Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future


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Within the space of just two generations, society has swept away thousands of years' worth of cultural evolution regarding the understanding of vegetable and animal food resources.

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Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future

  1. 1. «Within the space of just two generations, society has swept away thousands of years' worth of cultural evolution regarding the understanding of vegetable and animal food resources» Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future adapt? Over the next few pages, the Louis Bonduelle Foundation invites you to revisit the evolution of our dietary behaviour over the ages, right up to an assessment of our current consumption attitudes, leading us to consider possible future developments. n increase in the proportion of fats in our diet, the spread of readyto-use products, the growth in consumption outside the home, the explosion in the supermarket sector... Dietary practices have seen major changes over recent decades. Is this a new phenomenon or has mankind become used to such changes? What are the determining factors associated with such changes? And can we really look at the past in order to consider our present and future habits? The current context pushes consumers to make choices within a perspec- A www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org tive which is both individual and collective. We eat to fulpleasure and to preserve our health, without considering water resources, air quality, stability... and all under the constraints of demographic pressure. model, and yet… One route that of sustainable dietary ned in 2010 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which considers diet in all its dimensions (health, environment, economy, culture, etc.). © DMITRIY MELNIKOV - FOTOLIA.COM In the years ahead, the world will have to answer a crucial question: how can we feed 9 billion people? Acquiring sustainable dietary practices, although constituting a key element of the response, nonetheless faces a major obstacle: it is humandependent. People are naturally resistant to change, especially in terms of their habits, when not constrained to do so by their environment. Will environmental pressure
  2. 2. Sustainable evolution of eating habits History Evolution of man’s diet For over 7 million years, since our common ancestry with chimpanzees up to the emergence of post-industrial urban societies, mankind has acquired food by gathering, hunting or fishing and, over the past few thousand years, through agriculture and animal husbandry. Nature, therefore, was the main factor impacting the physiological regulation of nutritional requirements. AN OMNIVOROUS DIET INHERITED FROM OUR APE ANCESTORS Man is omnivorous. Or more specifically, our diet is of interest to our food in terms of its energy content and sensory qualities, hence our penchant for fruit and meat. But being omnivorous is not actually very widespread. This characteristic, handed down through prehistory from our ape ancestors, is somewhat rare amongst mammals. «Being a generalist requires special skills in the quest for resources, accessing foodstuffs, preparing them in different ways and both ingesting and digesting them. Being omnivorous must be learnt, which means that such diets require complex social and cognitive adaptations», explains Pascal Picq, a paleoanthropologist at the Collège de France. Choosing the right food comes from education and imitation; a sense of taste does not always direct and make it possible to avoid potentially poisonous foods. An omnivorous diet is therefore embedded within a context interwoven with the numerous interactions of various physical and social environments, in which are played out the concepts of pleasure, exchange and prohibition, etc. In uncertain times, the choice of foodstuffs (fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts, meat, eggs, honey, flowers, insects, etc.) ensures survival during difficult periods such as in drought or food deserts. Acquiring such a diet was achieved by mobilising cognitive, technical, social and cultural abilities, opening up access to food of high quality irrespective of the circumstances. This required education about nature, its resources and its production cycles, not forgetting food conservation and preparation methods. DIET SHAPED BY HISTORY… Man’s diet has evolved under the influence of powerful nutritional and economic determinisms, with strong similarities from one country to the next depending on the level of economic development. »In the developed countries, and now across most of the world, the agricultural revolution – supported and then supplanted by the industrial revolution – has brought about a considerable reduction in the cost of dietary calories», stress the authors of the ‘duALIne1’ discussion paper. The consequences www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org French history lifestyle and diet French dietary history has been through a variety of phases9. In the Middle Ages and right up to the 17th century, the elite classes followed the dietary dictates of their physicians, before gastronomy took hold of the reins. Then, after the revolution of 1789, the act of eating was transformed into a culinary tradition. The search for taste and pleasure at mealtimes became more widespread, and the practice of eating together at the same table was born, up until the emergence of the hygienist movement in the early 19th century, when it was discovered that food poisoning was caused by microbes carried within unsound food. Furthermore, at the end of the 19th century, there emerged a new standard of body shape: slimness. Therefore, in just one century, three great trends associated with the