A Targeted Approach To Turn Your Friends Vegan
Animal advocates know that farmed animals suffer. The conditions they face in the animal agriculture industry are barren, gruesome, and inhumane. What’s more, many people are aware of this — one study found that as many as 70% of U.S. consumers have some discomfort when thinking about animals in the food system. However, the vast majority continue to eat them.
When considering the journey to veg*nism, it helps to use a framework for behavior change. The authors of this study explored meat reduction using the “transtheoretical model” (TTM). This model is often applied to harmful behaviors such as smoking or drug abuse, but it can easily be adapted to explore meat reduction. Six stages of change are outlined by the model:
- Precontemplation: The person is not yet considering the behavior change.
- Contemplation: The person is thinking about their behavior and whether they want to change it.
- Preparation: The person has decided to change and plans to do so in the next six months.
- Taking action: The person has taken steps to change in the last six months.
- Maintaining change: The person has adopted the new behavior, but there may be temptation to lapse.
- Long-term adoption: The person has integrated the new behavior permanently.
In this paper, the authors examined the social and psychological barriers to reducing meat consumption at every stage of the TTM. Their goal is to help advocates overcome these barriers to guide individuals toward veg*nism based on where they’re at in the process. Although many animal advocates use environmental and health motivations to encourage veg*nism, this study focuses on moral reasons only.
In this stage, meat-eaters may be unaware of the harms of their behavior. For these people, providing knowledge about the harms of meat consumption and animal agriculture may be enough to move them to the next stage of the TTM. Research has found a strong link between knowledge of animal agriculture and concerns for animals.
However, other people may know what farmed animals go through but actively avoid thinking about it. For these people, the solution may be raising their consciousness. Advocates can remind them of their food source by using animals’ names (e.g., cows) instead of the food names (e.g., beef), or showing images of farmed animals as “meat reminders.” It’s important to share this information in unavoidable locations, like advertisements and billboards.
Here, meat-eaters are considering making a change to their diet in the near future. Common barriers at this stage are motivated reasoning and biases. With motivated reasoning, people who are strongly committed to eating meat may reject evidence that animal agriculture is cruel. There are several different types of biases, including self-serving bias, where people underreport the amount of meat they eat so they can maintain positive beliefs about themselves, and status quo bias, where people continue eating meat because “that’s the way things have always been done.” Another barrier occurs when meat-eating is ingrained in a culture or social norms.
To overcome these barriers, advocates should present information in a way that isn’t accusatory. One idea is to ask people what would change their minds, giving consumers an opportunity to reflect on their own biases. While overcoming the cultural and social aspects of meat consumption are more difficult, research consistently shows that flipping social norms to promote veg*nism can be effective.
This stage occurs when meat-eaters make plans to change their diet. Habit and willpower are two barriers that prevent progress. Even if someone is highly motivated to change, it can be easy to act out of habit. Key to overcoming both of these barriers lies in planning ahead of time. Advocates can encourage people to avoid keeping meat around the house, for example, or keep a supply of pre-made veg*n food items on hand so there’s no excuse to purchase meat when someone is in a hurry or doesn’t feel like cooking.
Although it’s promising when people take concrete actions to change their diet, the early stages can be especially difficult for new veg*ns. Food is an important part of how people think about themselves, and many former meat-eaters may not be ready or willing to be called a veg*n. For this reason, it’s important to make veg*n eating as inclusive as possible. Those who work in the food industry should avoid labeling food for one specific group, and advocates can help new veg*ns slowly adjust to their new identity.
For people who have successfully stopped eating meat, the biggest barrier to permanent change is usually having a supportive social network. If someone isn’t surrounded by others who share their values and support their habits, they may fall back into old ways. Advocates should encourage memberships in veg*n communities, such as online veg groups or local community groups.
It’s important for animal advocates to be strategic in how they apply their interventions. What’s appropriate for a young college student may not work for a middle-aged parent with multiple children in the house. Advocates also need to recognize that not everyone follows the steps of TTM in the same way, and most people don’t follow them consciously. Having a wide range of tools at your disposal will help you be prepared no matter what type of meat-eater you’re working with.