The Dutch government has set ambitious targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but when food expert Isabel Boerdam noticed it had no campaign to cut meat consumption, she decided to take the matter into her own hands, launching The Netherlands’ first National Week Without Meat. During the Food Valley Summit Protein of the Future, 10 October 2018, she will share her vision and next steps in this promising journey.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates livestock’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions at 14.5% of the global total. Across the developed world, the popularity of vegetarian and flexitarian diets has increased as more consumers aim to reduce the environmental and health risks associated with eating meat.

“We are all so aware of the fact that what we eat impacts the climate, and I was surprised that the government doesn’t have a big initiative on this topic,” Boerdam said. “What is at the end of your fork can really make a difference.”

Only about 4.5% of the Dutch population is vegetarian, but research from Wageningen University has suggested that as many as three-quarters of Dutch consumers have at least one meat-free day per week, and The Netherlands is home to a burgeoning meat alternatives industry.

Boerdam reached out to those working in this sector to support the National Week Without Meat, which took place in early March, a move that raised €130,000 from 56 partners to fund billboards at train stations, flyers and a social media campaign to raise awareness.

“I wanted to show how nice and fun cooking and eating without meat can be,” she said. “…My idea was if people ate one week without meat perhaps they would find enough inspiration to continue to eat maybe one or two times per week without meat. That would already make a huge difference.”

About 32,000 people registered as participants, but Boerdam says there were many people who did not register who also took part. As an incentive to register, she produced a magazine both online and in print with recipes from partners, while restaurants, caterers and service stations across the country also took part by increasing their vegetarian offerings during the week.

“Everywhere you went during the week without meat, the idea was you were able to find a solution,” she said.

Boerdam said she was keen to keep the messaging simple and positive, focusing on trying new foods and discovering new tastes. Campaign materials also quantified the water, carbon dioxide emissions and the actual amount of meat saved during the week.

“People were really aware of the difference they could make,” she said. “…This was the first year of the campaign, so from next year on it will only get stronger and bigger.”

Boerdam owns Green Food Lab, a food consultancy and communications agency that supports food companies with a sustainable mission. She is also ‘De Hippe Vegetariër’ (The Hip Vegetarian), an author and blogger focused on the enjoyment of vegetarian food.

Food Valley Summit Proteins of the Future
Meet Isabel Boerdam during the Food Valley Summit Proteins of the Future, 10 October 2018 in The Netherlands.