French diet appeared: eating together at the table, health and slimness. Trends that persist and which, to this day, dominate dietary choices. At the same time as this cultural evolution of the act of eating, throughout the 19th in individual calorie intake can be noted, with particularly favourable effects on health. Grains (mainly in the form of bread) represented the major part of the daily intake as they were amongst the cheaper foodstuffs, while energy requirements remained high1. But the trend would reverse with nutritional transition: consumption of basic foodstuffs (grains, starches and dried pulses) face sustained decline while other products (animal products, fruit and vegetables, fat and sugar) rose sharply. The result: the nutritional structure of the daily diet was fundamentally changed. In France, between 1880 and 1980, the proportion of carbohydrate-based calories dropped from 70% to 45% of total energy intake (TEI) while that of fat-derived calories increased from 16% to 42% of TEI11 sometime between 1985 and 1990, since which time the relative proportions of the various macronutrients have stabilised. of these upheavals are both positive (improvements in biological potential, work aptitude, longevity and quality of life2) and negative (increase in the number of people who are overweight, obese, diabetic, etc.). These harmful effects have been accentuated by simultaneous lifestyle changes (changes to the structure of employment with a boom in services, urbanisation and sedentary activities). Thanks to consumption habits which have been reconstituted and analysed by historians2, 3, we have a fairly accurate idea of the characteristics of dietary evolution in Europe since the 18th century. The main stages of this >> p. 2 - Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future
  3. 3. © PAPIRAZZI - FOTOLIA.COM >> evolution are identical in most countries, even if the timing varies as a function of specific national history (see box «French history; way of life and diet»). This identical evolution has led to a convergence of dietary consumption, whether in terms of consumption level (energy and quantity) or structure (distribution of macronutrients and food groups consumed). For example, it transpires that animal-sourced calorie consumption within a country increases alongside economic development and then levels off1. This increase is not linked to the meeting of physiological needs and shows variations in terms of the food categories consumed by each country as a function of historical and cultural factors. This growth in the proportion of animal versus vegetable products in most countries of the world is not impact-free in terms of dietary sustainability as a result of the higher environmental impact of animal products (large-scale consumption of vegetable protein and water during production and the atmospheric emission of waste products)4. There is also one surprising fact regarding the conver- Is diet a generational issue? Our diet has evolved over greater or lesser periods as a result of historical and sociocultural factors. But what about the diet of a single person throughout the course of the lifetime? This also evolves, but to a lesser extent. It is known as the age effect. In France, for example, «the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables increases consistently up to the age of 60-65 and then declines», states Pr Pierre Combris, research director at INRA, the French national institute for agronomic research. An effect which must be distinguished from the so-called generation effect: «At the same age, the younger generations today consume less fruit and fewer vegetables than their predecessors», he continues. CREDOC, the French research institute for the study and monitoring of living standards, often addresses this generation effect by proposing dietary practice evolution hypotheses, suggesting that current practices are more likely to be accentuated as time progresses. However, the collecnents9 states that OECD countries has shown that it is largely independent of income and relative price difference5, 6. More recent work shows that these results may also be extended to medium-income countries7, 8. on the generations». For example, they take no account of quality and price effects and ignore temporary distortions caused by innovation. … AND BY THE RANGE OF AVAILABLE FOOD This analysis of the evolution of diet also requires us to consider the range of food made available, as a catalyst to the aforementioned changes, especially during nutritional transition. This availability demonstrates the same trend towards convergence. According to the DuALIne1 report, indicators linked to product attributes, claims made on food packaging and the characteristics of distribution and catering systems back this up. Availability has in effect been mutating towards a «mass» industrial diet under the influence of technological innovation and the expansion of major retail chains in the food supply network. Since 1960, products from the food processing industry have represented, for example, 80% of food expenditure for the average French household, reaching a peak of around 83% in the 2000s. «However, although the proportion of manufactured products within the food budget has remained stable, the volumes purchased have in- >> Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future - p. 3 www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org
