Vegans, Vegetarians, And Motive
We all have our own reasons for going vegan or vegetarian. The most common non-religious motives are concern for personal health, concern for the environment, and concern for animal rights/ethics. This study attempted to determine which reason is most convincing to non-veg*ns, as well as looking at the psychological traits of people who gravitate towards each reason.
To do this, the researchers used four online panels; two were composed of undergraduates at a U.S. research institution, one was composed of Amazon MTurk respondents, and one was composed of around 5,000 Dutch households. The participants were not excluded based on diet, but only a small minority of each group identified as vegan or vegetarian. The researchers devised what they call the Vegetarian Eating Motives Index (or VEMI): a series of statements relating to one of the reasons, which participants would rank their agreement with from 1-7. Example statements include “I want to be healthy,” “Plant-based diets are more sustainable,” and “I don’t want animals to suffer.” Other information was collected from participants, such as their demographic info, involvement in volunteering or other organizations, employment, hobbies, and social behavior. The researchers also gave participants mock flyers advertising veganism or vegetarianism using one of the motives and asked them to rate 1-7 each flyer’s effectiveness in convincing them to change their habits.
The average level of support for all three motives – health, environment, and animal rights – was above 4 out of 7. Of all three, health statements had the highest average level of support. Additionally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, vegans and vegetarians had higher degrees of support for environmental and ethical statements.
As expected, the researchers found that people who valued health more in the VEMI were more receptive to health-focused flyers, and the same with other motives. The authors noted that the motive with the highest level of support – health – was also the one with the weakest link to veganism or vegetarianism. While plant-based diets’ benefits for animal rights and the environment are virtually unquestioned in the scientific community, the same cannot be said of its health effects. While most evidence shows that veganism and vegetarianism are improvements on the standard western diet, the same is true of some diets that include animal products, like the Mediterranean diet.
This study has interesting ramifications for animal advocates. Good news first – it’s heartening that most people are at least interested in improving their health, reducing their environmental footprint, and supporting animal rights. However, the strongest level of support is found for statements regarding personal health, which has a weaker association with veganism than environmental or ethical motives. To incorporate this knowledge, animal advocates can target some of their advocacy efforts to specific interests like health, and make sure to note how it’s an improvement on other healthy diets.