To make people eat sustainably and healthy, study recommends the tried-and-tested "cigarette pack" approach

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To make people eat sustainably and healthy, study recommends the tried-and-tested "cigarette pack" approach
BCCL
Did you know that a kilogram of meat on our plate means spewing nine times more carbon dioxide equivalent into the air than rice? We’re not done. The figure goes up to almost 50 times when compared to fruits and vegetables — terrifying numbers, to say the least.
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Now look down and imagine your lunch or dinner plate. If you live in India, chances are you’re peering at a delectable assortment of rice, dal (or sambar) and a yummy helping of some vegetable sabzi most of the week. Hurray for the environment, right? Right?

Well, if there weren’t a growing problem, this article obviously wouldn’t exist (alas!). Vegetarianism has been declining in our country over the past decade, with states like West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala comprising over 97% non-vegetarians. And since we haven’t figured out a way to keep the meat on the plate while leaving the emissions at the door, this growing trend could be an immense hurdle on our path to carbon retribution.

However, scientists may have borrowed a solution from the dirty ol’ cigarette's book, and initial results show much-needed promise!

When scientists presented US online participants with options from a menu highlighting which foods were more sustainable, they found that surveyors were likelier to choose an environmentally-friendly dish! In addition, participants also tended to rate their orders to be “healthier” when they picked sustainably.

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In addition, the experiment also found that negative and a more brutal framing actually worked better than a positive one. For example, have you ever wondered why cigarette boxes have such vulgar images? Why couldn’t they just have settled for the perennial and graceful ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ sticker?

In this experiment, while a generous 9.9% of participants tended to pick healthier options when they were highlighted with a green low-impact label, a whopping 23.5% were persuaded into a sustainable choice when the environmentally unfriendly items (such as red meats) were instead tagged with a glaring red high-impact label.

So say what you will; we do tend to inch closer to doing the right thing with a harder nudge. And with sustainability being the end goal, we can pull only so many punches. The fact that we could stand to eliminate up to 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions by simply stopping farming animals for food does help too.

All in all, this experiment proves that a significant bottleneck towards switching to sustainable consumption is that consumers simply do not know whether the food on their plate has been butterflying into tragic Pakistani floods or deadly Egyptian heatwaves. And while the US might have vastly different consumption habits than a country like India, our rapid westernisation could definitely mean similar techniques could work.

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In this experiment, while a generous 9.9% of participants tended to pick healthier options when they were highlighted with a green low-impact label, a whopping 23.5% were persuaded into a sustainable choice when the environmentally unfriendly items (such as red meats) were instead tagged with a glaring red high-impact label.
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In this experiment, while a generous 9.9% of participants tended to pick healthier options when they were highlighted with a green low-impact label, a whopping 23.5% were persuaded into a sustainable choice when the environmentally unfriendly items (such as red meats) were instead tagged with a glaring red high-impact label.