By Alan Mozes HealthDay Reporter
THURSDAY, May 12, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Is there a way to make eating out more environmentally friendly? A team of German researchers believes the answer is a bright green yes.
They would like restaurants to offer menus that clearly label the environmental impact, or “carbon footprint,” of specific food options.
“In the broadest sense, we ask how restaurant owners can contribute to the fight against the climate crisis with some kind of ‘soft measure’ that doesn’t require changing their dish offerings,” explained study author Benedikt Seger. He is a postdoctoral research scientist at the Department of Psychology at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.
For example, a salad that comes with beef would be labeled “high emission.” That would mean that food has a larger carbon footprint, perhaps in the range of 2 or even 3 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2), and is therefore less environmentally friendly.
Alternatively, a bowl of vegan spaghetti would be labeled “low emission”. Therefore, it would be more ecological, since it could produce only 130 grams of CO2.
This information could go a long way in influencing diners’ restaurant choices.
In their study, the researchers crafted nine menus in all, reflecting what Seger called “a wide variety of restaurant types” that included Chinese, Italian and Indian dishes, as well as American-style burgers.
The menus were offered to just over 250 volunteer diners in an online simulation of a dining-out experience, meaning no real food was involved.
In some cases, the menus came with a twist: predetermined meals that the customer could modify to be more or less organic, with the addition (or removal) of components such as beef, poultry, or falafel.
The result, Seger said, was a major environmental victory.
“On average,” he noted, “the default ‘switches’ reduced carbon emissions by 300 grams of CO2 per plate. And the labels reduced emissions by an average of 200 grams of CO2 per plate.”
Seger acknowledged that the choices customers may make when offered similar menus in a real-world setting may be different, as “there will be many other factors that will influence the decision, including the presence of other guests and the view and smell of what they have”. ordered,” she said.
“However, these clear results are quite encouraging,” Seger said. The findings “show that many people are ready to consider the climate crisis in their daily decisions, even in contexts where they just want to have a good time and enjoy their food.”
Seger noted that for this to work, restaurants will need to “seize their opportunities and redesign their menus.”
Lona Sandon is director of the clinical nutrition program at the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She suggested that, as a practical matter, the green menu approach is likely to have mixed results.
“It will certainly be a great marketing tool for some restaurants,” Sandon said. “I can see some would jump right on board with this.”
And among consumers, “there will be some who think this is great and use it to make decisions,” he added.
At the same time, though, Sandon noted that “others will ignore it just as they ignore the calorie and fat information.” And even with restaurants and consumers on board, there will be the question of how exactly to determine what the carbon footprint of a particular meal really is.
“The food system is very complex,” Sandon said. “And the inputs that are used to produce and process a food vary greatly and will depend on its origin and the producer’s own practices and ability to limit the production of greenhouse gases.”
For example, “growing squash versus beef cattle may appear to use fewer resources and result in less surface methane gas,” he said.
“However, all the resources needed to transport the vegetable to a packing and processing plant, and the steps involved in transporting (ship, plane, train or truck) of the finished product (fresh, frozen, chopped or pre-washed) must be considered. , to the restaurant to finish on your plate,” Sandon said.
In addition to a redesign of the menu, Sandon suggested that there are other ways to approach eating out in an environmentally responsible way.
“Personally, I would be more interested in what a restaurant is doing to manage waste and reduce waste of resources rather than carbon footprint numbers on a menu,” she said.
And, Sandon added, consumers already have plenty of proactive options, ranging from walking to the restaurant instead of driving; choose smaller food portions; avoiding over-ordering and making an effort to always take home leftovers.
SOURCES: Benedikt T. Seger, PhD, postdoctoral research scientist, Department of Psychology, Julius Maximilian University, Würzburg, Germany; Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, Program Director and Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Nutrition, School of Health Professions, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; PLOS WeatherMay 11, 2022
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