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Motives, mentalities and dietary change: An exploration of the factors that drive and sustain alternative dietary lifestyles

Any transition to a sustainable food system will require long-term changes in consumer behaviour, including a major reduction in the proportion of animal-based foods in people’s diets. Such long-term dietary changes have widely been found difficult to achieve, however, since eating behaviors are interlinked with habits and lifestyles. In order to attain a better understanding of the driving forces that guide and support changes in eating patterns, this study identifies some of the key factors that lead people not only to adopt alternative dietary lifestyles but also to sustain these lifestyles over the long term. A generic qualitative methodology was used to gather and analyse qualitative data on the food-related motivations and identities of 17 long-term ‘alternative dieters’. Our content analysis of this data revealed the following three factors to be particularly relevant in motivations for dietary change: (1) the experience of a ‘key moment’; (2) the accumulation of knowledge; and (3) health concerns. While our findings show that the experience of key moments tends to catalyse immediate behavioral responses, changes due to knowledge and health concerns appear to lead to more gradual and organized processes of change. Regarding the mentalities that seem to reinforce and help sustain the transition to long-lasting alternative diets, our study identified three further characteristics: (1) self-reflectiveness; (2) responsibility; and (3) interconnectedness. Overall, our findings provide valuable insights into the key drivers that initiate processes of long-lasting dietary change as well as the mentalities that serve to underpin and sustain such changes. Followup research with a largersample of participants is recommended to confirm and further explore these characteristics as a means of informing policies aiming at achieving a transition to more sustainable food systems.

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