Recipe for Success:
How Climate-Conscious Media Should Nudge Readers Toward Plant-Based Recipes
With support from Sentient Media, we at the Better Food Foundation analyzed eight major news outlets’ cooking sections to see if their recipe curation was as climate-conscious as their reporting.
Environmental journalism has improved significantly over the past two decades, but for most news outlets, animal agriculture remains a blindspot. A recent investigation analyzed 1,000 climate news articles and found that only seven percent mentioned the topic of animal agriculture, let alone animal agriculture’s contributions to climate change. We sought to determine whether news outlets’ recipe sections followed suit.
A widespread shift towards plant-forward diets—particularly in the Global North—is consistently named as one of the key ways to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and one of the most effective actions an individual can take to reduce their own carbon footprint. Considering media’s hefty influence on how cultural norms are constructed, news outlets have a unique opportunity and a responsibility to proactively normalize plant-based eating.
This report reveals that among the top four UK-based outlets and top four US-based outlets with responsible climate reporting (i.e., in keeping with scientific consensus), five have recipe sections dominated by meat-based recipes, with only Washington Post, The Guardian, and Yahoo News having <50 percent of recipes categorized as “omnivorous.”
Where do we go from here?
News outlets clearly have some catching up to do, and we’re happy to help. We offer five recommendations for recipe reform, building on recipe hub Epicurious’s decision to “leave beef behind” in 2021. In a move described as “not anti-beef but rather pro-planet,” Epicurious resolved not to mention beef in new recipes, articles, or newsletters (though it counterproductively cross-posts beefy content created by sister brand Bon Appétit). Knowing the environmental and public health harms of poultry, egg, and dairy production, we emphasize the need for plant-based meals, not simply beefless or cheeseless meals. Editorial teams have the power to normalize plant-based eating by curating recipes in line with DefaultVeg practices. With a few simple changes, news outlets can nudge readers toward climate-friendly eating. We recommend that recipe sections:
- Maintain a ratio of at least 2-to-1 for plant-based versus animal-based recipes. For every omnivorous entree, there should be two vegan recipes, or at the very least one vegetarian and one vegan.
- Present plant-based options first, by default. Within search results and each collection of recipes, outlets can nudge people toward more climate-friendly options simply by listing them first.
- Make editors’ picks or seasonal recommendations plant-based by default. Creating a summer BBQ feature for readers? Emphasize the array of plant-based grillables. Showcasing Thanksgiving dishes in advance of the big day? Highlight roasted squash or vegan mashed potatoes.
- Swap out animal-based ingredients for plant-based ingredients in popular recipes. Many recipes can become vegan by default just by swapping out certain ingredients, without sacrificing taste or quality. Swap out egg-based mayo with vegan mayo in the potato salad—no one will taste the difference!
- Add a climate score to each recipe based on the emissions intensity of the ingredients, and present climate-friendly options first. This strategy has proven successful in online simulations and randomized clinical trials.
ICYMI: Watch the panel discussion
Our September 8 webinar explored our findings and shared insights from experts on media and food, including Food Network champion Priyanka Naik, journalist and advocate Bel Jacobs, Sentient Media’s Managing Editor Jenny Splitter, Better Food Foundation’s Senior Director of Campaigns Laura Cascada, and Plant Based Treaty’s communications director Nicola Harris.
There are over 5,000 newspapers in the US alone—that’s 5,000 opportunities for news outlets to step up their game and publish more responsibly. Are you ready to help your local paper design a climate-friendly food section? When you join our mailing list, you’ll unlock DefaultVeg resources like guides and webinars that can help you advocate for plant-forward policies wherever you live. Together we can make the black and white and read all over…a little greener.