Thread: Don't say Vegan
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Old Wed, Dec-13-23, 11:45
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The secret to getting people to eat more plant-based food

What’s one way to get Americans to eat more fruit and vegetables instead of meat? For starters, don’t use the word “vegan.”

A national experiment comparing food labels found people were less likely to select products described as “vegan” and “plant-based” than those touting health and sustainability benefits, according to a forthcoming study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Psychology.

“The results were very strong,” said Patrycja Sleboda, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York. “The findings hold across all socio-demographic groups and was the strongest among those who self-identify as red meat eaters.”

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that terms such as “vegan” and “plant-based” are typically not very effective at persuading meat eaters to consume more food that doesn’t come from animals. Aside from having health benefits, reducing how much animal products you eat can lessen the environmental and climate impacts of your diet.

“Labels emphasizing the benefits of a product might be just better than those that emphasize the content of the product, especially when we’re talking about vegan products,” Sleboda said.

Don’t say ‘vegan’

In the study, a nationally representative sample of more than 7,000 Americans chose between gift baskets with and without meat and dairy. The choice without animal products was randomly labeled “vegan,” “plant-based,” “healthy,” “sustainable” or “healthy and sustainable.”

Only 20 percent of participants chose the food basket without meat and dairy when it was labeled “vegan,” according to the study. That number increased to 27 percent when the basket was labeled “plant-based.”

But when the basket was labeled “healthy,” “sustainable” or “healthy and sustainable,” the share of participants that picked it jumped to more than 40 percent.

“We’re not talking about hiding what the content is,” said Wändi Bruine de Bruin, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the University of Southern California. “In fact, our study described every single item that was in the food basket, but we just didn’t call it vegan.”

Bruine de Bruin and other experts note that the word vegan can carry negative associations among meat eaters, in part because it could highlight what the food product is lacking. Other research into food labeling has repeatedly found that using vegan or vegetarian to describe products makes many people less likely to buy them.

“If you switch to healthy or sustainable, that highlights the benefits of choosing that option and that makes it more attractive,” Bruine de Bruin said. “A lot of people do worry about their health and the health of the planet.”

The study did not test labels that emphasized taste, such as “delicious,” which other research has shown to be effective in boosting people’s appetites for plant-rich foods.

A hard sell for meat eaters

The study’s findings highlight an ongoing challenge: Encouraging meat eaters to cut back isn’t easy.

Even when the gift baskets were labeled as healthy and sustainable, the basket containing meat and dairy products appeared to still be more popular.

“If we want to make significant change to improve the impact of people’s diet on their own health and our planet, it seems we still have a long way to go,” said Jack Hughes, a psychology researcher at Durham University in England, who has studied food labels but was not involved in the latest research.

But there does seem to be value in providing people with easily digestible information when making food choices, said Hughes, who has studied the impact of cigarette-style warning labels highlighting the damages of meat consumption. His research found that warning labels with images about the impact of meat on health, climate change or the risk of future pandemics could reduce participants’ desire to eat meat by up to 10 percent.

“Focusing on the consequences of people’s behavior rather than the content of what they choose is important,” he said. “But this information needs to be attention-grabbing, believable and easy to understand.”

Another way to sell more sustainable choices might be touting other qualities in food, such as its provenance, flavor and look and feel, according to research conducted by the World Resources Institute. These types of descriptions tend to appeal to consumers, said Edwina Hughes, head of the institute’s Coolfood initiative.

“We like to know it’s delicious,” she said. “We want to know it’s going to be tasty, we’re going to enjoy it, it’s going to be filling.”



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