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By Alan Mozes Health Day Reporter
THURSDAY, May 12, 2022 (HealthDay News)
Is there a way to make catering more environmentally friendly? A team of German researchers believe the answer is a light green yes.
They would like restaurants to offer menus that clearly display the environmental impact — or “carbon footprint” — specific meal options.
“In the broadest sense, we asked ourselves how restaurateurs can contribute to the fight against climate crisis with a kind of “soft measure” that does not require changing their meal offerings,” explained study author Benedikt Seger. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Psychology at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.
For example, a salad with beef would be labeled “high-emitting.” This would mean that the meal generates a higher carbon footprint – perhaps on the order of 2 or even 3 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) – and is therefore less environmentally friendly.
Alternatively, a vegan spaghetti dish would be labeled “low-emission.” It would therefore be greener, insofar as it would produce only 130 grams of CO2.
This information could go a long way in influencing diners’ restaurant choices.
In their studyinvestigators composed nine menus in all, reflecting what Seger called “a wide range 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 experience, meaning no actual eating was involved.
In some cases, menus featured a variation: default meals that the customer could modify to be more or less green, with the addition (or deletion) of components like beef, poultry, or falafel.
The result, Seger said, was a big environmental win.
“On average,” he noted, “the default ‘switches’ reduced carbon emissions by 300 grams of CO2 per dish. And the labels reduced emissions by an average of 200 grams of CO2 per dish.” “
Seger acknowledged that the choices customers might make when presented with similar menus in a real-life setting might be different, as “there will be many other factors that will influence the decision, including the presence of other guests. and the sight and smell of what they ordered,” he said.
“Nevertheless, these clear results are quite encouraging,” Seger said. The results “show that many people are willing to factor the climate crisis into their day-to-day decisions, even in settings where they just want to have a good time and enjoy their meal.”
Seger noted that for this to work, restaurants will have to “take a chance and rethink 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 in practice, the green menu approach is likely to have mixed results.
“It will definitely be a great marketing tool for some restaurants,” Sandon said. “I can see some would jump on board with that.”
And among consumers, “there will be some who think it’s great and use it to make choices,” she added.
At the same time, however, Sandon noted that “others will ignore it just like they ignore calorie and fat information.” And even with restaurants and consumers on board, there will be the question of exactly how to determine what the carbon footprint of a particular meal really is.
“The food system is very complex,” Sandon said. “And the inputs that go into producing and processing a food vary widely and will depend on where it comes from, the practices of the producer and their ability to limit the production of greenhouse gases.”
For example, “growing zucchini compared to beef cattle may appear to use fewer resources and bring less methane to the surface,” she said.
“However, one must consider all the resources involved in transporting the vegetable to a packing and processing plant, and the steps involved in transporting – ship, plane, train or truck – the finished product – fresh, frozen, chopped or pre-washed – at the restaurant to end up on your plate,” Sandon said.
Besides a menu overhaul, Sandon suggested there are other ways to approach restaurant dining in an environmentally responsible way.
“Personally, I’d be more interested in knowing what a restaurant is doing to manage waste and reduce overuse of resources than the carbon footprint numbers on a menu,” she said.
And, Sandon added, consumers already have many proactive options, ranging from walking to a restaurant rather than driving; choose smaller meal portions; avoid over-ordering and make an effort to always take leftovers home.
See the answer
The results appear in the May 11 issue of PLOS Climate.
There’s more on sustainable food at Harvard School of Public Health.
SOURCES: Benedikt T. Seger, PhD, postdoctoral researcher, 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 ClimateMay 11, 2022
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