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.
Those pursuing a vegan diet were two times as likely to achieve their goals as those planning to be meat reducers. Participants of vegan campaigns were also more likely to meet their reduction / abstention goals and to surpass them (e.g. a planned meat reducer becoming a pescatarian).
Of all the motivators, animal protection was also the most strongly related to meeting one’s reduction goals and reducing the most. In particular, while health and the environment were also popular (though somewhat less so), they were more effective as secondary motivators while animal protection was a primary motivator.
However, to claim one type of campaign will be most effective is nothing but simplistic and perhaps even a bit egotistical. Different people will require different types of campaigns, different types of information, and different types of supports. There are two things to consider when trying to understand vegan transition:
- Yes, there are clear (but generally under-researched) trends and tendencies in terms of how it’s done, why, and how successful people will be in meeting their goals.
- BUT, there is wide variation that is dependent on many different interplaying factors making the process highly individualized.
While for many or likely most people a vegan goal linked to a focus on animal protection is likely to be most effective, for others a stepped approach leading to a vegan goal may be more likely to be accepted and to lead to sustained veganism.
Such an approach may be needed for those who maintain anti-vegetarian/vegan views. For these individuals, it may be best to focus on increasing their motivation — this could mean using a campaign focused on health or environmental motivations. During / through the campaign, they could then receive information about animal suffering and protection — the motivator linked to the greatest and most sustained reductions — to support the creation of a vegan mindshift.
Some may be, as with one meat reducer: “more concerned about factory farming than I am about killing animals.” For such individuals, a vegan goal based on animal protection may not be accepted and an emphasis on other motivators, while still including an animal message, may be more likely to be received. However, this does not mean that such individuals may not be receptive to an animal rights message at a later point.
Others may be too reliant on omnivorously normative dietary habits to be able to change. Such individuals may first require simply accepting that a vegan meal can be tasty, sufficient, and healthy. They may feel that a vegan meal won’t be very nice or will leave them unsatistifed — they’ll need to eat again in a couple of hours! So, here a nice vegan meal can go a long way. And, even better, learning where to buy / how to prepare vegan meals can give one the ability to start changing their habits. By encouraging conscious reflection on their dietary habits and a questioning of the necessary components of a meal, they may come to embrace vegan food and be more open to abstaining from some or all animal food products.
It’s clear we need more research — a lot more research, and especially research that includes randomized controlled trials. But in the meantime, for those of you working to promote veganism and create more sustainable dietary habits in the world, the main thing is to consider your target audience. I highly recommend checking out the Behaviour Change Wheel — and, no, I didn’t write it and, no, I don’t get any royalties from its use. It’s just a great tool that I used in my own PhD and have recommended to charities around the world. With the Wheel you can identify specific sources of behavior and link them to types of campaigns (intervention functions) and specific policy changes.
This way, we can stop all reaching for the “low-hanging fruit” — those most likely to be drawn in by the type of messaging we are using — and can strengthen our ability to give people the right information and empower them to achieve sustained dietary changes.