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.
In the second installment of my series on barriers to reduction and abstention I will be discussing psychological capabilities. This area, which includes components like health perceptions and knowledge of how to find and create meat-free and veg*n food, emerged as a critical area for new transitioners. Michie et al. define this particular behavior change component as “the capacity to engage in the necessary thought processes – comprehension [and] reasoning’, which include ‘knowledge or psychological skills, strength or stamina.”.
This area had the largest gains during the research period of any barrier category. Specifically, meat reducers were more likely to increase their skills at finding veg*n recipes, while abstainers were more likely to report developing increased plant-based cooking skills. Vegans were also significantly more likely than other groups to report having the ability to cook vegan meals (94% of vegans, compared to 66% of vegetarians, 60% of pescatarians, and 55% of both meat reducers and non-reducers). The maintenance of omnivorously normative dietary habits may make veg*n eating seem more time-intensive and inhibit the development of new, unconscious dietary norms and habits.
In particular, participants could struggle when maintaining familiar notions of a“proper meal,” such as the common British construct of “meat and two veg.”  When maintaining old habits, reducers may be less likely to obtain requisite skills and knowledge, while preparing and consuming veg*n meals requires conscious reflection. Ultimately, where significant changes occurred to patterns of behavior, these often seemed to reflect not simply a change in the quantities of animal food products consumed but in the formation of “a whole new way of eating” (vegan MA5).
Knowledge and skills were commonly described as initially important, but easily acquired over time, with some of the largest barrier decreases occurring in this area. Abstainers and those participating in vegan campaigns tended to report greater increases in their psychological capabilities. Campaigns were also described as an important source of information, particularly by providing recipes, information about where to find veg*n foods, and health information (e.g. plant-based protein sources).
Conceptions of the necessity of consuming animal food products varied significantly between continuing consumers (i.e. meat reducers and non-reducers) and abstainers, with meat eaters likely to view these foods as essential dietary components. For instance, while 94% of vegans, 95% of vegetarians, and 89% of pescatarians didn’t agree that meat was a necessary protein source, only 46% of meat reducers and 34% of non-reducers indicated the same. Health misinformation was commonly described as pervasive and a key barrier, with vegan VI3 explaining how she continued eating meat for several years, thinking “we needed a certain amount of meat.”
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!
 Michie, S., Atkins, L. and West, R. (2014). The Behaviour Change Wheel: A Guide to Designing Interventions. UK: Silverback Publishing, p 228; p63.
 Warde, A. (2000). Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.