  4. 4. Sustainable evolution of eating habits >> creased as has the extent of processing. The volume of ultra-fresh products has increased by a factor of 25 in forty years, demonstrating this replacement of basic products by prepared products» report into dietary behaviour9 published in 2010 by INRA, the French national institute for agronomic research. At the end of the 20th century, prepared meals and ready-to-use products experienced great success as they meet a high demand for time-saving and ‘grab and go’ products within the context of meal preparation. National dietary surveys in France (INCA) suggest that the attraction of ready-toconsume products is likely to intensify, encouraged by the younger generation who are becoming increasingly fond of snacks, sandwiches and hamburgers11. At the same time as these changes, the distribution of food has migrated from the market (or local shop) to Present day supermarkets, which now account for 70% of household food expenditure, around 15% of which is in hard discount stores, while hypermarkets had less than 5% of market share for food products in 1970. The area of residence (rural, town centre, etc.) and age are the main determinants for the purchase location9. During the 20th century, consumers in the West have progressively increased the proportion of fats in their diet. An evolution one can attribute to history, to changes in food availability, and more generally to lifestyle changes. All industrialised countries have experienced this dietary transition, whether sooner, as in the UK, or later, as in the countries of southern Europe. Currently, it is the emerging and developing economies that are faced with this issue, notwithstanding accelerated by globalisation. Current consumption behaviour Today, the search for food is no longer solely an act of purchase, and we are gradually losing the How do the French perceive their diet ? convivial, emotional and social aspects associated with cooking, we take fewer meals as a family, etc. «Within the space of just two generations, society has swept away thousands of years worth of cultural evolution regarding the understanding of the vegetable and animal resources in our food and everything associated with the way they are consumed», observes Pascal Picq. The explanation? Our diet is the result of a dual evolution, »the first in relation to the resources available in the environment, as for all species, and the second derived from complex interactions between cultural innovations and our biology», the paleoanthropologist states. In practice, although dietary behaviour is fundamentally governed by the consumer’s own internal physiological regulation, it is nonetheless influenced, and frequently transformed, by the restrictions and information emanating from their environment. These constraints include social norms about food preferences, but also dietary practices, especially the pattern and structure of meals. As for information received by the consumer, this comes from the commercial world (advertising, marketing campaigns at the place of purchase, nutritional labelling, product claims), from peers (friends, family) and health promoters (doctors, information campaigns, etc.). Consumers’ behaviour is also inseparable from the type tary judgements generally held by society will also condition choices. www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org The French consider that product safety and access for all to a quality diet should constitute a major National priority. However, they also expect their government to take steps to develop the consumption of local products, to encourage the food processing industry to improve the quality of their products, and to reduce waste and food packaging. Regarding information sources, seven out of ten French people state that they mainly keep themselves informed about food issues via television (ahead of the press, the Internet, books and radio), while 3 out of 10 say they do not trust any public bodies. Regarding the role attributed to diet, this appears to depend on the standard of living. Those with as a necessity, while others view it above all as a pleasure. The perception of a link between diet and health has been falling since 2007, and a number of risks still concern the French, notably the presence of pesticides in crops and microorganisms in other food products. From the 2011 survey on perceptions about diet conducted by CREDOC, the French research institute for the study and monitoring of living standards14. THE ERA OF «SUSTAINABLE EATING» To illustrate the influence of society on the everyday diet of the consumer, the example of France is enlighte- >> p. 4 - Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future
  5. 5. © YURI ARCURS - FOTOLIA.COM >> «Over the past fifty years, we have seen a shift take place from gastronomy to personal commitment, moving through five intermediate phases», states Martine Padilla, a scientific administrator at CIHEAM-IAMM (France). The restrictiveness of the 1970s made way for the dynamic «fast food» movement of the early 1980s, followed by the advent of «eat light» in 1987, and then the cacophony of «eat properly» in the 1990s, which in turn was succeeded by the «health-pleasure» movement of the period 2000-2008. So where are we today? The French, like many Europeans, are experiencing the era of «sustainable eating» that often confronts consumers with their responsibilities as citizens to make no-win decisions between the common good and their own health. It is a plain fact that being a consumer in 2011 is first and foremost about being a good citizen! «Current changes, unlike in other periods, can genuinely be a disruptive influence to the extent that they question the fundamentals of society and dietary systems», states Martine Padilla. Consumers are therefore faced with the contradiction of their expectations in terms of safety (origin, traceability, etc.) and their responsibilities as good citizens (environment, ethics, animal welfare, etc.), set against innovations more focused on practicality, health, naturalness and pleasure. CONSUMPTION TRENDS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE PARADOX AND THE AMBIGUOUS A number of trends, however, are emerging amongst this confusion. They are evidence of an