Meat-Eaters’ Attitudes And The Barriers To Dietary Change
Animal agriculture damages the environment, inflicts suffering on countless animals, and puts human health at risk. Awareness of these harms is growing, and so too is the number of people reducing their consumption of animal products. Research suggests that 1-2% of U.K. adults are vegan, 2-7% are vegetarian, and 3-9% are pescatarian. Many more are considering reducing their meat consumption. In this study, researchers examine how meat-eaters perceive veg*n diets, exploring what motivates and prevents dietary change.
The study involved 1,000 meat-eaters in the U.K., all aged 18 and above. After reading a definition of veganism and vegetarianism, participants ranked eleven aspects of veg*n diets along a seven-point scale. These eleven aspects included qualities like how healthy, ethical, affordable, and enjoyable each diet is.
The results suggest that meat-eaters look more favorably upon vegetarian diets than vegan diets. Importantly, the factors that often motivate people to go veg*n were generally viewed positively. A majority of meat-eaters rated veg*nism positively with respect to ethics, environment, and health. Vegetarian but not vegan diets were also rated positively on nutrition. But over 80% of meat-eaters believed that veganism is not an easy diet, compared to less than 50% for vegetarians.
Surprisingly, meat-eaters believe that vegetarianism is more ethical and environmentally friendly than veganism, although the difference here is slight. This belief may be a result of cognitive dissonance: since vegetarianism is closer to meat-eating than veganism, the notion that it is the most ethical choice better justifies a meat-eater’s own diet.
Breaking down the results revealed connections between attitudes towards veg*nism and demographics. For example, women expressed more positive opinions towards veg*n diets than men, but men ranked veganism as easier and more affordable. Similarly, left-wing participants were also more likely to rate veg*n diets positively, but right-wing participants described veganism as easier and more affordable.
After this first part of the study exploring meat-eaters’ attitudes, a second part turned to their intentions. Once participants had ranked the veg*n diets, they were asked whether they plan to eat less meat and animal products in one month. The researchers specified this timeframe of one month to encourage participants to reflect critically on their intentions. They also thanked participants for their honesty to discourage them from overstating their good intentions.
Overall, the majority of participants planned to continue eating the same amount of meat (81%) and animal products (83%). Almost 17% planned to eat less meat, and almost 14% to eat fewer animal products. But only 0.1% planned to cut out meat, and 0.2% to cut out animal products. Left-wing participants were more likely to say they would eat less meat.
That some 15% of meat-eaters plan to eat less meat and/or animal products is encouraging, but there’s clearly room for improvement. Insights from this study about attitudes towards veg*n diets can inform our strategy as animal advocates, helping us work to raise this number. For example, meat-eaters think that when it comes to ethics, there is little difference between a vegetarian and a vegan diet. They also believe that being vegetarian is easier, healthier, tastier, and more affordable than being vegan. As such, asking meat-eaters to go vegetarian might be more achievable than asking them to go vegan straight off the bat. Vegetarianism might then act as a stepping stone towards veganism.
Alongside reflecting on our ask, it’s worth thinking about how we can address concerns over how affordable, available, and difficult veganism is. Here, we find good reason to be optimistic. With greater awareness and more meat substitutes coming into restaurants and supermarkets, veganism is getting easier every day. As veg*n diets become mainstream, the perceived barriers explored in this study are weakening.