Reasons Why People Choose Vegetarianism: A Survey From Vietnam
A growing body of literature shows that veg diets have a range of benefits, from increased human well-being and quality of life to expansion of food industries and contributing to sustainable food systems. More and more people are choosing plant-based diets all over the world.
In Southern Vietnam, for example, plant-based diets are becoming more popular since many there come from a buddhist background promoting abstinence from killing animals and eating meat. The country is also a favourable region for growing vegetables and fruits, which makes finding good plant-based foods in restaurants and markets easy and affordable. Even though there is vast existing literature that confirms plant-based diets as healthy and effective in preventing some diseases, many people still believe that such diets have negative effects on health and, in Vietnam in particular, cultural beliefs and traditional stereotypes contribute to most of the population’s preference to include meat in their meals.
This study focused on identifying the factors that influence Vietnamese to choose a plant-based diet by collecting and analysing data of a questionnaire that covers 10 out of 19 provinces of Southern Vietnam. In the study, plant-based diet was actually defined as the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet which includes vegetable, legumes, fruits, grains, seed, nuts, dairy products and eggs. The reasons put forward in the study were “health concerns,” “spirituality,” “love towards animals,” “environment concerns,” “diet knowledge,” “opulence of plant-based foods” (variety of plant-based foods and attractive dishes), “social relationships,” “outlook on life,” and “the understanding of human body structure” (recognition of the similarity between human body structure and those of herbivores). The outlook on life and the understanding of human body structure were two new reasons suggested by the authors while the others were based on related studies and previous literature. Besides this range of reasons, demographic characteristics were also considered to investigate the impact on the plant-based food choice.
The results from the structural equation model show that “the understanding of human body structure” had the greatest positive impact on the choice of vegetarian foods, even though most Vietnamese aren’t fully on board that the vegetarian diet is suitable for humans. “Health concerns” and “opulence of plant-based foods” came second and third as determinants of veg diet choice. “Diet knowledge,” “spirituality,” “love towards animals,” and “outlook on life” also had significant positive impacts on veg food choice. However, “social relationships” negatively impacted the choice of veg diets, because in professional or familiar social gatherings it was viewed as inconvenient. The “environment concerns” option was omitted from the model since it showed insignificant impacts on plant-based food choice.
For demographic characteristics, the results showed that women tended to choose vegetarian foods more than men, explained by the authors because of common stereotypes among Vietnamese men that plant-based diets fail to provide enough energy for daily activities, affect their masculinity, and affect their business and social relationships, since they do not consider plant-based meals satisfy their partners. For civil status, widows/widowers chose vegetarian foods the most and single/divorced people tended to be the group least likely to choose this diet. This was justified by Vietnamese married people being more stressed to provide for their families, and widows/widowers being more inclined to choose a vegetarian diet as a form of spiritual remedy and moral strengthening. Monthly income insignificantly impacted veg diet choice since, according to the authors, in Southern Vietnam access is made easy by charity locations offering cheap veg meals. Age and education were found to have insignificant impacts on the choice of vegetarian diet as well.
For animal advocates, this study gives interesting indications of why Vietnamese people are choosing to follow a vegetarian diet, and ranks these reasons by relevance. Advocates should consider these factors and discuss how choosing vegetarian foods benefits the human body from a health perspective. However, factors like social relationships and stereotypes also have significant negative impact on the vegetarian choice, which may indicate that further social supports are needed. Knowing this, advocates might want to promote the creation of svegan/vegetarian social groups to help enrich social relationships and dispell some stereotypes.