Is Meat the New Tobacco? Regulating Food Demand in the Age of Climate Change

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Switching from a meat-heavy to a plant-based diet is one of the highest-impact lifestyle changes for climate mitigation and adaptation. Conventional demand-side energy policy has focused on increasing consumption of efficient machines and fuels. Regulating food demand has key advantages. First, food consumption is biologically constrained, thus switching to more efficient foods avoids unintended consequences of switching to more efficient machines, like higher overall energy consumption. Second, food consumption, like smoking, is primed for norm- shifting because it occurs in socially conspicuous environments. While place-based bans and information regulation were essential in lowering the prevalence of smoking, the same strategies may be even more effective in reducing meat demand. Several policy reforms can be implemented at the federal level, from reform of food marketing schemes to publicly subsidized meal programs.
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