Lang grad researches motives among those who are reducing meat consumption
Jessica MacDonald is a recent Lang School of Business and Economics graduate with an MSc in Marketing and Consumer Studies whose research explores differences among individuals who are trying to reduce meat consumption. Her research delves deep into understanding differences in the motives, diet patterns and food choice preferences among consumers who have made efforts to reduce meat consumption to inform meat reduction interventions to support increased health and sustainability. Under the supervision of Drs. Sunghwan Yi (Marketing and Consumer Studies) and Paula Brauer (Applied Human Nutrition), Jessica completed her thesis research in summer 2022. Jessica and her supervisors further refined her thesis manuscript, and they just published a paper in Appetite, an esteemed academic journal on food choice and consumption. You can read the abstract here or if you are a University of Guelph student or employee, you can read the full article here.
Jessica’s interest in meat reduction as a research topic stemmed from her personal experience trying different ways to reduce her meat consumption without excluding it completely. While looking through the literature, she discovered that meat reducers are operationalized as individuals who try to reduce meat consumption without completely eliminating it from their diet. However, Jessica felt hesitant to declare herself as a full-fledged meat reducer or Flexitarian. She felt that she was still eating meat too frequently to qualify or label herself as a meat reducer. Her reading of more recent research indicated that many consumers who try to reduce meat consumption face difficulty in doing so in a consistent manner and do not necessarily identify themselves as meat reducers. Just like Jessica, these people are going through the transition from an unrestricted omnivorous diet to consistently practicing reducing meat consumption. This was a a-ha moment for Jessica and her co-authors. These transitional meat reducers may be a distinct group of people from those who confidently declare themselves as meat reducers, and their difference merits investigation. This is what drove her research.
How have your experiences within the MSc Marketing and Consumer Studies program impacted your professional and personal development?
The MSc program impacted both my professional and personal development tremendously and offered me a distinctive advantage in landing on my analyst role in this competitive job market. While working on my thesis at Lang, I developed my passion for research and set the goal of making a difference in the public health sector. I am very grateful my thesis research gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the healthcare and sustainability realm while leveraging my marketing knowledge and skills to address research questions from a different lens.
Furthermore, the coursework and research seminar series offered in the MSc program helped me develop critical thinking skills as well as a strong analytical mindset, which translated directly in my role as an analyst. The program also strengthened my adaptability skills and has helped me shape a solutions-mindset. Working with data, I learned very quickly that you need to be resourceful and prepared for unexpected results. The research process is not always a linear so recognizing an issue, adapting and moving forward was something I became very good at. Not only did I develop important skills, but I intuitively became more self-assured in my abilities and became a lifelong learner that looks for ways to grow in all aspects of life. In my current role, I feel confident helping my clients solve their problems in the healthcare industry and enjoy helping them leverage their data to drive evidence-based solutions.
Can you explain your findings and how they have real-world impacts?
While most researchers to date have focused on self-declared meat reducers, they paid little attention to individuals try to reduce meat intake without identifying themselves as such. Considering that the transition of meat reduction is often gradual and muddled with giving up and renewed trying, it is worthwhile to consider transitional meat reducers; that is, individuals who try to reduce meat consumption but do not self-identify as meat reducers yet. Therefore, our study compared self-declared meat reducers as well as transitional meat reducers (TMRs) with unrestricted omnivores and vegetarians/vegans across various variables. Overall, we found that Transitional meat reducers (TMR) are a distinct diet group that call for different strategies to support their meat reduction journey compared to other diet groups.
Our research provides useful guidance on a possible range of approaches that will support multiple groups of consumers to reduce their meat intake. Our distinction between transitional meat reducers and self-declared meat reducers also reminds researchers and practitioners how challenging the goal of diet change can be, especially for most people who are used to a meat-heavy diet. Although meat reduction will be a gradual process, transitional meat reducers are a promising group of consumers who are willing to choose plant-based and/or alternative protein options. My hope is that this body of literature entices more research in this area to help promote the shift away from meat heavy diets and to help develop strategies to support those already reducing their meat consumption.
Throughout your academic journey, what has been the most significant learning experience?
Drs. Sunghwan Yi and Paula Brauer opened my eyes to the world of research and its rigorous process which has been the most impactful learning experience for me. With their support, I discovered areas of research that interest me and expanded my knowledge base beyond the marketing and consumer studies courses taught in the classroom. This was very empowering to me to know that while my program is an MSc in Marketing and Consumer Studies, I still had opportunities to apply my knowledge in other realms like healthcare. Conducting my own research and publishing in a journal article taught me a lot about myself and I am grateful for this experience.