A Summary Of Faunalytics’ Study Of Current And Former Vegetarians And Vegans
We’ve just released the last set of reports in our three-part series of takeaways from our Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans. With this release, we’re looking back at some of the key findings from the study, and also looking forward to what more can be learned by sharing the data publicly.
Since the data was collected in May 2014, Faunalytics has released three sets of reports that cover different aspects of the data. Each is listed below along with some key takeaways.
Initial Findings Reports (December 2014)
Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans: Initial Findings and Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans: Companion to the Initial Findings
- 2% of the U.S. population 17+ is a vegetarian or vegan.
- 84% of vegetarians/vegans abandon their diet.
- About a third (34%) of lapsed vegetarians/vegans maintained the diet for three months or less. Slightly more than half (53%) adhered to the diet for less than one year.
- The only motivation cited by a majority (58%) of former vegetarians/vegans was health. A number of motivations were identified by a majority of current vegetarians/vegans: health (69%), animal protection (68%), concern for the environment (59%), feelings of disgust about meat/animal products (63%), and taste preferences (52%).
- 84% of former vegetarians/vegans said they were not actively involved in a vegetarian/vegan group or organization (potluck, online community, etc.).
- 63% of former vegetarians/vegans said they disliked that their vegetarian/vegan diet made them stick out from the crowd.
- 58% of former vegetarians/vegans said they did not see vegetarianism/veganism as part of their identity.
- More than a third (37%) of former vegetarians/vegans are interested in re-adopting the diet, and a majority (59%) of these individuals say they are likely or very likely to do so, with health being the primary motivator.
Qualitative Findings Reports (July 2015, February 2023)
A more detailed analysis of the qualitative results from this study combined with the qualitative results from our 2020 longitudinal study was published in 2023.
Bringing Back Former Vegans and Vegetarians: An Obstacle Analysis (2023)
- Helping lapsed veg*ns resume their diets means making the diets as accessible as possible, providing them with motivational boosts, and providing practical support.
- Dissatisfaction with veg*n food is the most common struggle.
- Access to veg*n food options was still limited in 2020.
- The cost of veg*n food often poses an obstacle to peoples’ ability to pursue a veg*n diet.
- Some obstacles, like social struggles and accessibility challenges, tend to co-occur, so overcoming one obstacle may improve other related issues.
- The older you are when you go veg*n, the better your veg*n experience.
- Lapsed veg*ns eat fewer animal products overall, but those who eat the least tend to be older, have financial difficulties, and to have been vegan rather than vegetarian.
Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans: Qualitative Findings (2015)
- The process of moving away from a vegetarian or vegan diet is multifaceted and complex, and the same appears to be true for anticipating a return to one of these diets.
- Former vegetarians/vegans were asked to give the primary reason they stopped eating the diet. Of 908 codeable responses, the reasons for lapsing mentioned were: unsatisfied with food (293 people; 32%), health (237 people; 26%), social issues (120 people; 13%), inconvenience (115 people; 13%), cost (56 people; 6%), lack of motivation (56 people; 6%), and other (228 people; 25%).
- Former vegetarians/vegans who said they were interested in resuming the diet were asked what they would need in order to do so. Of 275 codeable responses, the requirements for re-adoption were related to: food (convenience, taste, etc.) (125 people; 45%), motivation/incentive/dedication (58 people; 21%), social (52 people; 19%), cost (more money or less expensive food) (47 people; 17%), health (35 people; 13%), and other (8 people; 3%).
- Many individuals gave multiple reasons for why they left the diet or what they would need to resume it (or both), indicating that there is no single factor at play. While the majority of participants provided just one answer to the question at hand, the answers they chose varied substantially. Again, this suggests that there is no one approach that advocates should consider to address these concerns.
Secondary Findings Reports (February 2016)
Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans: Secondary Findings and Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans: Companion to the Secondary Findings
- Lapsed Vegetarians/Vegans Eat Less Meat than the U.S. Population: The average former vegetarian/vegan may be more appropriately thought of as a meat reducer or possibly even a semi-vegetarian, given that on average they eat only slightly more than half the daily servings of meat compared to the U.S. population in general.
- No Indication of Substitution Effects: Compared to former vegetarians/vegan who eat beef and/or pork, former vegetarians/vegan who avoid both beef and pork do not consume more types of other animal products. This runs counter to a common belief that those who avoid beef and pork will, as a consequence, add in greater quantities of other types of meat (particularly chicken and fish).
- Concern for Animals May Have Limits: With the exception of pork, lapsed vegetarians/vegans who were motivated by animal protection consume animal products in a similar fashion as those without animal protection motivations.
- Motivations are Layered: Only a small proportion of current and former vegetarians/vegans cite just one motivation for consuming the diet, with health as the most frequently mentioned reason for both groups. This suggests that the majority of those who adhere to a vegetarian/vegan diet—or have in the past—have multiple reasons for doing so.
- Differences Associated with Gender & Age: There are differences relating to age and gender when it comes to the motivations former vegetarians/vegans had for eating the diet, as well as how they experienced difficulties with their diet.
- Differences Associated with Length of Adherence: Former vegetarians/vegans who ate the diet for a year or more reported different experiences regarding motivations for, and difficulties with, the diets than those who adhered to the diet for less than a year.
- Challenges May Make a Lasting Impression: With one exception, former vegetarians/vegans who are not interested in re-adopting the diet were more likely to indicate greater difficulty with the diet than those who are interested in following it once more.
- Former Vegetarians/Vegans are Alike in Many Ways: When it comes to animal product consumption, as well as motivations for and difficulties with vegetarian/vegan diets, there are relatively few differences between former vegetarians and former vegans, or between current vegetarians and current vegans.
Infographic & Blogs
For further information on the study see our infographic and our previous blogs on the topic: How Many Former Vegetarians and Vegans Are There? and 30 Million U.S. Adults Have Tried Vegetarianism or Veganism.
While there were some ill-founded assumptions about lapsed vegetarians and vegans in the media following the release of the study, we’re comforted that the research has most importantly resulted in a greater awareness among advocates that vegetarian and vegan retention requires our attention. But these diets are not alone in this challenge; as with any dietary modification, not everyone who tries a new diet maintains it. The encouraging part, however, is that there is so much interest in meat-free eating, which is something our movement can really build on. This study is a step toward putting advocates in a better position to limit the obstacles that people face when trying to maintain an ethical diet in a society that, at this point in history, is organized counter to this essential goal.
Datasets & Survey Instrument
We have made the survey instrument and full datasets available so advocates and researchers can use their own lens and interpretations to find further takeaways from the study.
Thanks in Closing
The study has been a labor of love for Kathryn Asher and Che Green at Faunalytics, and also for the number of volunteers who generously contributed their time, research skills, or statistical know-how to the project, including: Dr Brock Bastian, Matt Bear, Cobie deLespinasse, Dr Hans Gutbrod, Dr Galina Hale, Peter Hurford, Mirna Jewell, Jack Norris, Carolyn Peake, Dr Eric Roberts, and the folks at Statistics Without Borders. None of this would have gotten off the ground without the generous support of the Animal Welfare Trust, VegFund, FARM, and Stephen Kaufman, MD.
Note: The study only explored dietary vegetarianism/veganism, so the terms vegetarian and vegan are being used here as a shorthand for dietary vegetarianism and veganism. Note also that the findings discussed here should be considered in light of a number of limitations, which are addressed in detail in the reports.