Merriam-Webster’s new words nod to sustainability

meIt’s official: pumpkin spice is here to stay… well, according to Merriam-Webster, that is. In a recent statement, the publisher shared that they added 370 new words and definitions to the dictionary in September 2022. In addition to “pumpkin spice,” there are three terms that reference environmental efforts in the food industry: “plant-based” , “oat milk” and “greenwash”—were a few of the few hundred other new words that made the cut.

According to the Merriam-Webster statement, the dictionary functions to chronicle how language grows and changes over time. “When many people use a word in the same way, over a long enough period of time, that word becomes eligible for inclusion,” he says. In the slang category, you’ll find new terms like “sus” and “yeet,” which seem to have increased in popularity only in the last few years. Meanwhile, it’s surprising to find decades-old terms like oat milk, plant-based, and greenwash now given a formal definition.

First things first: how were the words defined?

The new official The definition of “oat milk” is pretty straightforward: a liquid made from ground oats and water that is usually fortified (such as with calcium and vitamins) and used as a milk substitute. However, for the “plant-based” definition, Merriam-Webster opted for two alternatives. First: “Made or derived from plants.” Think plant-based burgers. And the second: “Mainly or wholly made up of foods (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and beans) derived from plants.” Think plant-based meals. Meanwhile, “greenwashing” was defined as “making (something, such as a product, policy, or practice) appear more environmentally friendly or less harmful to the environment than it actually is.”

But these words are *not* exactly new, right?

If we take a walk down memory lane, in an article published by The New York Times, author Ethan Varian writes that the term “plant-based” was coined at the National Institutes of Health in 1980 by Cornell University biochemist Thomas Colin Campbell, who used it to present his research on a non-food diet. animals to skeptical colleagues. However, the dictionary also indicates that the term may have been used as early as the 1960s. I’ll let you do the math.

Meanwhile, oat milk has been around since 1994, when it was created by Oatly’s Swedish founders, brothers Rickard and Bjorn West, who were researching an alternative to cow’s milk for people with lactose intolerance. And finally, New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “green laundry” in a 1986 essay in which he claimed that the hotel industry falsely promoted towel reuse as part of a larger environmental strategy; when, in fact, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure.

Are we picking up a trend here?

Why do these words finally make their dictionary debut?

Nearly half a century later, these “green” terms often used to describe sustainability efforts are making their *official* debut. So why now? Perhaps it has something to do with the rise of the plant-based food and beverage industry. Analysts at Bloomberg Intelligence say the plant-based food market could account for nearly eight percent of the global protein market by 2030, worth more than $162 billion, up from $29.4 billion in 2020. .

However, adding these sustainability-adjacent terms to the dictionary also indicates a heightened interest in sustainability efforts and climate change reduction, according to research from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV). The company’s survey of 16,000 global consumers found that more than half (51 percent) of respondents say environmental sustainability is more important to them today than it was 12 months ago. It also showed that consumer actions are beginning to match their intent.

How important is language when it comes to sustainability and plant-based nutrition?

As plant-based protein sources continue to capture a strong market share, suppliers of meat products are fighting back. A serious point of contention among meat industry lobbyists has been plant-based CPG labeling. These groups have worked tirelessly to limit the use of words like “milk,” “meat,” and “burgers,” just to name a few, when describing or labeling plant-based products.

Take, for example, a bill that passed in 2018 in Missouri that prohibited companies from “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from the production of harvested livestock or poultry.” Or Louisiana, which imposed (but was overturned by a federal judge) a fine of up to $500 a day for each commercial use of terms like “hamburger” and “sausage” in plant-based meat products, even with the proper qualifiers. such as “vegan” or “meatless”.

So should the official indoctrination of these new words into the dictionary be seen as a definitive and validating victory for sustainability efforts? We’d certainly like to think so, but a small part of us can’t help but think: Is finally adding these terms to the dictionary the perfect time, or is it just too little too late?

Some sustainability tips to eat for a healthier planet:



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