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.
As often in my research, the answer is sometimes, maybe. In particular, health is likely to be more important as a barrier. Health can, however, still be a key motivator for many people.
In particular, in my research and elsewhere, health motives have been found to be popular for meat eaters and those who have yet to consider meat reduction. Men were also more likely to report health motives (77% of men and 65% of women) and were unlikely to participate in reduction and vegan campaigns.
Using health information to attract participants could be a way to bring in more men and heavy meat eaters.
However, health motives were significantly less effective than animal motives. Not to mention that those who were most motivated by health also ate the most fish!
And while different types of information are likely to be helpful for various people, depending on a whole wealth of personal factors, targeted health campaigns may be more effective if they include animal messages.
Just as a reduction goal is likely to lead to less sustained dietary change than a vegan goal, health messaging (on its own) is likely to be less effective.
Why? There are a few reasons that I believe we should be cautious abut using health messaging and that, where we do use health messaging to reach new groups of people, we should strive to include the animal message:
- You can’t really argue about health motives. If someone says: I tried that vegan thing and I didn’t feel healthier, actually I felt worse!, you can give them information and try to help them understand what about their diet may not have been working for them. But, you can’t be in their body and you can’t tell them how they feel. So it is likely to be a losing argument.
- There is no ‘victim’. Well, maybe other than yourself! There is a reason that vegans and, in particular, those who stick to a vegan diet, are more likely to be motivated by animals. Being vegan ‘for the animals’ means each time you eat an animal-based food, you are contributing to the suffering of specific animals. This is why vegans can experience a mindshift, where these foods are now no longer seen as edible. When your motive is health, it may seem a lot easier to ‘cheat’ now and then. This may also be why ‘plant-based,’ as a health term, commonly means a mostly vegan diet, and not a fully vegan one.
- Veganism isn’t necessarily healthy. Nowadays, there is way too much processed vegan food and when we try to make claims that just being vegan is healthier, we are lying. Whole-food, whole-plant veganism is certainly the healthiest diet for at least 99% of people, but if we just keep telling people: Go vegan! You’ll feel great! You’ll be healthy! we are actually damaging our messaging. People may then transition and not feel these magical benefits we make claims about. They may even feel worse if they eat more processed food than before.
In fact, health is likely to be one of the main reasons people STOP being vegan. There is so much misinformation and confusion about things like protein and vitamin B12. As a result, any health ‘scare’ can make people question their veganism.
One of my focus group participants described her mother’s constant fear about her new vegan diet, saying to her: Oh, gosh! This is just too drastic!, so that Anything that went wrong, if I was like, “Oh, I’m really tired today, ’cause I worked a fifteen-hour day” or something, my mum would be like, “Oh, I don’t think this veganism’s working for you, darling.”
This is why all of our advocacy needs to address the health BARRIER, not necessarily the health motive. And when we do focus on the health motive, as much as possible, we should include information about why veganism is good for animals.
For these reasons, it’s not really surprising that we keep seeing health-motivated people following a plant-based diet give it up. Many of these plant-based, health celebrities get into ‘fad eating’: raw, fruitarianism, even drinking their own urine (!). Health has so many different elements and it is complicated to argue that you need a 100% vegan diet for your health when we are surrounded by unhealthy vegan junk food and a whole variety of health misinformation.
That is why, in my advocacy, I will always include and, as much as possible, center animals as the main reason to go vegan.