Potential of plant-based diets

Meat production results in massive GHG emissions and has a huge land, water, and energy footprint, so reducing meat consumption is a major opportunity for people to lessen environmental harm. In contrast to plant agriculture, modern animal agriculture is often perceived to be cruel to animals and unhealthy for humans. Eating more plants and less meat could help society reduce diseases, avert animal cruelty, and address the climate and biodiversity crises. Since governments play roles in responding to emergencies, conserving natural resources, managing food systems, and providing energy and healthcare, reducing meat consumption can help governments reduce expenses, and thus is in the interest of taxpayers. Clearly, plant-based diets offer many benefits for society.

Limited information

Yet, such diets remain inaccessible to most people. One barrier to entry is that assessing to what extent a food vendor offers plant-based items remains inefficient. Plant-based items on menus often go unlabeled and user-contributed attribute information is often inaccurate, potentially making it difficult for even seasoned veg*ns to assess whether a plant-based meal is available at a given establishment. This can lead users to manually search through reviews, which can be time-consuming and often fails to produce a resounding answer.

Beyond the veg/non-veg binary

In addition, the existing dietary information ecosystem can contribute to a divergence between places with many plant-based options and those with none. Veg*ns, in the face of uncertainty, may seek out food vendors that are entirely vegan or vegetarian, while meat eaters (who are the majority) remain at places with few plant-based options. This presents a barrier for entry for many eaters because transitioning to a plant-based diet may necessitate dramatically changing where they obtain their food, which can require research and impact social relationships with non-veg*ns. If veg and non-veg restaurants were less separated, it would be easier for consumers to transition to plant-based diets, and easier for veg*ns to find places to eat. Creating an indicator of vegan options could create an incentive for food vendors with animal-based menus to add plant-based options, and thus catalyze more blended menus. We believe that modern technology could be leveraged to create such an indicator.

What it does

Given a food vendor review page, our software calculates a veg options index for the vendor, indicating how likely they are to have veg options.

How we built it

We modified a Chrome extension template and used content scripts to edit the document object model (DOM).

Challenges we ran into

One obstacle to our original implementation plan was that the Yelp API cannot be used to access more than three reviews of any business. As a result, we decided not to use the Yelp API at this time.

What we learned

We learned about creating Chrome extensions and accessing review data.

What's next for VegOptions

VegOptions could feature machine learning and data science techniques to more accurately model the Veg Friendliness Score. However, more importantly, it could include other metrics too, such as ethical farming practices or carbon footprint. Being directly aware of the impacts of these restaurants also makes people more likely to take action based on their views, such as through voting candidates who support environmentally friendly policies or work towards implementing solutions for climate change.

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