Challenges and Supports for Vegetarians
The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) surveyed current and former vegetarians and vegans to better understand the challenges they face in their dietary choices, and see what kind of support would help them the most. This online survey of over 1000 people discovered that both current and former vegetarians and vegans found that “eating out” and “getting enough nutrients” were central challenges. In addition, the best supports that could be offered were cheaper vegetarian and vegan food and giving “suggestions for eating out”. None of the support mechanisms identified addressed the issue of nutrients.
Figuring out how to help people to go veg and stay veg is an increasing focus of much animal advocacy work. The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) recently put forth their own effort to understand the issue with an online survey of over 1000 people. Ninety per cent of respondents were currently following a “plant-based diet” (both vegetarians and vegans), while 10% were lapsed vegetarians. Though this proportion is similar to other studies that have been released around the same time period, in this case, the gender demographics were quite skewed: 90% of lapsed vegetarians and 85% of current vegetarians were female. Also worth noting is that, in this sample, the current vegetarians identified as being vegetarian for an average of 10 years, though responses varied wildly from less than 1 month to more than 60 years. Interestingly, about 20% of the respondents reported that they returned to meat at some point during their time of being veg. The TVA further explains that “the average amount of time they had returned to eating meat was 1 year (answers ranged from less than one month to 11 years).”
The TVA wanted to ascertain what the major challenges are to being veg, and identify what support could be given to address those obstacles. For both lapsed vegetarians and current veg folks, “eating out” was identified as a major challenge (75% and 65% respectively), and “not getting enough nutrients” was likewise a major factor (81% and 44% respectively). When it came to assistance, the survey found that a “lower cost of food” and “suggestions for eating out” were considered excellent supports for current and former vegetarians, ranking above 90% and 80% respectively. Reflecting on this, the TVA notes that “while getting enough nutrients was the top challenge reported by lapsed vegetarians, none of the [listed] supports address this concern,” and that this is a strategic concern that the TVA should address. The survey also included a section where lapsed vegetarians were asked to rate their agreement with a set of statements arguing against being veg. Notably, nearly three-quarters of lapsed vegetarians said they felt “that they could achieve the goals that made them become vegetarian by simply reducing their meat consumption.”
The TVA draws some very practical conclusions from the data. In addition to the potentially beneficial strategy of focusing on nutrients mentioned above, the TVA also notes that the 20% of veg folks who returned to eating meat at some point in their time of being veg, means that “it is not only new vegetarians who require supports, but existing vegetarians as well.” Overall, the data offers some hope, and aligns well with the TVA’s mission: if major challenges include nutrition, eating out, and meal planning, those are all aspects that the TVA can address, and reinforce their efforts on.
See below for a link to download the PDF of the complete report.
One of the initiatives in the 2014-2018 Strategic Plan is to support both existing and new vegetarians by providing information and support to allow them to sustain their commitment to a plant-based diet. As a part of this initiative, the TVA needed to assess reasons why vegetarians lapse and what are the greatest needs for new vegetarians. For the purpose of this study, vegetarian was defined as any plant-based diet (including veganism). An online survey was developed in order to meet the above objectives. The survey consisted of a series of questions pertaining to: Current and past eating habits; Challenges faced by vegetarians; How helpful various programs, services, and initiatives would be in facing those challenges; and Demographics (age and gender). The survey was anonymous. In order to be eligible to complete the survey, participants must currently or at some time in the past have followed a plant-based diet.