attraction to tion, a return to unprocessed products and cooking, and the growth of responsible and enjoyable foods and of conviviality. It is also possible to observe a boom in the ganic, fair trade and animal welfare. It is a boom that >> Has «sustainable eating» come of age? The notion of a «sustainable diet» was defined as follows at the international scientific symposium held in November 2010 in Rome: «Sustainable diets are those with a low environmental impact, which contribute to nutritional and food security and to a healthy lifestyle for current and future generations. Sustainable diets protect and respect biodiversity and ecosystems, are culturally acceptable, accessible, economically just and affordable, nutritionally balanced, healthy without posing any health risk, while still making it possible to optimise the use of natural and human resources.» But when discussing diet, we must also talk about eating: are those who practice «sustainable eating» true to the philosophy? Although there are indeed some consumers who are determined to do their utmost to ensure the existence of such dietary practices, it must nevertheless be stated that, in general, the evolution of consumer demand is not following the precise path required by sustainable development. «They overwhelmingly favour variety of choice, which entails an extended supply area and therefore increased transportation; they demand food safety which requires more washing, thermal treatment and packaging; they want low prices which is often achieved through higher productivity, economies of scale and/or globalisation», points out Jean-Louis Lambert (France), an economist and sociologist specialising in dietary practices. To meet the growing pressure of the environment, mankind will therefore have to get used to doing without certain benefits so it remains possible to enjoy these culinary delights over the long term. Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future - p. 5 www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org
  6. 6. Sustainable evolution of eating habits >> without doubt fulfils the desire to limit one’s impact on the environment. «Such trends contradict a number of previously popular trends. But does this mean they are unrealistic?, asks Martine Padilla. lt is more likely that they represent the diverse facets that make up today’s individual, marking the end of mass consumption patterns.» Nonetheless, making informed choices when surrounlimit their consumption of meat in favour of vegetables? Should they favour local over imported produce? Or seasonal produce over that available all year round? Organic over conventional? «In the absence of adequate studies, answers can sometimes be counter-intuitive», states the sociologist. Accordingly, with their zeal for social and environmental responsibility and their desire for economic solidarity and transparency, the behaviour of modern consumers continues to evolve in guilt-ridden confusion. That said, the dietary convergence described previously and its fundamental trends cannot mask significant variation not only between different countries, but also within each country. Food insecurity remains a public health ly one billion people in the world are under-nourished (including in affluent nations) and millions of others are affected by chronic illness such as obesity and diabetes type 2, which have a greater impact on of lower social economic groups12, 13. Tomorrow What does the future have in store for us? Scenario no from confusion and the developing countries in the full throes of nutritional transition, how will the world resolve the issue of sustainability and food? Such is the (eco-conditionality of common agricultural policy aid, energy savings that require Scenario no food to meet qualitative and quantitative needs within the context of pressure on resources and climate change. The world’s food systems are constantly evolving. At the same time, existing contextual elements are changing and food supply systems are being transformed. Predicting the outcome of future changes is all but impossible. But possible to comprehend the changes ahead. POSSIBLE SCENARIOS In 2007, Pierre Feillet, a member of the French Academy of Agriculture and the Academy of Technologies, followed described at the end of comprehensive research on the diet of the French15, one which can be transposed more or less to all industrialised countries. Scenario no vourings, etc.). Scenario no diet (interventionist dietary policy, analysis of individual needs according to the nutrigenome, etc.). Scenario no pose their products (development of services, functional food, and genetic engineering). www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org many additives and products with stanconsumerism is all-powerful, regionalism is valued. As far as the French are concerned, Martine Padilla judges that «although current trends suggest we are moving towards scenarios 4 and 5, we can also wager that industrial power will work out how to sell sustainably while adapting leading edge technologies to ancestral expertise.» THE WAY AHEAD ON A GLOBAL LEVEL considered the question of food and sustainability16. The DuALIne discussions held at INRA cover complete food systems from leaving the farm right up to consumption and waste elimination. As such, it distinguishes itself from and complements the Agrimonde7 forecast, which focuses on global issues associated with agriculture. It examines numerous questions and is testament to the crease of animal-derived calories and its consequences, the organisation of food systems in liaison with the production of chemicals and renewable energy, losses and waste, the impact of international markets on consumption, etc. Accordingly, this work does not end here with the presentation of scenarios, but with 3 cross-func- >> p. 6 - Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future
