Multiple factors influence vegetarian option

In addition to health, flavour, preparation, texture and more are of influence.
‘People expect meat on certain occasions. A barbecue, for instance.’ Photo Shutterstock

Researchers of Human Nutrition and Health discovered that many drivers influence the choice to replace meat with another source of protein.

The key incentive to opt for a vegetarian menu is not the flavour of meat substitutes. Knowledge of the environment and health, the price, willingness to try new dishes and the circumstances and the way the food is prepared are equally as important. Moreover, women are more prone to select an alternative protein source than men. Wageningen scientists reported these findings in the scientific journal Nutrients last month.

Dish more important than meat substitute

Although these motives are not entirely unexpected, the researchers were surprised by the outcome. ‘We had expected health to be a much greater incentive’, says Marianne Geleijnse, professor of Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease. The study shows a variety of factors is involved. Transitioning from meat to alternative sources of protein is not all that simple.

We had expected health to be a much greater incentive

Marianne Geleijnse, professor of Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease

Although the flavour and texture of meat substitutes are considered important, the menu as a whole is a more determining factor in choosing between meat or vegetarian. ‘How the food is prepared and served is also important’, says Geleijnse. Circumstances also influence the choice. Scientists call this situational appropriateness. ‘People expect meat on certain occasions,’ Geleijnse explains. ‘At a barbecue, for instance, or at the family meal on Sunday.’

Point of departure for targeted research

In their study, the scientists provide a list of stimulants for meat substitutes. ‘Our research is much like a giant puzzle with some pieces missing’, Geleijnse states. Information about factors such as religion and animal welfare are absent, while much more research has been done on other factors such as packaging.

The Wageningen scientists hope their peers will conduct more targeted research to find the missing pieces.

New generation, new research

One problem in research on meat substitutes is that meat is replaced by different substitutes, such as beans, vegetarian sausage and insects, in the different studies. ‘These studies have been thrown together, but there are huge differences’, Geleijnse explains.

The question remains how relevant this literature study is for 2021, as some studies are over two decades old. ‘I suspect environment to become an increasingly powerful motivator’, Geleijnse says. This is why she intends to repeat this literature study in several years, with more recent studies and a clearer distinction between the different types of meat substitutes.

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