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Diners more likely to choose a vegetarian option when 75% of the menu is meat-free – new research
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Diners more likely to choose a vegetarian option when 75% of the menu is meat-free – new research

Four meals on a table


Around 5% of the population lives by farming animals for food. 14.5%Global greenhouse gas emissions. If this industry is not challenged, it would likely make it impossible for the world achieve its goal of limiting global warming. 1.5°C.

Reducing meat consumption is one area where small changes in everyone’s behaviour can have a big impact across a country. You need to eat animal-based foods huge amountsThey produce land and energy twiceThey produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions than their plant-based counterparts. If every person in the UK could switch to a plant based option for just one week, it would be a great nation. 8%Reduce domestic emissions

The plant-basedRecent growth in the food sector has been remarkable. There are more visible, higher-quality meat alternatives available and companies like those that offer plant-based substitutes. Beyond MeatBeing household names. Yet consumption trendsThe UK tells a different story. Although there has been a slight decline in red meat consumption over the last ten year, the UK is currently eating more poultry than ever.

Four meals on a table
Meat and dairy play a large part in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Research suggests that for peak personal and planetary health, each of us shouldn’t eat more than 98g of red meat and 203g of poultry per week. That’s around one portion of red meat and two of poultry – or one steak and two chicken sandwiches. For more information, see: typical UK adultThat means they will have to reduce their daily meat consumption by at least half.

Our research

Although it may seem intuitive to think that increasing availability of plant-based foods will increase our consumption, little is known about how this works in practice. I wanted to determine exactly how far meat availability needs to decrease to affect meat eaters’ food choices.

My colleague and i will investigate. Sophie AttwoodMenus were presented to meat-eaters with different amounts of meat and other vegetarian dishes. Participants were asked to choose from a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes.

Our resultsResearch shows that increasing availability of vegetarian food can significantly increase the number of sustainable food choices. Participants who normally eat meat switched to vegetarian food when they made up 75% or more of the menu. This was not true when the menus had equal amounts of meat and vegetarian or were 75% meat. The likelihood that a participant would choose a vegetarian meal was almost tripled when the menu had 75% vegetarian options than when it had 50% vegetarian options.

Three different food menus

Participants in our research were shown these hypothetical meals.
Author provided

It is evident that meat eaters can change their eating habits to explore new options. This is not the only thing. tipping pointThis is only possible if there are many vegetarian options.

While the exact mechanism behind this is unknown, we think that increasing the availability of vegetarian food may implicitly suggest socially acceptable norms for behaviour – or just provide customers with a wider range of options that they might not have previously considered.

This type of intervention is known as “nudging”. It is a way to change the context in which a decision was made in order to make a particular course of action more appealing. A popular example of a nudge to avoid eating unhealthy food is reducing the accessibilityYou can get rid of sweets and chocolate bars by moving them from the checkout counters in supermarkets.

These interventions have several advantages over other tactics used to change people’s behaviour: they are cheap, easy to put in place across a wide area, and much less difficult than, for example, trying to persuade individuals of the benefits of pro-environment diets. They are also less political sensitive than dramatic interventions such as increasing taxban or restrict the sale of meat products

Our research highlights the potential of cafes and restaurants to encourage sustainable eating habits among meat-eaters. However, most restaurants and cafes offer a large number of vegetarian options.

Simply put, if the foodservice sector is serious about addressing the climate crisis, it will require more than just one or a few vegetarian options to be added to their menus.


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