their starting views on sustainable diets. This included some light-touch questions into core beliefs and values – key to audience segmentation. 

The best way to approximate someone’s segment is for them to complete this longer quiz, but we needed something shorter for this expression of interest survey. So, Climate Outreach devised five experimental questions that we felt could identify some of the most important views Loyal Nationals hold. 


1)How much do you agree / disagree with the following?

a. I trust my local MP and the government to listen to people like me (we might expect a Loyal National to ‘disagree’)

b. There is one rule for the rich and one for the poor (‘agree’)

c. The world is becoming a more and more dangerous place (‘agree’)

d. People who break the law should be given harsher/stiffer sentences (‘agree’)

2)Have you volunteered in your local community in the last year? (‘yes’) 


  • Narrative workshop focus group: testing frames around diet and food 

Climate Outreach and CAST ran an in-person focus group in Moston in June 2023, with six people who were interested in joining the Facebook group. Participants were asked to discuss different narratives on a range of topics to do with diets and food in the home, including eating less meat and dairy. The workshop used our narrative workshop methodology, which allows us to explore the language, frames, and activities that do and don’t appeal to participants, and critically to understand why at a deeper level than just gut reactions.  

Climate Outreach produced a messaging guide on the back of the workshop, to help Hubbub get the tone and content of the Facebook group right, as well as its look and feel. 

  • Facebook group 

Using insights gained from the focus group, Hubbub designed and set up the Facebook group – called the Big Moston Food Club – and shaped the content, look and feel of the six-week challenge: 

    • 96 people joined the Facebook group. 
    • Hubbub shared tailored resources, tips, activities and challenges each week with the aim of helping members get cooking from scratch, eat more vegetables and get to know their community.
    • Building on insights from the focus group, content focused on food growing, nature, and family as key topics of interest that would act as hooks for conversations about diets more broadly. These topics encouraged participants to get to know each other, share tips and knowledge, and inspire each other to make changes at home. 
    • Hubbub also ran an in-person cooking class in Moston for members of the Facebook group to give people a chance to meet one another in person – deepening trust – and to learn hands-on cooking skills.

The Big Moston Food Club logo


  • Follow-up interviews

Once the Facebook challenge was over, CAST researchers interviewed a small number of participants to learn more about whether the group affected their views on eating meat and dairy. 

What we learned

“We learned … what resonates with people around food. In particular: family, home cooking and food waste, as well as nature and community growing. And that what’s really important is trusted messengers… the value that people got from others sharing what they were doing, ‘everyday people’ in the area sharing their favourite recipe made it feel really authentic and credible.”  Jess Wiles – Hubbub


Narratives about food and diet that work with this audience 

  • Climate change doesn’t motivate people to eat less meat.  Some people understand the argument, but in itself it’s not enough to cut through a sense that eating meat is normal.  People struggled to believe they could cut out meat entirely, but slow reductions were more palatable. Health and nutrition were better arguments than climate. But of all the aspects of diet and food we explored, people spent the least time talking about eating less meat. 
  • Food = connection. People were enthusiastic about coming together as families and communities to prepare and share food.  Food is packed with fond memories of family dinners and childhood memories.  Cooking and diet is passed down through generations, and plays a central role in participants’ understanding of who they are and where they come from.  
    • Don’t say ‘sustainable’ or ‘plant-based’. Terms like this felt like middle-class or marketing language, about which participants were sceptical. Plain talking works best: if you mean “eat more vegetables”, say so.  
    • Be positive. Participants preferred ‘can-do’ framings that focus on benefits rather than negative ones – for example, preferring “reducing or avoiding food waste can also save us money” to “it’s irresponsible to waste”
  • Benefits to Moston. Participants were proud of Moston, its creativity and sense of community. They felt local people were likely to prepare food sustainably – as a relatively low-income area, people won’t willingly waste food or energy. They are resistant to any sense of being ‘told’ by others to change their behaviour. What was most important was being able to visualise and understand what benefits changing diet or food preparation might bring to daily life in Moston – such as bringing people together, health, or a sense of ‘doing our bit’.  
  • Doing our bit, but not alone. Participants were interested in climate action and want to know what they can do that will make a difference. But they don’t want to let businesses and governments off the hook, who they think have most of the responsibility for doing something. They were drawn to messaging that balanced individual with political and business responsibility – for example “but the government and businesses also need to make it easier for us all to eat healthier”, and “supermarkets throw away huge amounts of perfectly good food, but so do many households across the UK”

Read more about our messaging recommendations


Finding ‘Loyal Nationals’

The shorter set of questions we used to identify the audience means that we can’t say for sure that participants were strictly ‘Loyal National’. But we saw high levels of agreement in the group with sentiments we’d expect from this segment: trust is very low in what they see as ‘elites’; they are not optimistic that the country is going in a good direction; and they won’t take political actions.  For example: 

  • 85% of those that completed the survey agreed with the statement that ‘there is one rule for the rich and one for the poor’;  
  • 75% agreed that ‘the world is becoming a more and more dangerous place’; 
  • 60% of participants had volunteered in their local community in the last year.  

