New York has introduced a Plant Powered Carbon Challenge, a voluntary program for the private sector to encourage meat consumption reduction in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. The city has partnered with organizations, including the World Resources Institute (WRI), which provided the first document within the list of resources. 

The WRI receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Jeff Bezos, among others. The WRI enlisted the help of behavioral scientists to write the document titled “The Food Service Playbook for Promoting Sustainable Food Choices.” The document’s purpose is to “empower consumers to choose sustainable, plant-rich dishes.” 

One of the authors, Daniele Pollicino, describes himself as a “PhD Candidate at the London School of Economics researching the power of social influence and norms to nudge people towards adopting more sustainable food consumption.” The document contains 90 “behavior change techniques.” These fall under nudge theory, a social engineering technique that psychologically manipulates people into making decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make. 

Here are some of the suggested strategies within the document.  

–  Add empathy-inducing cute animal images to marketing materials 

–  Publicize the negative emotions avoided (e.g., reduced guilt, disgust, disapproval) by choosing plant-rich dishes using marketing materials 

–  Publicize the positive emotional benefits gained from choosing plant-rich dishes (e.g., hope, vitality, pride) using marketing materials 

–  Add appetizing images of plant-based dishes and/or remove appetizing images of meat dishes from menus

–  Blend plant-based ingredients into ground or minced meat-based dishes to reduce the meat content

–  Serve plant-rich dishes on larger plates than meat-based dishes so portions appear bigger

These strategies aim to manipulate and trick the public into making certain decisions. Marketing materials would portray vitality and pride for those eating plant-based meals, while a converted meat-eater no longer experiences judgment from their peers. According to Dr. Nicole Price, the use of “empathy-inducing cute animal images” would be classified as a psychological manipulation strategy. 

A restaurant that intentionally uses unappetizing images of meat may prefer to remove it from the menu altogether. Depending on the menu’s language, mixing plant-based food with meat could be misleading to the consumer. 

Using plates of different sizes to make portions look larger or smaller is the same concept that President Biden criticized as “shrinkflation.” Companies may reduce the amount of food within a bag without changing the price. It is psychological manipulation conducted by industry. The WRI document is loosely endorsed by the city of New York by offering it as a guide to implement the “Plant Powered Carbon Challenge.” When clicking the link, the city insists that it does not approve of or endorse any of the content on this independent website. Despite that, it is listed as the first resource for restaurant owners and others who are interested in encouraging plant-based diets. 

Another WRI tactic is telling servers to praise consumers who choose plant-based meals. This is known as positive reinforcement, a preferred technique for training children and dogs for good behaviors. One method is giving servers financial incentives for selling more plant-based meals. The document also suggests charging a flat tax on all meat products or offering a reduction in plant-based meals.  

Is it effective to use psychological behavioral techniques to influence behavior? The research says so, which aligns with the tactics used to get people to comply with perceived good pandemic behaviors and vaccine uptake. Dunkin Donuts offered free sugary products despite the added risk obesity and sugar consumption add to those infected with COVID-19. 

Why Reduce Meat? What About Other Products Harmful to the Climate?

The focus on reducing carbon emissions to prevent climate change overwhelmingly focuses on meat production, despite the evidence that regenerative meat agriculture has proven to store carbon in the soil. Meanwhile, sugar is never mentioned by the government or international programs concerned about the effects of climate change. Research says 75% of Americans are addicted to sugar, which helps fuel the obesity epidemic. The obesity epidemic increases the number of Ozempic prescriptions and the devastating side effects that come along with that pharmaceutical product. 

Sugarcane production uses over 1,700 liters of water for every 1 kg or 2.2 pounds of sugarcane. That is equivalent to two years of drinking water for one person. Meanwhile, the average American consumes 60 pounds or six bowling balls worth of sugar every year. Forbes reported that $1 trillion is spent in the United States to address health problems related to sugar overconsumption. 

Obesity is highly linked to worse outcomes when infected with COVID-19 and other viruses. The CDC and FDA advocated heavily for social distancing, which Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci have admitted are not based on scientific evidence. They never once suggested dietary changes or reducing sugar consumption as a behavior to reduce hospitalization in the general public. 

Bill Gates believes “all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef.” Gates has a large portfolio that includes investments in synthetic meat via Upside Foods and plant-based patties, including Beyond Burger and Impossible. Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, has $60 million invested in synthetic meat. 

Political social engineering is a method that “uses psychological means to steer people towards making certain choices or behaving in a certain way.” The document created by WRI was funded by Gates, Bezos, and others to psychologically steer people to make choices that help these rich men gain more power and profit. 

Social engineering techniques can make positive changes in the world. That is the selling point of China’s social credit system, which rewards good behavior and punishes what the government deems to be poor behavior. However, the solutions provided to protect the climate may not solve the underlying issues inherent in large monoculture farming systems overloaded with chemical pesticides. 

When livestock can benefit the soil and health of the land, the government’s message to reduce meat consumption to protect the species from climate change is missing critical context. When the engineers of the message stand to profit from new industries like synthetic and plant-based meats, the public should have informed consent before falling victim to psychological manipulation. 

Steven Middendorp

Steven Middendorp is an investigative journalist, musician, and teacher. He has been a freelance writer and journalist for over 20 years. More recently, he has focused on issues dealing with corruption and negligence in the judicial system. He is a homesteading hobby farmer who encourages people to grow their own food, eat locally, and care for the land that provides sustenance to the community.

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