How to respond to the new food fears and threats

Expectations in matters of food have changed over recent years. This 2018 Alter’Native Food talk considers the new food ethics and their impact on our daily lives.

What are the differences in food behaviour over the course of history?

There is a growing mistrust of the food industry

There is a growing mistrust of the food industry

Today, we see increasing attention being paid to food. In the post-war years of shortage, food needs were radically different to how they are today. Society transitioned back then into an era of mass consumption, with the development of large retail outlets, supermarkets and big-box stores. These have come to be considered almost as a public service, with consumers accessing the same food quality throughout the country.

Today we are witnessing a trend reversal, with increased mistrust directed toward food. This sense of mistrust goes way back, as the industrial society has always been subject to criticism. Today there is a focus on food, mainly on account of expectations with regard to health and the question of the environment.

Key figures on food concerns in France

According to the food ethics observatory, around 58% of French people consider that food may be potentially dangerous. “Eating well” is becoming a priority, catering to the consumer desire to keep in good health and preserve this health capital as long as possible. Furthermore, 70% of those surveyed consider that a good diet is more efficient than drug treatment.

The social and environmental impacts are also a major concern of the French. Around 70% of respondents consider that it is important to know where foodstuffs are sourced, and 63% of them pay particular attention to the production methods.

"Eating healthy" becomes a priority

70% of respondents believe that a good diet is more effective than medication. 

Paradoxically, although vegans only represent 0.4% of the population, they account for far more media attention than these figures suggest. Most French people declare themselves to be omnivores. There is therefore a contradiction between a movement that has a high media profile, with a concomitant marketing overhaul for products, and the reality of the situation, which is that the French have not in fact considerably changed their habits at all.

People are however more attentive to their food purchases today, with smaller average shopping carts. Consumers buy fewer industrial products, in particular ready meals and frozen foods. Most of them are either omnivores or flexitarians, i.e.: they do not eat meat every day. We are moving back progressively toward healthier food, which corresponds to our needs.

French consumers are essentially mistrustful about things that they cannot see, in particular heavy metals. One in two French people says that they have reduced or eliminated the consumption of a certain number of foodstuffs, such as sugar, meat, wheat, etc. Furthermore, 37% of people say that they are looking for a more frugal solution, in particular in terms of detoxing or fasting.

Food is becoming considered as burdensome, and the daily diet has become a subject of mistrust, particularly where meat is concerned.

What are the four major food ethics in France

There are four dominant food ethics in France:

  • Omnivores (62% of the population), who seek to eat well while following a classic diet. They are looking for good eating, healthy eating, signs of natural goodness, responsible production and product authenticity.
  • Opportunists (20%) whose stated position is a “free-from” diet and a safety-first posture. They may avoid gluten, meat protein, and thereby exclude part of the food available. They draw on an ideology to assert their authority over what they eat. They are qualified as “opportunists” since, unlike the radicals, they pursue an individualistic logic.
  • Radicals (7%): they have a collective project aimed at changing the world and society, in which food becomes a rule of life.
  • Conscientious (11%): generally flexitarians, they experience pangs of conscience concerning food, and are progressively gravitating towards a form of project for society, particularly concerning animal consciousness.

With the emergence of these groupings, the market is likely to place increasing focus on taste and propose cheaper offerings. These food modes will become more generalised and end up being completely integrated in our daily food consumption habits. According to Nathalie Damery, the food problem needs to be looked at in a new light: “There have been similar moments to this throughout history, in particular at the end of the 19th century when the hygienists turned their gaze on food, and then too it was a matter of paying attention to meat and eating more fruit and vegetables. We are once again a turning point, and the next turning point will no doubt revolve around FoodTech.

Speaker: Nathalie Damery, L'OBSOCO

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