Meat production is taxing the environment, and if we want to reduce our carbon footprint and tackle climate change, we need as many people as possible to reduce their meat consumption. Restaurants and cafes can play a role in this, firstly by offering plant-based alternatives.
Many restaurants and even fast food places already offer at least one vegetarian or vegan option, which is a good start, especially for those who regularly opt for these types of options. But could more plant-based options push more carnivores to opt for a vegetarian option, at least once in a while?
With this question in mind, a team of researchers from the University of Westminster conducted an experiment in which menus in which 75%, 50% or 25% of the items were vegetarian were assigned to 468 participants. The menus looked like this:
The researchers wanted to see if having access to more vegetarian options makes a significant difference; apparently it did, but only in 75% vegetarian options.
“We show that carnivores were significantly more likely to choose a vegetarian meal when presented with a menu containing 75% vegetarian items, but not when half (50%) were vegetarian,” the study says.
There are significant shortcomings in the study: the fact that it has a small sample size, the fact that the sample size may not be representative of the entire population, the fact that the type of menu may also play a role, But the researchers say that this study shows that interventions that offer more vegetarian options can push consumers towards more sustainable, low-meat, low-carbon options.
Dr Beth Parkin, lead author of the study from the University of Westminster, said:
“This intervention shows the potential for the foodservice sector to create large-scale change to encourage meat eaters to change their preferences. The findings provide practical instructions on what percentage of their food offerings should be vegetarian if they are to be successful in fostering sustainable eating behaviors. If the foodservice industry wants to reduce their carbon footprint, they must act by providing far more plant-based items than are currently offered.”
The meat and dairy industries account for nearly 60% of our agricultural emissions, or 15-20% of our total planetary greenhouse gas emissions. It is also one of the most impactful changes that we, as individual consumers, can make. Dietary changes are critical to avoiding catastrophic climate change, a growing body of scientific evidence shows. This type of menu intervention may help reduce this negative impact, the researchers conclude.
The study has been published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.