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.

Within this sample, being motivated by animal protection was linked to the greatest reduction levels and likelihood of meeting one’s reduction goals. By re-thinking and consciously consuming, veg*ns may be more likely to connect meat or other animal food products (AFPs) with their animal origins, [1] re-centring the animal source within food products previously unconsciously consumed.

Newfound awareness, coupled with a commitment to completely abstain from the consumption of meat or AFPs, can serve as tools for constructing animal-derived foods as inedible or embodied representations of suffering and death. The act and decision to consume becomes a reflection on one’s ethical values: “Why would I want to change my beliefs for a piece of cake?” (vegan VI2). Many vegan participants, in particular, expressed having reached a new view or understanding of AFPs from which there was no return, a mindshift:

[Being vegan] was quite hard at the beginning, but because I had the ethics were what was behind my decision, I couldn’t see myself going back, so I was like, ‘I’m just gonna have to make the most [of this.]’ – vegan BN6

A total shift in perspective and the adoption of a new dietary identity may most commonly develop over time and are unlikely to be achieved through a single exposure or experience. [2] Social and cultural norms, a lack of resources and social opportunities, and the need to acquire a variety of skills and knowledge can impede even those highly motivated and aware from changing their dietary habits. Meat reducer MA2 demonstrated the potential to feel that one’s dietary behavior is unethical, even while continuing to engage in it, stating:

[Animals] still feel pain. I mean, to me, they feel pain and they feel fear, and to me that is the thing that makes them no different at all. And if you wouldn’t do it to a child or you wouldn’t do it to a dog or cat, why should you do it to any other animal? You know, to me that’s the bottom line and I don’t know how anybody can step over that line. Says the person who does eat meat occasionally.

The inherent contradiction in this sentiment – that a behavior crosses an ethical “line” that one, nonetheless, continues to engage in – hints at the complex psychological components and social and cultural norms underlying the consumption of animal flesh and secretions. Ultimately, “meat consumption is not simply a gustatory behaviour, but also an ideological one.” [3]

When a shift in perspective has not been fully internalized, as appears to be the case with MA2, reducers may slip back into previous, omnivorous habits. A high degree of motivation – and in particular motivating factors related to animals – may help support reducers in overcoming and accepting reduction barriers, while the acceptance of new, veg*n dietary norms may help form and maintain new ways of eating that reject previously-held omnivorous norms.

Initial considerations of animal suffering were most commonly described for mammalian companion or farm animals (i.e. dogs, cats, pigs, goats, or cows). Once reducers begin to connect meat consumption with living animals through a recognition of the “meat paradox” (the desire to eat meat while not wanting to hurt animals) [4] they may be open to and begin to seek out information about the external impacts of other types of animal food products. Vegan participants generally described having overcome the disconnect associated with the meat paradox.

However, it is worth noting that connecting other types of foods (e.g. dairy and eggs) to their animal source can be even more difficult. While meat, as the embodiment of animal flesh, may readily call to mind its animal origins, dairy and eggs can be commonly viewed as expendable bodily secretions devoid of suffering or death. To make this connection, it is important to highlight how suffering and death are inherent components in the production of dairy and eggs.

For those who have achieved a vegan mindshift, consuming animal-derived foods may no longer be seen as an option, as with LO7: “When you’re out with other people, … you can be put in a situation where you don’t really have very many options and you just have to go hungry.” Barriers can be irrelevant (or less important) for such consumers who plan to maintain their diets no matter what. Such perspective shifts represent the potential power this motivator may have in achieving sustainable reductions. Further research into how to promote a mindshift that re-centres the animal source within animal food products may be particularly helpful for campaigners and policy makers.

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!

Works cited:

[1] 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.
[2] Chuck, C., Fernandes, S.A. and Hyers, L.L. (2016). Awakening to the politics of food: Politicized diet as social identity. Appetite 107:425–436.
[3] Monteiro, C.A. et al. (2017). The Carnism Inventory: Measuring the ideology of eating animals. Appetite 113:51–62, p.51
[4]  Loughnan, S., Haslam, N. and Bastian, B. (2010). The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals. Appetite 55:156–159.

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