Merriam-Webster’s new words nod to sustainability

IIt’s official: pumpkin spice is here to stay…well, according to Merriam-Webster. In a recent post, the publishing company shared that it added 370 new words and definitions to the dictionary in September 2022. Along with “pumpkin spice,” three terms that nod to the company’s environmental efforts he food industry: “plant-based”, “oat milk” and “greenwashing” – were among the few hundred other new words that made a difference.

According to Merriam-Webster’s statement, the dictionary works to tell how language develops and changes over time. “When many people use a word in the same way, over a long enough period, that word becomes eligible for inclusion,” it reads. In the slang category, you’ll find new terms like “sus” and “yeet”, which seem to have only grown in popularity in the last few years. Meanwhile, it’s striking that decades-old terms like oat milk, plant-based, and greenwashing are now being given a formal definition.

First: how were the words defined?

New official The definition of “oat milk” is quite simple: 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 “herbal” definition, Merriam-Webster went with two alternatives. First: “Made or derived from plants.” Think plant-based burgers. And the second: “Consisting primarily or entirely of foods (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and beans) derived from plants.” Consider plant-based meals. Meanwhile, “greenwash” has been defined as “making (something, such as a product, policy, or practice) appear more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it actually is “.

But those words *aren’t* exactly new, are they?

If we take a walk down memory lane, in an article published by The New York Times, author Ethan Varian writes that the term “herbal” 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 diet non-animal food 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 Oeste, who were looking for an alternative to cow’s milk for people with lactose intolerance. And finally, New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in a 1986 essay in which he argued that the hospitality industry wrongly encouraged the reuse of towels as part of a larger environmental strategy; when in fact the law was designed as an economy measure.

Are we following a trend here?

Why are these words finally making their debut in the dictionary?

Nearly half a century later, these “green” terms that are often used to describe sustainability efforts are just making their *official* debut. So why now? It may have something to do with the rise of the plant-based F&B industry. Bloomberg Intelligence analysts say the plant-based foods market could account for nearly 8% 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 signals increased interest in sustainability efforts and climate change mitigation, according to research by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV). The company’s survey of 16,000 global consumers found that more than half (51%) of respondents say environmental sustainability is more important to them today than it was a while ago. 12 months. 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 take a solid share of the market, meat suppliers are fighting back. A serious point of contention among meat industry lobby groups has been plant-based CPG labeling. These groups have worked tirelessly to limit the use of words like “milk”, “meat” and “burgers”, to name a few, when describing or labeling dairy products. plants.

Take, for example, a bill passed in 2018 in Missouri that prohibited companies from “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Or Louisiana, which was set to impose (but was overturned by a federal judge) fines of up to $500 a day for every commercial use of terms such as “hamburger” and “sausage” on meat products herbal, even with the appropriate qualifiers. 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 sure would like to think so, but a small portion of us can’t help but think: is adding these terms to the dictionary a perfect timing, or is it just too little too late?

Some sustainability tips for eating for a healthier planet:


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