How People Transition To Veganism
For animal advocates, it is important to understand how and why people transition towards a vegan diet. Such information can help inform dietary campaigns and allow advocates to better support new and early vegans throughout their journey.
Some academics have developed theories about how and why dietary change occurs. However, these theories are only useful if they accurately describe reality. For this reason, the authors of this paper tried to find out whether two theories of dietary change accurately describe the process of switching to veganism.
The first theory is the transtheoretical model, which outlines six stages to dietary change:
- Pre-contemplation, or not knowing about the problem
- Contemplation, or awareness of the problem
- Preparation, or getting ready to change
- Action, or recently having made the change
- Maintenance, or continuing the change in the long term
- Termination, or no longer having impulses to return to previous behavior
The second theory is called the “COM-B Model,” which says that, in order to change a behavior, someone needs to have the capability (internal ability), opportunity (external physical and social support), and motivation.
To test these two models, the researchers surveyed 1,529 U.K. residents over a one-year period. Each participant was asked various questions about their thoughts on eating animal products, on veganism, and on their current eating habits, three times across the year. They analyzed this data and made some interesting findings.
The transtheoretical model was somewhat supported. The researchers found that people in later stages are more motivated to be vegan and more confident in their ability to stop eating animal products. The one exception to this rule was when participants went from step #3 (preparation to change) to step #4 (taking action). During this step, participants became less confident in their abilities as they came across unexpected challenges. Participants who were in the preparation or contemplation stages weren’t any more likely to become vegan than participants in the pre-contemplation stage, which goes against the predictions of the transtheoretical model. However, participants in the maintenance and termination stages were less likely to start eating meat than participants in the pre-contemplation stage, which is what the transtheoretical model would predict.
The COM-B model was not supported. Capability, opportunity, and motivation to be vegan were not correlated with how much meat people ate later. The researchers suggested that the COM-B model might be too vague to make concrete predictions about people’s behavior. The researchers also found that there was a significant difference between different motivations to give up meat. Many participants, including many who eat meat, had a high “reflective” motivation — meaning that they knew and agreed with arguments to give up meat. However, far fewer had high “automatic” motivation, meaning that they wanted to eat meat when they had an opportunity.
There were also some more general findings in this study. First, both women and young people were found to be more sympathetic to veganism. Second, people were most likely to learn about the negative effects of eating animal products from news articles, and conversations with vegans and vegetarians. Third, about half of the participants were still at the pre-contemplation stage of the process of change. Fourth, greater consumption of meat and dairy alternatives was found to be linked to a lower consumption of animal products. This suggests that encouraging people to eat these products would reduce total demand for these animal products.
There are some limitations to this research. Its data is self-reported. Young people disproportionately dropped out of the study. It was one of the first studies to look at COM-B in the real world, so it had to generate its own questionnaires, which may not be valid. Each of these has the potential to skew the results. Nevertheless, the research has some important take-aways for advocates. Many people are in the contemplative stage, so advocates should target that group with strategic information. News articles and conversations may be a good way to give people information about animal products that they’ll remember.
Finally, the study shows that advocates shouldn’t automatically apply theoretical models to their dietary campaigns without testing them first. Some theories don’t accurately predict the behavior of people who are trying to become vegan.