“Nevertheless, these clear results are very encouraging,” Seger said. The findings “show that many people are ready to consider the climate crisis in their day-to-day decision-making, even when they just want to have a good time and a meal.”
To do that, Seger noted, restaurants need to “seize the opportunity to redesign their menus.”
Lona Sandon is director of the clinical nutrition program at the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. As a practical matter, she suggested, the green menu approach could have mixed results.
“It’s definitely going to be a great marketing tool for some restaurants,” Thornton said. “I can see some people going straight into this.”
Among consumers, “there will be some people who think it’s good and use it to make choices,” she added.
At the same time, however, Thornton noted, “other people will ignore it, just as they ignore calorie and fat information.” Even with restaurants and consumers involved, there will be ways to determine exactly what a particular meal’s carbon footprint is. The problem.
“The food system is very complex,” Sandon said. “The inputs to produce and process food vary widely, depending on the source of the food, as well as the grower’s own practices and ability to limit greenhouse gas production.”
For example, “growing zucchini appears to use fewer resources and result in less methane gas at the surface than beef cattle,” she said.
“However, one has to consider all the resources for transporting vegetables to packaging and processing plants, as well as transport – boat, plane, train or truck – finished product – fresh, frozen, chopped or pre-washed – to the restaurant where it ends up on you plate,” Thornton said.
In addition to redesigning the menu, Thornton also recommends eating out in an environmentally responsible way.
“Personally, I’m more interested in understanding what restaurants are doing to manage waste and reduce resource overuse, rather than the carbon footprint numbers on the menu,” she said.