75% vegetarian menus encourage more people to eat plant-based dishes
Meat eaters will choose a vegetarian meal if the majority of dishes offered in restaurants are plant-based, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (1). Researchers at the University of Westminster in the UK observed that the menu had to be at least 75% vegetarian for this tipping point to occur. On the other hand, a menu with 25% or even 50% vegetarian dishes was not enough to trigger this change in eating habits.
The study proves that those who eat meat can tailor their choices, but only if they have enough vegetarian options to choose from. For researchers, this means that the food industry can actually have a significant impact when it comes to encouraging sustainable food choices. Dr Beth Parkin of the University of Westminster and Dr Sophie Attwood of the World Resources Institute suggest that change can be achieved simply by presenting consumers with the right dishes without actually persuading people to make drastic changes to their diet.
These types of interventions are called “nudges” because they explore how decisions can be influenced to produce the desired behavior. In this case, a high proportion of vegetarian options on the menu made more people choose them, rather than their usual meat dishes.
During the study, the researchers looked at the impact of increasing the availability of vegetarian food when served to people who usually eat meat. Participants were randomly assigned to different menus to determine how many plant-based meals were needed to promote sustainable choices. Researchers believe the change happened because the increased availability of vegetarian foods made them more palatable and offered consumers a more comprehensive range of options.
“This intervention shows the potential of the restaurant industry to create large-scale change to encourage meat eaters to change their preferences. The results provide practical guidance on what percentage of their food offerings should be vegetarian if they are to be successful in encouraging sustainable eating behaviors. If the restaurant industry is to reduce its carbon footprint, it must take action by providing many more herbal items than is currently offered, ”said Dr Beth Parkin, lead author of the study. ‘University of Westminster.
Currently, the meat and dairy industries account for around 25% of total carbon emissions. If we do not react, the impact of livestock alone will prevent us from achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement. If we can commit to meaningful changes in our diets, we can have a big impact on carbon emissions.
(1) Parkin B and Attwood S (2021) Menu design approaches to promote sustainable vegetarian food choices when dining out. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 79, 101721 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494421001742