Going vegetarian? Menus need at least 75% plant-based foods to convert a meat eater

LONDON — For vegetarians looking to convert their long-time carnivore friends, a new study suggests that the best way is to visit restaurants with mostly plant-based food options on the menu. University of Westminster researchers report meat eaters are much more likely to choose a plant-based meal if most of the options they have to choose from are non-meat products. Study authors conclude that menus which are at least three-quarters vegetarian have the best chance of converting a carnivore.

The study finds a menu with 25 or 50 percent vegetarian options won’t sway meat-eaters’ decisions. Habitual carnivores only chose a veggie option if at least 75 percent of the menu was vegetarian. Still, researchers say these findings are more optimistic than anything else. The research indicates meat-eaters can indeed change their eating habits if provided with enough vegetarian options to choose from.

All in all, the research team believes this work makes a strong case that the food sector can indeed make a difference regarding the promotion of sustainable food choices. More specifically, they argue that the way in which the food and restaurant industries present options to consumers needs to change, without these changes necessarily attempting to convince anyone of the benefits of pro-environmental diets.

‘Nudging’ meat eaters by normalizing veggie menus

The study investigated just how much expanding vegetarian options in relation to available meat options sways eating decisions among people who usually eat meat. Researchers say they think of this as “nudging” individuals toward a plant-based diet. Participants were randomly shown various menus showing different proportions of both meat and plant-based food options.

In light of the results, study authors theorize that more vegetarian options led to more plant-based eating decisions due to two factors. First, more green options “implicitly suggested” that it’s normal to eat such dishes. Additionally, the simple fact that people had more veggie options to choose from likely played a role as well.

The meat and dairy industries account for about 25 percent of global emissions. As such, individual dietary choices can make a major impact on carbon emissions. It may not feel like a big deal when you order a salad, but when thousands start ordering salads consistently, it adds up in a big way.

“This intervention shows the potential that the food service sector has in creating large scale shifts to encourage meat eaters to change their preferences.  The findings provide practical instruction on what percentage of their food offerings should be vegetarian if they are to succeed in encouraging sustainable eating behaviors. If the food service industry are to decrease their carbon footprint, they need to act by providing far more plant-based items than currently on offer,” concludes lead study author Dr. Beth Parkin in a university release.

The study is published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.