The best way to encourage people to eat vegan might be not to mention the concept at all, a new study suggests.
Scientists in the US found people are far more likely to choose a vegan option if the food wasn’t actually described as such.
Across two separate experiments, involving more than 150 people in total, the researchers presented prospective diners with a menu featuring two meals, one vegetarian, the other vegan.
The vegan option was a hummus wrap, while the vegetarian was a Greek salad wrap featuring feta cheese.
In one version, the menu was labelled like many in the UK, with each meal being labelled either vegan or vegetarian as appropriate.
US scientists found people were more likely to choose a vegan option for dinner if the dish wasn’t labelled as such (stock image)
But in the other the labels were removed and instead each meal was simply described with its ingredients.
The researchers, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found in both experiments only about 35 per cent of diners chose the vegan option when it was labelled.
But when the vegan label was removed the number choosing the hummus wrap jumped to above 60 per cent.
The diners did not know they were participating in an experiment at the time, choosing a food option from a registration form for an event.
These results were also replicated in a separate experiment conducted online.
In this version, 750 participants who were asked if they were vegetarian or vegan, were asked to pick from two hypothetical menu options five times.
Each question presented different meal options, a mix of vegan or meat, vegetarian or meat, or vegetarian or meat, with two dishes per category.
Like the previous experiment, participants were randomly allocated a menu which labelled meals as vegetarian or vegan or one that did not.
The results showed when labels were present only 36.6 per cent of participants chose a vegan option.
However, when they were removed this rose to 42.7 per cent.
Critically, the researchers found the removal of the labels didn’t lead to participants who said they were vegetarian or vegans choosing meat options.
The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Appetite, said the results have important implications for encouraging people to eat a more sustainable diet.
‘Overall, our results showed that vegetarian and vegan labels negatively impact consumers’ likelihood to choose the labelled option,’ they wrote.
‘The present studies demonstrate how a simple and low-cost change to typical menus could help nudge these consumers to reduce meat consumption, towards more plant-based alternatives, without reducing their freedom of choice.’
This, they claimed, would both benefit the environment and people health.
Meat and dairy consumption have a greater environmental impact compared to veganism.
Livestock, and the supply chain to get animal products to consumers, contributes to climate change through producing greenhouse gases and making land for grazing can lead to deforestation.
While meat and dairy are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, eating too much red or processed meat can increase the risk of disease like bowel cancer.