Perfect Vs. Good: Is An All-Or-Nothing Approach Effective For Reducing Meat Consumption?
In animal advocacy, it’s hard to find a topic that creates more debate than whether we should advocate for veganism or incremental change in people’s diets. The argument seems never ending: on the one hand, advocating for veganism is arguably noble and “morally consistent,” while on the other hand, advocating for incremental change seems practical but requires living with animal exploitation in the short term. The fact that both sides use different tactics further complicates the debate: one side tends to use philosophical viewpoints, while the other side increasingly uses statistics and data to inform their campaigns. For our part, Faunalytics has long pursued an interest in the dynamics of how vegans are both made and kept. We know that sometimes, and for a variety of reasons, vegans and vegetarians can burn brightly for a while but then quickly return to eating animal products.
This study (written by Kathryn Asher, formerly with Faunalytics) looks at meat reduction versus elimination through the lens of effective altruism—a growing movement that believes one can “‘do good better’ by thinking scientifically rather than sentimentally.” Many major animal advocacy groups now use a mixed approach, whereby they advocate for the elimination of animal consumption in some instances and the reduction of consumption in others.
Despite this, the paper notes that there is still considerable debate over what the most effective approach actually is. What’s more, the study notes that “there is also no agreement on which approach the movement has principally pursued thus far.” Some say that “the movement” hasn’t focused enough on vegan messaging; others say that there has been an “overemphasis on the animal-free message” and that this has actually slowed progress. It can be difficult to agree on a way forward when we haven’t even reached agreement on what’s been done so far.
This study is an attempt to cut through some of that confusion by looking at “whether the promotion of vegetarianism does less to meet the movement’s goals than advocating (the interim step of) reduced meat consumption.” It looks to answer a deceptively simple question: which of the several meat-restricted diets (a vegetarian diet, a reduced-meat diet, or a chicken-free diet) would best support an Effective Animal Advocacy approach in terms of dietary choices in the U.S.? To arrive at an answer, researchers gathered data from a cross-sectional sample of more than 30,000 adults from the U.S.
To answer the main research question, the study explored the following eight specific sub-questions:
- Which of the three diets has the highest prevalence rate among adults in the U.S. and the highest number of food opinion leaders based on current eating patterns?
- Which of the three diets is projected to have the highest prevalence rate among adults in the U.S. and the highest number of food opinion leaders based on future potential eating patterns?
- Which of the three diets results in the largest number of meat-free meals eaten each week and the largest number of adult followers in the U.S. based on current eating patterns?
- Which of the three diets is projected to result in the largest number of meat-free meals eaten each week and the largest number of adult followers in the U.S. based on future potential eating patterns?
- Which of the three diets removes the largest number of land-based farmed animals raised for meat from the food stream based on adults’ current eating patterns in the U.S.?
- Which of the three diets is projected to remove the largest number of land-based farmed animals raised for meat from the food stream based on adults’ future potential eating patterns in the U.S.?
- Which of the three diets do adults in the U.S. who are not currently restricting their meat consumption perceive most favorably?
- Which of the three diets do adults in the U.S. who are currently eating one of these meat-restricted diets have the most favorable experiences with?
The results suggest that the reduced-meat diet “outperformed the other diets on the first four indicators” as well as on the seventh. The chicken-free diet didn’t outperform the others on any indicator, and the vegetarian diet surpassed the others on the eighth indicator (meaning, for example, that vegetarians were most likely to indicate that their diet was good for their health and that they see it as part of their identity).
The reduced-meat diet had the highest prevalence rate at 33%, compared to 1.1% who identified as vegetarian, and 1.0% who identified as chicken avoiders. When factoring in “potential adoption rates” (meaning the number of people who would adopt a given diet), meat reducers win again at 45%, followed by vegetarians with 8.7% and chicken avoiders at 6.8%.
Based on the numbers above, meat reducers emerge as animal allies, simply by sheer force of scale: currently, meat reducers consume the greatest quantity of meatless meals weekly—446 million meatless meals, compared to 42 million for vegetarians and 25 million for chicken avoiders. What’s more, “a reduced-meat diet is projected to result in the largest number of U.S. adults who will eat meat-free meals in the future: 52 million among meat reducers compared to 18 million among vegetarians and 12 million among chicken avoiders.”
Here at Faunalytics, we often come across studies that hold so much valuable information for advocates—so much so that we can’t fully summarize all the content. This is one of those cases; the study provides such a wealth of data that, due to its depth and breadth, we can’t reproduce it all here. Fortunately for animal advocates, the full study is available—you can look at it and further analyze it yourself. Though the data suggests a certain set of conclusions, savvy advocates will find a great deal more in the fine detail that may assist them in their advocacy.