Tobias Leenaert

Ashoka Fellow
Gent, Belgium
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Tobias Leenaert was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
There is clear evidence that the current level of meat consumption is not sustainable to ecological and social equilibriums, and to human health. Recognizing the lack of awareness surrounding the problem and the challenges to shift deeply culturally and socially rooted eating habits, Tobias has embarked on a quest to subtly shift market forces and incentivize a higher demand for vegetarian food and a stronger implication for businesses.To increase the consumption of vegetarian meals and influence consumer behavior, Tobias has changed the discourse around vegetarianism in Belgium and has been promoting it in a new way. The usual vegetarian stance, often linked with animal rights and protection, is highly normative and has lead to a situation where meat consumption is a polarizing and taboo subject. Tobias, on the contrary, is mobilizing customers to change their behavior towards more healthy and sustainable food, while proving that this shift can be at the same time easy, fun and tasty. Furthermore, he is also educating the public about the multi-dimensional consequences of one's eating habits.Tobias is making vegetarian meals attractive and accessible through a large number of creative initiatives based on positive and attractive messages. His veggie city plans, his vegetarian cooking courses, his seven-course gourmet dinners, his Veggielympics and his multimedia campaigns show that vegetarian food is tasty and readily available. He is taking a progressive approach to promote the integration of vegetarian meals into everybody's diet, rather than promoting the more difficult shift to full vegetarianism. As such, he developed an approach that is completely socially acceptable and that offers the possibility for each citizen to contribute in a positive way to a more sustainable society.

In parallel, Tobias has developed a business-friendly approach that is opening ways for businesses to be socially responsible and profitable at the same time. For example, partnerships with the restaurant industry are enabling him to incentivize and train chefs so that they can offer high-quality and tasty dishes without meat. He is also partnering with agro-industrial groups who develop meatless products or meat alternatives to go mainstream. As the market shifts, Tobias is working up the value chain and influencing a steadily deeper change in the meat supply landscape.

To catalyze the change triggered on both ends and to increase his leverage, Tobias creates an atmosphere where 'meat' becomes a politically safe subject. This is a far cry from the polarizing subject it had become. Tobias is engineering an enabling institutional environment through cooperation with public authorities and business. To effectively engage these stakeholders, Tobias developed the inspiring and powerful concept of Veggie Day. He launched the Thursday Veggie Day campaign in the city of Ghent, Flanders, where on this day the city services and many local businesses promote a vegetarian option. More than 40 kindergartens and 35 primary schools now offer a vegetarian lunch as their default option every Thursday. This sticky idea is spreading like wildfire across Europe and the rest of the world, such as Brazil, and is creating a global movement of sensible vegetarians and sensible meat eaters who are preparing for a more sustainable future.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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