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 sample represents a highly motivated and aware group and, yet, many participants were unable to meet their reduction goals. Awareness of motivating factors is not enough to promote widespread reductions and a variety of barriers can impede successful transitions.

On average, all areas were viewed as opportunities for change, rather than as barriers. Those pertaining to meat were generally viewed as less restrictive than those referring to eggs or dairy.

Barriers were generally lower for those who reduced more, particularly vegans, while highest for meat eaters. Barrier perception was also linked to reduction goals and successes. However, that some veg*ns and pescatarians viewed certain barriers as obtrusive – such as availability and taste – and yet still maintained their diet suggests that, for some, there may be a willingness or acceptance of making sacrifices in meeting reduction goals.

Within my research, I will discuss barriers using components of the Behaviour Change Wheel (a.k.a. The Wheel), starting with automatic motivation: “automatic processes involving emotions and impulses that arise from associative learning and/or innate dispositions” and “involv[es] emotional reactions, desires (wants and needs), impulses, inhibitions, drive states and reflex responses.”[1] Automatic motivation is distinct from reflexive motivation (e.g. motivators to reduce, such as animal welfare or health).

Identity emerged as an important barrier, particularly amongst meat eaters, with vegans generally viewed as a highly-stigmatized group, including associations with: (a) being fussy or awkward; (b) wealthy individuals; (c) hippies; (d) being extreme or radical (i.e. by following a diet that was too difficult or restrictive, excessively healthy, or under- / malnourished); and (e) femininity / women. Nonetheless, having a new identity could also be a positive, as a source of power and/or passion.

I do feel like my identity has changed quite a lot. … For a long time I’ve probably thought I’m not very passionate about anything. … Now, I’m so much more aware of everything. And I’m actually confident in my opinion. —vegan VI2

Perceptions of taste as a barrier were extremely varied, with some meat eaters stating they did not particularly like or desire the taste of meat, while some veg*ns described having “loved meat” (vegan BL5) or experiencing cravings (particularly for dairy cheese) years after transitioning. Interestingly, some vegans described giving into their cravings as a final motivating factor to fully commit to a vegan lifestyle, finding that “it didn’t taste as good as I imagined” (vegan MA3). Taste was, for some, a motivator, particularly for those who described a visceral revulsion to meat. [2]

Some described abstention as a potential sacrifice or described a willingness to make sacrifices: “If I couldn’t find anything to eat, I’d eat toast or something.”— vegan LO3. Many vegans also described consuming new foods and expanding their pallets: “Taste has gone up for me. I’m surprised at how much I do enjoy my food.” – vegan VI3.

Using substitutes for animal food products (e.g. mock meats) could help some through the transition process, by enabling the maintenance of familiar habits and meal constructs. However, some struggled with strong emotional attachments and associations to certain foods (e.g. vegan BL6 described craving a particular type of non-vegan chocolate whenever she was unwell). Emotions, in particular, are likely an important but under-researched component of the transition process.[3]

I don’t want any meat. … I can go by without no meat. I’ve got no problem. I don’t miss it.      —meat reducer BN2

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!

[1] Michie, Atkins and West 2014, p.227; 63
[2] Beardsworth and Keil 1992; Kenyon and Barker 1998
[3] Stoll-Kleeman and Schmidt 2016

Resources cited:

Beardsworth, A. and Keil, T. (1992). The vegetarian option: varieties, conversions, motives and careers. The Sociological Review 40:253–293.

Kenyon, P.M. and Barker, M.E. (1998). Attitudes Towards Meat-eating in Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Teenage Girls in England–an Ethnographic Approach. Appetite 30:185–198.

Michie, S., Atkins, L. and West, R. (2014). The Behaviour Change Wheel: A Guide to Designing Interventions. UK: Silverback Publishing.

Stoll-Kleemann, S. and Schmidt, U.J. (2016). Reducing meat consumption in developed and transition countries to counter climate change and biodiversity loss: a review of influence factors. Regional Environmental Change 17:1261–1277.

7 thoughts on “Reduction barriers part 1: Unconscious influences

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