A new study from campaign groups WWF France and the ECO2 Initiative compared a “standard” weekly shopping basket for a French family of four with a “flexitarian” basket, which consisted of two-thirds vegetable proteins and one-third animal proteins.
The flexitarian basket took account of three sustainability criteria. Firstly, a cost equivalency to the "average" French weekly grocery budget of €190 for four people. Secondly, a low carbon impact corresponding to the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted during the lifecycle of food, from production and processing to transportation. Finally, the report also considered the nutritional quality of the flexitarian basket, calculated according to the Nutri-Score approach backed by the French government.
Compared to the standard basket, the flexitarian option delivered a 31% decrease in meat consumption, a 40% drop in wild fish consumption, a 69% reduction in high fat, salt or sugar processed foods, and a 46% decrease in products based on refined flours. The basket also resulted in a 95% increase in the share of vegetables, cereals and legumes.
In real terms, WWF and ECO2 said that this meant people would go from eating six meat or fish meals per week to four and one meal a day containing processed foods to only two per week.
The research found this switch would reduce a family of four’s grocery-related carbon impact by 38%, from 109 kg of CO2 to 68 kg of CO2 per week. The behavioural adjustment also offers French families a 21% cost reduction, from €187 to €147 per week.
Additionally, the report stated that the cheaper price of vegetable-based foods means that the flexitarian basket included a higher proportion of organic, or “bio”, products than the regular basket. The flexitarian basket contained nearly 50% of organic items.
In order to achieve a sustainable grocery basket, consumers must review their eating habits and reverse “negative” trends that have developed over the past 50 years, such as excessive consumption of animal protein and increased consumption of sweetened drinks and processed foods, the report concluded.
"Consuming better quality products with less impact on the environment is within everyone's reach,” Pascal Canfin, Director General of WWF France insisted. ”On a daily basis, this involves simple actions… It's good for the health and for the planet and it does not cost more.”