This blog post includes data from 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.

Within my research, I will discuss barriers using components of the Behaviour Change Wheel (a.k.a. The Wheel), and in this instalment will be talking about Social Opportunities: “opportunit[ies] afforded by the environment involving time, resources, locations, cues, [and] physical “affordance.”’ [1] Barriers relating to the social and cultural environment emerged as particularly impactful, especially for vegan transitioners. The potential for feelings of isolation and social distancing from omnivorous and non-veg*n friends could arise through conflict over one’s new lifestyle choices, a discomfort with the continued dietary practices of non-veg*ns, or the appeal of joining or forming veg*n communities with those who may have similar ideals and experiences.

I think at first you’re like, right; it’s new. I’m gonna do it. And you’ve got that mindset. Then you’ve got people that you know and you’re close to pushing against it. So, it makes something even harder. It’s like when you’re tying to eat healthy and obviously that’s a habit that you need to form and then other people are telling you, making it so much more difficult as well. — vegan MA3

You’re constantly having to fight your battles and you’re having to defend what you’re eating. That was exhausting. … That was almost like a – do I really wanna do this anymore? And I had to keep continuously reminding myself of why I was doing it because … I felt a lot of pressure to educate myself on having the right answers when people asked me questions … It’s just very stressful. You don’t wanna have to have a deep, quite heated argument every time you have a meal and I think that would be something that would push people to not do it so much anymore … if you have to defend your food choices all the time.  – vegan BN6

Having access to other veg*ns and, in particular, communities where veg*nism was normalized, could provide essential support and access to resources for new transitioners. Access to communities and other reducers could help to overcome stigmas, provide opportunities to acquire essential skills and information, and create supportive settings around common norms and ethics. However, social distancing from omnivorous norms and individuals, in conjunction with the formation or growth of veg*n communities, could further contribute to difficulties encountering omnivorous behavior.

You need to have someone. It can be one other person … and that’s the great thing about Facebook and all that kind of stuff is that you know you’re not alone. — meat reducer LO9

Non-veg*n friends and family were often described, particularly by vegans, as sources of conflict, especially when inundating new reducers with questions about health and ethical elements of consumption. Vegans, in particular, may feel they have to “performveganism to minimize discomfort, highlight the positives of their dietary choices, and curtail potential conflict. [2]

Social encounters could create tricky situations, where reducers may not want to “make a fuss” (vegan LO7) and want to avoid negative reactions or encounters. Many near-vegans maintained exceptions to their veganism in such social situations, such as at work or social functions or when dining out. This phenomena could also be linked to cultural notions of eating as both pleasurable and social, whereby abstainers may not want to feel deprived.

Being around those who are also following a similar diet may not be essential for a sustained veg*n transition. One additional source of support could come from “non-practicing practitioners.” [3] By consuming or preparing shared foods and potentially adopting some veg*n habits in their own lifestyles, sympathetic friends and family members could reinforce the normalization of vegan dietary practices and support transitioners in feeling less isolated.

Despite the central role social elements were described as playing in the transition process, there were few social opportunities provided by campaigns. This represents an important area for campaigns to try and create new ways to improve potential reducers’ and abstainers’ feelings of comfort around non-veg*n friends and family and in attending omnivorous social events.

[1] Michie, Atkins and West 2014, p.228; 63
[2] Twine 2014
[3] Twine 2014

Resources cited:

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

Twine, R. (2014). Vegan Killjoys at the Table—Contesting Happiness and Negotiating Relationships with Food Practices. Societies 4:623–639.

6 thoughts on “Reduction barriers part 4: community support and social isolation

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