  7. 7. © THE24STUDIO - FOTOLIA.COM >> tional messages linked to the inequalities of access to food, to regional dynamics and the governance of food move towards more sustainable food systems, namely public policy, voluntary commitments made by the agrifood industry and consumer awareness. This last point raises the issue of the pertinence and effectiveness of nutritional information, which is sometimes questioned despite models adopted in France, Europe and 17 . Validated and consensual nutritional information could therefore have a sustainable impact on major consumption trends18, 19 . Other works, however, on the mechanisms for receiving and embracing dietary norms, show that knowledge practices. «Implementation in effect presupposes the integration of practices that comply with conventions in everyday routines and thought processes, which do not always leave room for the conventions one would like to see being developed in terms of public health, and which can even represent contradictory conventions», the expert report states1. So will a mother suggest vegetables at the risk of disturbing the convivial atmosphere of the family meal? It seems highly doubtful…20. Hence the relevance of updating the role and mechanisms for introducing new lity but also the ecological dimensions of dietary practices. To this end, a multidisciplinary approach which includes the economic, social and political sciences would appear vital to the direction of dietary behaviour in a sustainable manner that will encompass all aspects of the complex issue that is man’s diet. The means of achieving a sustainable diet: as many questions as answers Moving towards new sustainable food systems poses a number of questions highlighted by the DuALIne16 discussion paper. For example, regarding the question of reducing the greenhouse gases associated with food production, it would seem that ingesting lower total quantities is more effective than modifying the type of food consumed. It is an outcome that contradicts popular assumptions and which therefore needs to be validated by extensive research. The DuALIne report also points to the necessity of rethinking food systems, especially in industrialised countries. In effect, the integration of environmental demands requires profound changes, both in terms of industrial processes and the organisation of industry, and the relationships between the various operators in the food supply chain. Finally, the logic of locating agricultural production close to the consumer seems irresistible. However, at a time when over half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, should we really be encouraging agriculture to be carried out close to them? From an energy and environmental point of view, the answer is far from obvious. Greenhouse to towns and cities, the pollution of the water table… just some of the examples that question the relocation of agricultural production nearer to the place of consumption, the possibility of local sustainable development and the advantages of short supply chains. DuALIne has therefore opened up numerous perspectives that will give rise to public and private research programmes, both nationally and internationally, encouraged by the emergence of the new European ‘Susfood’ network dedicated to sustainable food. Understanding the evolution of our dietary behaviour to improve that of the future - p. 7 www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org
  8. 8. © IOANA DAVIES (DRUTU) - FOTOLIA.COM References [1] Combris P, Maire B, Réquillart V. 2011. Consommation et consomlité de l’alimentation face à de nouveaux enjeux. Questions à la recherche, Esnouf C, Russel M, Bricas N. (Coords.), Rapport InraCirad (France), 27-44. [2] Fogel RW. 1994. Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy. American Economic Review, [3] Etiévant P, Bellisle F, Dallongeville J, Donnars C, Etilé F, Guichard E, Padilla M, Romon-Rousseaux M, Sabbagh C, Tibi A (éditeurs) 2010. quels en sont les déterminants ? Quelles actions pour quels effets ? Rapport de l’expertise l’Inra à la demande du ministère de l’Alimentation, de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche, France. [4] Hébel P. Coordinatrice. 2007. Comportements et consommations alimentaires en France. Enquête CCAF 2007. Editions TEC & DOC. prospective [5] Combris P. 2006. Le poids des contraintes économiques dans les choix alimentaires. Cahiers de Nutrition et de Diététique, 279-84. [6] Lafay L. Coordinateur. 2007. Étude Individuelle Nationale des Consommations Alimentaires 2 (INCA 2) 2006-2007. Rapport de l’Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments. [7] Paillard SC, Treyer SC, Dorin BC. 2050. Editions Quae, Matière à débattre et à décider (Paris), 296 p. [8] Crédoc. 2011. Baromètre de la perception de l’alimentation. pdf/Baro_alimentation_2011_ 2012). [9] Feillet P. 2007. La nourriture des Français, de la maîtrise du feu… aux années 2030. Editions Quae (Versailles), 248 p. [10] Ronzon T, Paillard S, Chemineau sur l’alimentation de l’alimentation face à de nouveaux enjeux. Questions à la recherche, Esnouf, C., Russel, M. et Bricas, N. (Coords.), Rapport Inra-Cirad (France), 146-63. [11] Nichele V. 2003. Health information and food demand in France. Wallingford UK: CABI Publishing (Health, nutrition and food demand). [12] Mazzocchi M, Brasili C, Sandri E. 2008. Trends in dietary patterns and compliance with World Health Organization recommenlysis. Public Health Nutrition, [13] Schmidhuber J, Traill WB. 2006. The changing structure of diets in the European Union in relation to healthy eating guidelines. Public Health Nutrition, 95. [14] Régnier F. 2009. Obésité, goûts et consommation. Intégration des normes d'alimentation et appartenance sociale. Revue Française de Sociologie, 747-73. www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org