Menu Options For Meat-Free Meal Selection
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and a major animal welfare threat. Reducing animal meat consumption can lower emissions, but people often chose to eat “small-bodied animals,” like chickens and fishes, in place of large ones, like cows and pigs. This substitution actually increases the number of farmed animals, which causes more net animal suffering.
This study explored how different hypothetical combinations of menu options impacted people’s selection of meat-free meals, meat analogs like plant-based meat, and chicken/fish options. The authors used previously published data from a different study that explored other influences on meat-free meal selection. In the original study, university students were asked to pick a meal from five hypothetical options. The options included a photo and description of each meal. The authors explored associations between menu item options and the selection of meat-free, meat-analog, and chicken/fish meals.
The study found that people were more likely to select a meat-free meal when there were three, rather than two, meat-free options to choose from. People were less likely to select a meat-free meal when bird meat or fishes were available as options, which suggests that people shift from pigs or cows to chickens or fishes.
However, the study did not find a relationship between the number of meat analog options and the selection of meat-free meals. The researchers defined “meat analog” as dishes that clearly had a meaty texture. However, they weren’t sure this was the best definition of “meat analog.” So they repeated the analysis three times, once including all dishes with names associated with meat (even if they didn’t have a meaty texture), once including tofu, and once including both. If tofu was included, people were less likely to choose a meat-free option. Otherwise, the results were the same.
The authors mention several important limitations to this study. For example, because they used someone else’s experimental data to explore a different set of questions, they could only make associations, rather than establish any causal relationship. The meat analog options were only a small number of menu items and did not include any popular name brands like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat. The entire study was based on hypothetical selection of food items. Actual selection of real food would have been more reliable.
This study suggests that people are more likely to choose a meat-free meal if they have more meat-free options available and less likely to choose a meat-free meal if tofu is one of a smaller range of options. This study also highlights the importance of the small-bodied animal problem, because significantly fewer meat-free selections were made when chicken-based or fish-based options were on the menu. From these findings, animal advocates should encourage food service providers to include more meat-free meal options and discourage them from including small-bodied animals.