Krpan, Dario, and Nanne Houtsma 2020. “To veg or not to veg? The impact of framing on vegetarian food choice.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 67: 101391. 

This paper experimentally tests three alternative ways of framing vegetarian meal options on menus, and finds that pro-environment, social, and neutral framing are all more effective at eliciting vegetarian meal choices from non-vegetarians than ‘vegetarian’ framing. 

It is known that increasing the proportion of vegetarian foods consumed is an important behaviour to help address biodiversity loss, global heating and human health and wellbeing, yet the rate of meat consumption continues to increase. Through a series of three studies, the authors tested whether re-framing how vegetarian meal options on menus are described, could influence non-vegetarians to select vegetarian options. 

Frames tested were: 

  • a pro- environmental frame (“Environmentally Friendly Main Courses for a Happy Planet”) 
  • a social frame (“Refreshing Main Courses for Relaxing Conversations”) 
  • a neutral frame, in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes were listed in the same section labelled “Main Courses”), and a 
  • vegetarian frame (“Vegetarian Main Courses”). 

All frames, compared to the vegetarian frame, increased the choosing of vegetarian meal options. None of the non-vegetarian frames were reliably more effective than others across the studies, and the authors explore some of the mechanism that may underly these effects. 

Overall, this study reinforces a point often made on this site, that how you say something can be as important as what you say. However, it should be noted that these studies were undertaken online via respondent surveys, and did not measure the actual behaviour of diners; it would be great to see if this effect is replicated in the field restaurant. 

In the meantime, this paper offers insights into how framing may be applied to promote vegetarian food choices. 

Photo by Jessie McCall on Unsplash

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