We’re Gonna Get You to Eat the Bugs Peasant, One Way or Another

New article in PLOS CLIMATE on how to manipulate you.

I know, I know. They don’t mention the bugs in this one. But it’s obviously where this is headed.

How can carbon labels and climate-friendly default options on restaurant menus contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with dining?

Here is the abstract:

In this study, we aimed to understand how restaurants can contribute to climate change mitigation via menu design. We investigated two types of interventions: changing the configuration of menu entries with variable side dishes so that the most climate-friendly option is set as the default and indicating the greenhouse gas emission of each dish via carbon labels. In an online simulation experiment, 265 participants were shown the menus of nine different restaurants and had to choose exactly one dish per menu. In six menus, the main dishes were presented with different default options: the side dish was associated either with the highest or with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.

The other three menus consisted of unitary dishes for which the default rules did not apply. All menus were presented either with or without carbon labels for each dish option. The results indicated that more climate-friendly dish choices resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions were made with the low-emission than the high-emission default condition, and when carbon labels were present rather than absent. The effects of both interventions interacted, which indicates that the interventions partly overlap with regard to cognitive predecessors of choice behavior, such as attentional focus and social norms.

The results suggest that the design of restaurant menus has a considerable effect on the carbon footprint of dining.

And excerpts from EurekAlert! Press Release

Menus for climate-friendly food choices

Peer-Reviewed Publication


The fact that a beef steak is significantly worse for the climate than a tofu schnitzel has probably become common knowledge by now. After all, cows are considered an enormous burden on the climate and a driving force for climate change, among other things because of their methane emissions. Nevertheless, Germans still consume an average of 55 kilograms of meat per year – according to the evaluation of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture for the year 2021.

Scientists at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg (JMU) have now investigated the extent to which restaurants can contribute to curbing the climate crisis by redesigning their menus. Specifically, the question was whether colour-coded information about the greenhouse gas emissions of dishes – so-called CO2 labels – and a changed standard option for dishes with interchangeable side dishes nudge guests to more climate-friendly dish choices.

And, of course, it’s the right thing to do for all the socially conscious reasons.

According to the psychologists, an important finding from this study is that people are obviously willing and able to consider the pressing problem of the climate crisis even in small everyday decisions such as ordering a meal. “This is by no means self-evident when we consider that in a restaurant we enjoy the food, the atmosphere and the get-together with others, so we do not want to think about existential threats like the climate crisis,” says Seger.

From a psychological point of view, the decision for climate-friendly food is not unexpected: “We assume that CO2 labels and changed standards convey certain social norms. After all, the imperative to emit as little carbon dioxide as possible is now established in large parts of the population,” explains Seger. Thus, when a restaurant discloses the CO2 emissions of the dishes it offers, guests realise that this standard also applies to food choices in restaurants. This is all the more true if these are additionally emphasised by corresponding colours: red for a lot of CO2, green for little greenhouse gas.

Social norms influence behaviour

“If a restaurant highlights the vegetable patty instead of the meat patty as a standard option in its burger menu, it communicates: ‘Guests at this restaurant usually order the veggie burger.’ In psychology, we call this a descriptive norm,” says Seger. This presumed knowledge of what others do in a certain situation – regardless of whether it is desired or accepted – can have a significant influence on behaviour.

Accordingly, Seger’s message to restaurant operators is: “Have the courage to include CO2 labels and different standard options in your menu. This way you can contribute to climate protection without having to change your offer fundamentally.”

via Watts Up With That?


May 11, 2022 at 08:10PM

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