Dietary Guidelines

Survey: ‘Sustainable,’ ‘Plant-Based’ are Confusing

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

Jun 06, 2019

Consumers want “sustainable” food but are all over the map as to exactly what that means, according to the latest consumer survey from the International Food Information Council.

IFIC’s 2019 Food & Health Survey is based on an online poll of 1,012 Americans this spring. “Environmental sustainability” was very or somewhat important to 54% of respondents. Asked what makes for sustainability, 51% chose “locally grown,” 48% said “sustainably sourced” and “not bioengineered,” 43% said “organic” and 41% said “recyclable packaging.”

Apparently many consumers find the situation frustrating. The same percentage, 63%, agreed both that it’s hard to know whether food choices are sustainable, and that if it were easier to know, it would have a greater impact on their food choices.

Another point of confusion was what constitutes a “plant-based diet.” A plurality, at 32%, went for full vegan; the next most popular option, at 30%, was “a diet that emphasizes minimally-processed foods that come from plants, with limited consumption of animal meat, eggs, and dairy.” A vegetarian (no-meat) diet was chosen by 19%, while 7% went for “a diet in which you try to get as many fruits and vegetables as possible, with no limit on consuming animal meat, eggs, and dairy.”