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This subtle change to vegan menu wording leads to major changes in ordering behavior: 'The research offers a much simpler [option]'

"[The wording] should be removed from menus to help guide U.S. consumers."

Goodbye to vegan labels on menu items

Photo Credit: iStock

A meaty new study shows that if you want more people to choose vegan and vegetarian menu items, you shouldn't call them that, reported Food Navigator Europe.

The study was conducted by Alex Berke and Kent Larson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over their concerns about our food choices' impact on the environment.

The research included different field studies. In one of the field studies, college students were offered a choice on online forms between two options, one of them vegan or vegetarian, but sometimes the vegan option would come with a vegan or vegetarian label while other times it would be unlabeled. 

One example was choosing between a hummus wrap and a Greek salad wrap. The hummus wrap was always the vegan option, but it was labeled as such on only half of the subjects' online forms, whereas it was left unlabeled for the other half. Ingredients of the wraps were itemized for both groups, and the order forms were otherwise identical except for the label on some.

In this field study, 36% opted for the hummus wrap when labeled vegan, compared to a whopping 60.7% who chose the hummus wrap when it wasn't labeled. The results of a second field study were similar, with 33.9% choosing the vegan option when it was labeled, and 63.8% choosing the vegan option when it was unlabeled. 

Researchers then applied the study to a bigger population. They found that while vegans and vegetarians still opted for meatless options not labeled as such, consumers overall were less likely to order food labeled vegan and vegetarian.

These findings could greatly benefit the environment. 

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock farming accounts for 14.5% of emissions of planet-warming gases caused by human activity worldwide, a level about as high as that of the transportation sector.

The livestock industry also emits methane and nitrous oxide, whose planet-warming potential is respectively 25 and 300 times higher than that of carbon dioxide, though these gases don't remain in the atmosphere as long. 

Conversely, plant-based foods account for just 29% of toxic gases produced by the global food industry, according to the German-based platform Deutsche Welle. Thus, adopting a plant-based or partly plant-based diet is one of the best and easiest things you can do to limit your contribution to planet-warming gases. 

The study's authors stated in a release, "The results suggest that vegetarian and vegan labels do more harm than good and that they should be removed from menus to help guide U.S. consumers towards reduced consumption of animal products." 

"Conversations about food sustainability often focus on novel or expensive solutions, such as synthetic meats or hydroponics," they further said, "but the research offers a much simpler and more low-cost option that could have an important impact."

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