Why Defaults?

Harnessing the influential power of defaults for diet change

DefaultVeg is a simple and inclusive way to offer healthier, greener, and more inclusive meals by nudging consumers toward plant-based options. DefaultVeg dining features plant-based foods as the default while still giving diners the choice to opt into animal products.

DefaultVeg Strategies

Over the last decade, we, our partners, and researchers have experimented to identify the most effective ways to shift to plant-based foods in a variety of dining settings. The result is a collection of tactics we recommend as DefaultVeg strategies.

What they share in common is that they use choice architecture to nudge diners to choose plant-based foods while preserving diner’s choices. This makes them easy to implement, cost-effective, and popular with diners and leaders.

When implemented, these nudges:

Make plant-based foods the easiest choice! For example,

  • Serve plant-based foods by default—diners can request animal products, preserving freedom of choice. Many studies show that defaults are the most effective nudge at reducing animal products.
  • Use plant-based patties by default in burgers—diners can request beef or chicken patties
  • Use oat milk (or another plant-based milk) by default in blended coffee drinks–diners can request cow’s milk
  • In a buffet, serve all animal products in bowls on the side, rather than mixed into the entrees, so diners can add them only if they wish. Or, keep them in a specific area towards the end of a buffet line.
  • Charge extra for animal products—or at least don’t charge extra for plant-based products
  • On event registrations, make guests opt-in if they want animal products. Unless they opt-in, they’ll receive plant-based meals.

Make plant-based foods the most visible! For example,

  • Place plant-based entrees at the front of the buffet
  • List plant-based entrees at the top of the menu
  • Always have the “daily special” or promoted meals be plant-based
  • Use tasty descriptors focused on flavors, textures, and ingredients, rather than focusing on how healthy or vegan it is.

Make plant-based foods the most plentiful! For example,

  • Increase the number of plant-based offerings. Aim to have 2-3 times more plant-based than meat dishes
  • Switch to using plant-based mayo in every dish
  • Any time a recipe can be easily made plant-based (e.g. by using plant-based milk or butter) do it—you will instantly become more inclusive!

You can try just one of these tactics the next time you serve food—or try all of them! It’s okay to experiment to find the combination that will make your dining the most inclusive, sustainable and healthy for all of your guests.

We’re always improving our knowledge to make our recommendations more effective. If you’ve tried any of these tactics, let us know what the results were! And if you’d like help picking the right tactics to use in your institution, contact us! We can help you get started, and connect you to our fantastic partners who can provide you with the support you need.

DefaultVeg Campaigns

It’s these very tactics we advocate for in our public campaigning, nudging conferences, coffee shops, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, houses of worship, festivals, schools, and city governments to implement DefaultVeg.

Institutional Outreach

Foodservice is not one size fits all, but we can help you plan a transition to a plant-powered foodscape. To that end, the Better Food Foundation incubated catering consultancy Greener by Default, the team responsible for making New York City hospitals plant-based by default. From menu redesign to facilitating veg-friendly procurement, we can help you reach your carbon reduction goals one plate at a time.

Notable adopters and pilots

Adaptable to any context, plant-based defaults have been welcomed with open arms by dozens of businesses, institutions, meeting spaces, and events. Here are just a few of the trailblazers:

  • NYC Health+Hospitals
  • LinkedIn’s San Francisco office
  • Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
  • Aromas Cafe, at University of San Diego
  • Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
  • Northwestern University’s Student Government
  • Harvard University’s Office of Sustainability
  • CleanMed Conference, hosted by Health Care Without Harm