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Promoting sustainable diets

One lifestyle choice in particular is now recognised as a major part of the problem: our food. Livestock production for meat and dairy is a disproportionate contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation (to make way for grazing land), freshwater use (for irrigation), and pollution of our waterways (from fertilizers and other chemicals).

In theory, our diets and eating habits can be easily changed. In practice, it is an emotive, difficult subject – rooted in culture, identity, strong personal tastes, and an aversion to being told what we should eat. That’s why in the coming months we are publishing a major new report on applying behavioural insights to sustainable diets, looking at what does and doesn’t work, but also reflecting on the rationale for government intervention It’s a sensitive subject, but a debate we think needs to be had.

This year we also worked with the World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab to explore how language might be used to encourage non-vegetarians to choose plant-based options from cafe and restaurant menus. Would you rather eat a ‘meat free breakfast’ or a ‘feel-good fry-up’, for instance?

We co-designed and ran an online experiment testing the impact of different names across a variety of plant-based menu items. Our early results suggest ‘field-grown’ is a good alternative to ‘meat-free’ and, in general, more indulgent names outperform conventional terminology for vegetarian meals.

The World Resources Institute have since replicated these results in UK cafes, and we are now supporting them with a similar programme of work in the US.