Meat Reduction And Vegan Promotion: A Report
Promoting meat-reduction and veganism isn’t just important for animals, but for our environment and health as well. There are many in-depth studies on the effectiveness of meat-reduction and vegan campaigns, but few have large sample sizes. This study aimed to fill this gap with a report on the “dietary habits, goals, perceived barriers, and motivators” involved in the participation of U.K. residents in dietary campaigns. The report represents a groundbreaking 1,587 participants, which is claimed as the “largest sample of meat reducers, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans in any research project to date.” Out of these, 531 provided updated information on their dietary habits six months later.
The report focuses on six U.K.-based campaigns for meat-reduction and veganism, here defined in terms of diets not involving any animal products. Through online surveys and subsequent analysis, they found that the most powerful motivator for people to meet their goals of reducing or abstaining from animal products was animal protection. Those who listed animal protection as a primary motivator had more success than those who did not.
In fact, those who only went into the challenge with health in mind were the least successful. It turns out that preventing health from being perceived as a barrier to plant-based diets was more conducive to success than making it a primary motivator. Additionally, those motivated by health and the environment, but not animal protection, were less likely to reduce their fish consumption.
In terms of barriers, the most frequently reported barrier was the perceived expense of the vegan diet. This could be due to many factors, such as government subsidies artificially deflating the price of animal products and new converts being more likely to buy pricey ready-made meals and animal-product substitutes. People were also concerned about feeling socially excluded and having to reshape their identity upon taking on a new diet, though these factors could also be positive if someone instead feels socially supported and invigorated by their newfound identity.
Of those who gave six-month updates, 57% of these respondents met their reduction goals, including 12% who went beyond their initial goals. 71% reported having reduced their consumption of animal products. Those who set the goal of becoming fully vegan were more successful in meeting their goals than those who only intended to cut back on their consumption. Of course, this may be a reflection of the different levels of motivation and capability that people who set those different goals had to begin with, rather than an effect of the ambitiousness of the goals themselves.
Additionally, it was found that in some cases, reducers cut back on red meat but increased their consumption of other animal products such as fish or eggs. In fact, 32% of reducers planned to increase their fish consumption. Reducers tended to start off strong in the first month then fall behind compared to those who planned to shift dietary categories entirely.
A point of emphasis in the report was the lack of diversity of those who participated in these campaigns. The demographics skewed heavily towards female, white, college-educated, and middle to high-income. In fact, non-white people made up only about 4% of campaign participants despite making up 14% of the U.K. population at the time of this study. Reduction campaigns performed better than vegan campaigns in terms of attracting participants who were over 35 years of age and/or male. The lack of minority representation could be addressed in several ways, such as doing more to celebrate veg*ns of color, fight against human oppression alongside non-human animal oppression, and involve more people of color as leaders in the campaign design process.
Mindset was found to be an important factor in participants’ success in these campaigns. Those who shifted towards veganism began to see animal products as inedible manifestations of suffering, whereas those who cut back less still perceived meat as a fundamental component of a “proper meal.” Thus, it may be useful to encourage people to embrace a new way of eating rather than trying to fit in plant-based foods into omnivorous frameworks.
For animal advocates, the study has several lessons. First, setting specific and incremental goals seems to be more effective than general plans to reduce animal consumption. Additionally, since people have different pre-existing dietary habits and struggle with different barriers, tailoring campaigns based on the audience could be helpful. Normalizing plant-based foods in order to fight against the assumption of meals having to be meat-centered (or even meat-substitute-centered) could also help. Finally, providing more information on how to get protein and other nutrients through plants, as well as providing opportunities to practice eating in this new plant-centered way (such as through month-long challenges) could help show people that plant-based diets are not as out-of-reach as they may think.