Can Classroom Presentations Lead To Lower Animal Consumption?
Typically deemed of low cost-effectiveness for their perceived high costs per person and unproven outreach efficacy, classroom presentations rarely receive praise among animal advocates. While it is true that leafleting and online adverts are expected to have limited impacts, there was little evidence to claim the same for educational interventions. That is until now!
Researchers employed by the Educated Choices Program (ECP) have just come out with an impressive study on just that. The U.S. non-profit aims to reduce animal product consumption through developing and delivering high-quality presentations in schools and colleges in the U.S. and Canada. Besides carrying out this impressive analysis of 95,241 student responses, ECP can deliver their presentations at a cost of just $2.68 per student, giving hope for a truly cost-effective measure, provided that the talks do indeed encourage students to reduce animal product consumption, of course.
Their intervention included giving classroom presentations to students of various demographic groups. The talks were aimed at reducing the consumption of animal products. Students saw one of five different presentations. The first four focused on environmental impacts, animal suffering, human health, and ethical aspects of eating animal products, separately. The final one was developed to inform the students about novel, animal-free food technologies.
The study, ranging over several years, proved to be a trove of useful data. Nearly 70% of those who had seen an ECP presentation expressed intent to reduce their consumption of meat and other animal products, compared to roughly 40% in the control group. This willingness was confirmed by follow up questions, which revealed that ECP presentations caused some students to become vegetarian or vegan, while the majority of all follow-up respondents agreed that the particular presentation had caused them to decrease their consumption of animal products. While intentions alone are not enough to ensure the success of a campaign, they do seem to predict self-reported behavior quite well. Yet another positive finding for animal advocates was that meat reducers did not replace red meat with more white meat, so the dietary changes might have led to a net positive change of animals consumed.
When it comes to barriers for transitioning, most omnivores referred to taste as the biggest one. However, while boys considered taste more often as the primary barrier, many girls were also stopped by practical issues such as finding suitable plant-based options and convincing their parents. Actually, taste was a critical barrier in that those who considered it to be the most significant, were much less likely to intend to change their diet. The researchers suggest that advocacy groups might want to consider offering high-quality plant-based food samples as a part of classroom presentations as a way to aid overcoming this barrier. Provided, naturally, that the budget allows for it and cost-effectiveness of the intervention is sustained.
The presentation on future foods also had interesting effects. While the control group valued conventional meat and dairy as the most appealing, cell-based and plant-based meats were the most appealing foods for students exposed to the classroom presentation. Furthermore, it also led to increased intentions to reduce animal product consumption. In alignment with other studies, plant-based meat and dairy were shown to be more appealing to girls and older respondents in this analysis, too. In general, most students expressed interest in eating cultured meat, with food safety being the main driver behind the willingness. Higher interest was observed among omnivorous respondents, a finding consistent with previous studies.
Listening to such presentations seemingly had other long-term benefits, too. Most respondents said they had engaged more in social, pro-plant activities such as sharing information about the impacts of animal agriculture, trying to reduce their environmental impacts in other ways, and discussing the things they had learned with an average of 15 other people. As such, the approach may yield a significant amount of potential allies to the cause.
Coming back to motivations, many fewer respondents who watched the presentation highlighting animal suffering expressed a willingness to reduce their consumption of animal products compared to those exposed to different talks. Those who did express willingness to change said that animals were their main motivation. Finally, those who treated health as their main motivation were also far less inclined to change. The results confirm that most see switching to a plant-based diet due to ethical concerns as an ‘all or nothing’ endeavor, while such a progression for one’s health or towards a lower environmental footprint can be done incrementally. Just as reported in several other studies, it seems that focusing on animals leads to more commitment from fewer students, whereas highlighting other issues results in reduction by more people.
Although boys were found to be unlikely to empathize with the issue of animal ethics, ECP presentations in general were shown to have positive effects on both genders. Furthermore, the analysis suggested that the efforts had a similar impact on students of all age groups. Animal advocates will be delighted by these findings, as they are exclusive in terms of the survey’s scale, which allowed the researchers to observe the highlighted statistically significant patterns and provide evidence of the effectiveness of classroom presentations. Keeping the determined demographic robustness in mind, advocates are advised to aim for reaching as many students as possible to maximize positive outcomes.
All in all, despite clear study limitations in that the behaviors were self-reported, the undeniable risks for social desirability bias and that the follow-up responses might be overly positive, the work offers a lot of much-needed data on the efficacy of educational interventions. This is data that most animal organizations will surely benefit from. The apparent efficacy of classroom presentations is a welcome gust of positivity, particularly in the context where other large-scale consumer-facing advocacy interventions fall short in this respect.