Exploring the Factors Behind Vegan Dietary Lapses
Many people question if individuals can still identify as vegetarian or vegan (veg*n) if they knowingly eat non-veg*n foods. However, previous research (as well as this blog from Faunalytics) suggests that some self-identified veg*ns continue to eat non-veg*n foods on occasion due to a variety of factors.
In this study, one researcher examines what contributes to these “dietary lapses” by considering different identity processes and motivations for going vegan. The goal is to shed light on some of the factors that influence vegan food decisions, which may help dietary advocates support new and existing vegans.
The author notes that there are a variety of personal, demographic, and social-psychological factors that may lead to dietary lapses. Some studies indicate that motivation plays a significant role, with ethical veg*ns (i.e., people who go vegan for animal rights or another moral reason) reporting fewer dietary lapses than other vegans (e.g., health-motivated vegans). Other research has found that social relationships and identity are important contributors — in other words, people who associate with other vegans, and those who value veganism as a core part of who they are, may be more likely to adhere to their diet.
To uncover more about how vegans navigate their identity and make dietary choices, the author used data from a 2016 survey of 488 vegans in the United States. Participants were asked about their primary motivation for going vegan, their interactions with other vegans, and how many times they had eaten non-vegan food in the last 12 months. The survey also included questions about identity prominence (specifically how strongly respondents associated with being a vegan) and social identity (in other words, how much they value being seen by others as vegan).
The results showed that ethical vegans reported fewer dietary lapses, more interactions with other vegans, and a stronger identity prominence and social identity than health vegans. Among those who went vegan for health reasons, having more interactions with other vegans and a stronger identity prominence were associated with fewer dietary lapses, while having a stronger social identity was associated with more lapses. Among ethical vegans, however, only identity prominence was associated with lapses — specifically, those who felt being vegan was more important to their self-image were less likely to lapse.
The study suggests that these differences may relate to how ethical and health vegans develop their sense of self. For example, having a strong vegan social identity may encourage vegans to distance themselves from non-vegans, which in turn may lead to dietary lapses as vegans attempt to reconnect with their non-vegan networks. Furthermore, the author argues that ethical vegans may be more likely to have fellow in-group members present in social situations, which provides solidarity and discourages feelings of isolation.
For animal advocates, the results suggest that it’s important to consider motivation and identity in dietary campaigns. While the study found that ethical vegans are less likely to eat animal products, it also indicates that having a strong vegan network is an important part of maintaining one’s diet. Therefore, providing opportunities for vegans to connect with and support one another is one key strategy to ensure that people won’t stray from their commitment to an animal-free lifestyle.