This blog post includes data from research into seven UK-based reduction and vegan campaigns, drawing on the largest sample of meat reducers, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans in any research project to date (n=1,587). Research was conducted for my PhD in Social Policy at the University of Kent, using a mixed-methods, longitudinal approach.

This is an incredibly important question that little research has actually investigated: Do meat reducers actually eat less meat? Existing research on the subject has generally been low-quality and found inconsistent results.

Within my sample, as I will be talking about over the upcoming weeks, those pursuing stricter goals were more likely to meet AND surpass them (e.g. planned vegetarians becoming vegan). Of the dietary groups, planned meat reducers were the least likely to meet all of their dietary goals. Only 39% were meeting all of their reduction goals at six months, including 47% who were eating less meat. Those pursuing stricter goals were more likely to succeed, with planned vegans — the only group where the majority were not already following their planned diet — twice as likely to meet their goals at six months than meat reducers.

A small majority of meat reducers were eating less meat after the first month, but this number gradually decreased over time, suggesting that reductions are likely to be temporary.

Meat reducers were more likely to eat less meat if they planned to reduce their white meat and/or fish consumption. Red meat reducers — those who planned to eat less red meat but not less white meat or fish — were as successful as other meat reducers at reducing red meat but were more likely to eat more or the same in other areas.

Where reductions occurred, they often disappeared but could instead lead to future abstentions, as can be seen in what I have refer to as the Meat Reducer Typology. Over time, participants were more likely to report a veg*n diet and less likely to report eating meat.

Within meat reducers, three distinct groups emerged:

1. Temporary reducers (54% at six months) no longer plan to reduce their red or white meat consumption or ate meat and hadn’t decreased the amount .

2. Long-term reducers (35% at six months) have reduced.

3. Abstainers (10% at six months) are now following a pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan diet.

What does this all mean?

The data really speaks for itself and goes against claims that simply because people are more willing to reduce than to abstain, that is what we should promote. As I will be discussing in the next few days, some meat reducers were, however, completely against any type of abstention. Some meat eaters may also be so reliant on omnivorous meals, that it may be necessary to first get over some of their fear of veg*n meals before they pursue an abstention goal.

Reduction goals MAY have some specific uses but they should not be our default. Where we are using them, we need to be very careful, since vegan goals and campaigns were more successful at promoting greater and sustained reductions. And, importantly, because reduction isn’t enough if we want to help stop animal suffering (not to mention the environment, human health, and all the other reasons to go vegan). Reduction campaigns may instead be most useful when (a) there are clear goals (e.g. two meals with meat a week) and (b) goals increase in severity, leading to a fully vegan diet.

Goals are a key component in any behavior change model and reduction promoted as “any reduction is great” or without a specific and easily measurable goal may not be sustainable. Meat reducers may think they are reducing when they aren’t. Many meat reducers in my sample actually expressed a desire to be fully vegetarian / vegan and it is up to us to help them reach these goals and encourage them to pursue a fully vegan diet.

Over the upcoming weeks I’ll be sharing more of my findings and what this means for campaigners, researchers, and policy makers. So make sure to click “follow” and stay tuned!

9 thoughts on “Do meat reducers actually eat less meat?: The Meat Reducer Typology

  1. Trent,

    Thank you for this post about your research.

    > Over time, participants were more likely to report a veg*n diet and less likely to report eating meat.

    In comparison to whom?

    Could it be simply that people who are willing to take on the goal of becoming vegan are already much more likely to abstain than someone who is only willing to be a reducer? In other words, a vegan campaign will do well with people already primed to want to go vegan, but it’s going to be a very small target audience compared to the number of people a reduction campaign can reach.

    I’d like the answer to be that promoting veganism to all people in general is going to be the best way to reduce animal product consumption, but without knowing more I see alternative explanations for your findings.

    Also, this research, while important—and thank you for doing it)—is about short-term diet change which may not be as important as laying the groundwork for society to eventually confront and reject the idea that we should be using animals for food. To achieve this longer-term goal, promoting veganism in the short-term might achieve our longer-term goal more quickly, than will talking about reduction, by sparking more society-wide conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jack,

      To answer your questions:
      1. In comparison to themselves. Due to the nature of this study, there was no control group, as this was looking specifically at the nature of transition. Over time, participants were more likely to report a veg*n diet and less likely to report eating meat. So, for instance, 5% reported being vegan in the first wave (pre-campaign), while 9% did so at one month, 14% at three months, and 13% at six months.
      2. That is certainly a possible factor and is something I will touch on in later blog posts. The issue is, it’s clear from this data that a meat reduction goal is likely to be unsuccessful. That is something that hasn’t really been looked at before and suggests that: (a) further research is needed — particularly with a randomized control trial; and (b) reduction goals may not be as successful or effective as we think. Because so many organizations default to a reduction goal (e.g. “any amount of reduction is great!”) we really don’t know how many people they might reach with a campaign with a clear, vegan goal. But like I said, there may be some who aren’t ready for a vegan coal: in this case, a clear reduction goal and stepped approach may be most effective.

      I think your points make a lot of sense and I agree completely that these are important questions. If you’re interested, check out Animal Think Tank: they are looking at movement building for animal rights, which is all about shifting values and longer-term changes. In general, I’d say that without really any other research that looks at these types of messaging (aside from a few non-profit studies, generally not done very well and with very small samples), there are many questions that remain and I think, as with most research, my findings suggest more questions than answers. But hopefully this will encourage others to continue with this research and question the reduction default, when there is no evidence anywhere this is the most effective approach! As Casey Taft says: Just because people are more likely to want to reduce, does not mean that is what we should promote!

      Liked by 1 person

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