 82% of participants were White British, 17.5% were Black, Black British, Caribbean or African and 5% were Asian or Asian British. 86% of the participants were women, which reflects Hubbub’s sense that food projects are generally more likely to attract women. Hubbub tried hard to get male participants to fill in the follow up survey and take part in the focus group, but take up was far lower. 

The match suggests that while it is often not possible for organisations to perfectly segment their audience due to practical constraints, a light touch survey can tell you a great deal about your audience, who they trust, and what they think about the world.

Overall conclusions

Against our original hypothesis (“the right messages, designed in conversation with local people and delivered by trusted local stakeholders, can increase sentiment that eating less meat and dairy is desirable, easy and socially acceptable.”), engagement data and our analysis generated the following insights:


  • The messenger matters (‘trusted local stakeholders’). Hubbub wanted to understand which ‘voices’ members of the group trusted and explore how sharing content from different stakeholders, from formal to grassroots groups, could increase engagement. To test this, Hubbub shared content from various voices, including from In Our Nature, celebrities, and from local stakeholders including local community groups and ambassadors.

    An interesting observation was that the members of the group appeared to quickly become the most ‘trusted messenger’ for each other: unprompted posts from other members received the highest engagement. This insight was also reflected in the findings of the focus group, where authenticity and shared experiences were highlighted as important traits when building trust. The wider social science evidence base supports the idea that we most trust ‘people like us’. This project highlights the importance of facilitating trusted conversations. 
  • Health is motivating – Health came up throughout the Facebook group as a key motivator when food shopping and looking for recipes. This doesn’t necessarily mean eating less meat is seen as healthy: posts around vegetarian dishes had high engagement (measured by likes and comments), but spontaneous comments from members about healthy dishes appeared to be more focused on “balanced meals” with meat, carbs and vegetables.
  • Celebrate the wins and make space for imperfection – Members were proud to share they already take part in positive behaviours at home, such as reducing food waste and eating leftovers – but this appeared to alienate some members. Hubbub created “food waste confessionals” to encourage members to also share the barriers and challenges around these topics. 14 of 20 people who completed the final survey said they waste less food as a result of the challenge.
  • Make it easy – Building on insights from the focus group, Hubbub focused messaging around taste and ease of preparation, without directly mentioning sustainability or ‘plant-based’ dishes. Vegetarian dishes that were shared by members focused on simple swaps to their regular dishes, such as chicken to chickpeas, or veggie burgers. This indicates that these simple substitutions are more likely to make eating less meat socially acceptable and desirable. 6 of 15 people who completed the before and after survey, increased their agreement with the sentiment ‘it’s easy to make meals that don’t contain any meat and dairy.’  


  • Cost matters – 13 of 20 who completed a final survey said they have saved money from taking part. This is encouraging, as initial perceptions in comments and survey data were that sustainable and healthy diets are costly. Cost came up again and again as one of the main considerations people initially had for how people shop and eat – “Health cost [and] taste for me is what matters. We follow slimming world recipes, but it can be quite costly to eat healthy.”

  • Family and community come first – Community and family was a recurring theme across the group, and messaging linked to family and Moston received the highest engagement, including a post where Hubbub asked to ‘share the dish that makes you think of someone special’.


Find out more 


This case study was funded by the Centre for Climate and Social Transformation’s Impact Fund. CAST is funded by ESRC

By David Powell

David leads our advocacy work, championing public engagement and effective climate communications with policy makers, politicians and those who influence them.

David has nearly two decades of experience as a campaigner, communicator, researcher and strategist on environment and climate change. He’s worked as Head of Environment and Green Transition at the New Economics Foundation and senior campaigner on economics and resources at Friends of the Earth. He has a MA in English Literature, an MSc in Environmental Strategy, and a Graduate Diploma in Economics. He’s particularly interested in the intersection between systems change and individual psychology, and how to build campaigns that harness the deeply held concerns we all have about the climate crisis.

Outside of work he hosts the climate psychology podcast, Your Brain on Climate, and until 2022 was co-host of Sustainababble. He is also the chair of Somerset Wildlands, and spends whatever time there is left running and playing the sax.

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