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Will “climate-friendly” options on restaurant menus soon be available?

“Nevertheless, these clear results are quite encouraging,” Seger said. The results “show that many people are willing to factor the climate crisis into their day-to-day decisions, even in settings where they just want to have a good time and enjoy their meal.”

Seger noted that for this to work, restaurants will have to “take a chance and rethink their menus.”

Lona Sandon is director of the clinical nutrition program at the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She suggested that in practice, the green menu approach is likely to have mixed results.

“It will definitely be a great marketing tool for some restaurants,” Sandon said. “I can see some would jump on board with that.”

And among consumers, “there will be some who think it’s great and use it to make choices,” she added.

At the same time, however, Sandon noted that “others will ignore it just like they ignore calorie and fat information.” And even with restaurants and consumers on board, there will be the question of exactly how to determine what the carbon footprint of a particular meal really is.

“The food system is very complex,” Sandon said. “And the inputs that go into producing and processing a food vary widely and will depend on where it comes from, the practices of the producer and their ability to limit the production of greenhouse gases.”

For example, “growing zucchini compared to beef cattle may appear to use fewer resources and bring less methane to the surface,” she said.

“However, one must consider all the resources involved in transporting the vegetable to a packing and processing plant, and the steps involved in transporting – ship, plane, train or truck – the finished product – fresh, frozen, chopped or pre-washed – at the restaurant to end up on your plate,” Sandon said.

Besides a menu overhaul, Sandon suggested there are other ways to approach restaurant dining in an environmentally responsible way.

“Personally, I’d be more interested in knowing what a restaurant is doing to manage waste and reduce overuse of resources than the carbon footprint numbers on a menu,” she said.

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