Less Meat, Happier Life?
For many veg*ns, diet plays an important role in their health, identity, and social life. Meat restriction is a part of their daily reality and often based on deeply held values. How do the experiences of people who only partly restrict meat consumption compare? Does the added flexibility of their diet mean they enjoy their food-related lives more?
This study compared the lived experiences of people following three kinds of diets: veg*n, reduced-meat, and chicken-free. Chicken-free diets were of interest because they can decrease the number of animals killed for meat. The meat industry kills 220 times more chickens than cows to produce the same amount of meat. Close to half of chicken avoiders in the study were pescatarians and about half ate some red meat.
Over 30,000 people took part in the survey which generated the data for this study. Respondents represented a U.S census-balanced sample of adults over 18. Participants shared which diet they identified with and how often they ate various animal products. They also answered questions which measured their diet-related experiences in 12 areas such as cost, health, and social ties.
According to the survey results, veg*ns and chicken avoiders each represent about 1% of the U.S. population. But members of both these groups believed that their diets were more popular than they were in reality. Veg*ns guessed that there were 19 times more followers of their diet than there really were. Chicken avoiders over-estimated the prevalence of their diet by 23 times.
Meat reducers make up a larger part of the population than expected. About a third of respondents identified with this diet group. Meat reducers also tended to more accurately estimate the popularity of their diet — they guessed that their diet was 1.2 times more popular than it really was.
The study found several important differences in the lived experiences of the three diets. When comparing the three groups, veg*ns:
- Had the most positive attitude toward their own diet. Veg*ns were most likely to describe their diet as “good” “beneficial”, or “pleasant”, instead of “bad”, “harmful”, or “unpleasant”.
- Held the strongest intentions to continue eating their diet.
- Reported that their diet had the best effect on their health.
- Saw their diet as a more important part of their identity.
- Had a greater number of and stronger social ties with others who followed the same diet.
The chicken-free dieters:
- Said that their diet caused the fewest problems in their social and personal lives.
- Scored lowest on measures of subjective norms. Chicken-avoiders placed less value on eating like other important people in their life. They also were more likely to say that important people in their life were not interested in following the same diet.
- Had been following their diets for the longest time, an average of 23.6 years. That’s compared to veg*ns, who had kept with their diets for an average of 19.5 years. Meat reducers had been following their diets for the least amount of time, an average of 4.9 years.
And meat reducers:
- Were the most concerned that their diets were too costly and inconvenient.
- Felt they had the least amount of control over their food-related behaviors.
- Were the most likely to say it was difficult to stay motivated enough to stick to their diets.
Of the three groups, veg*ns reported the highest levels of overall satisfaction with their food-related lives. Meat reducers had the lowest levels of satisfaction with their dietary lives.
There isn’t enough research yet to know why veg*ns reported the strongest lived experiences with their diets. One possible reason is that veg*ns have to intentionally learn to be successful in following a more restrictive diet. Those who are willing to overcome this learning curve might hold stronger beliefs that motivate them to continue eating their diet. For animal advocates, this study offers a fairly thorough picture of the psychology of the people following these three diets, which can be used in a variety of ways to inform advocacy efforts.