Pathways to Veganism

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February, 2019

In 2018 we commissioned a year-long research study to Edge Hill University to explore the pathways and barriers to veganism. The findings, received in 2019, will help to shape our future work.

The study - the  first ever project of its kind  - was carried out by vegan academics, Dr Richard Twine and Prof Claire Parkinson, from the Centre for Human-Animal Studies (CfHAS) at Edge Hill University and ran from January - December 2018.

Research questions were directed at non-vegans and aimed to explore how the public perceives veganism and which messages or tactics are effective in the promotion of the lifestyle.

Dr Lorna Brocksopp, our Research Officer, said:

“Despite the world increasingly heading in the vegan direction, there are a number of difficulties that prevent people from transitioning, and we’d like to recognise and tackle those.

There are many methods of vegan outreach but it’s unclear which are effective and which aren’t, and this research will change that. We hope it will inform our work, as well as that of other vegan organisations and activists, to help more people go vegan and stay vegan.”

The project involved a questionnaire and household interviews exploring barriers to veganism, and focus groups to establish what constitutes effective communication.

Dr Twine said:

“This is an exciting opportunity to enter into dialogue with non-vegans on the subject of veganism, to better understand what veganism means to them and to explore this in terms of social differences such as gender and age. We hope we can make a further contribution through this work to the growing literature on sustainable transition.”

Prof Parkinson added:

“With so many media messages competing for our attention every day, this research can help to answer questions about the efficacy of advocacy communication strategies. Thanks to this funding from The Vegan Society, we have the chance to gain meaningful insights into how different groups receive and interpret messages about veganism.”

Findings - 2019 


The social and family aspects

Large proportions of the sample had friends or family who were vegan (80.1%) and had eaten a vegan meal themselves (83.9%), demonstrating the increased social presence of veganism in contemporary UK life.

Family dynamics are a major pathway to animal product reduction and transition to veganism. Non-vegans who reported they had vegan friends or family had a considerably more positive view of the healthiness of veganism.

Cooking separate meals may lead to conflict in a family setting but it can be overcome by constructing vegan meals as adaptable to other diets and preferences.


Nutrition concerns

Health messages were seen to have greater credibility than the environmental or ethics messages, particularly if coming from respected, independent professional health organisations.

The study found over 84% of non-vegans thought veganism could be a healthy way of eating and the same number did not think that eating meat is essential for a healthy diet. Over 91% did not think that drinking cows’ milk is essential for a healthy diet.

Those who understand veganism well are much more likely to know such a diet is generally healthy. Over 90% of those who rated themselves as having a high knowledge of veganism thought that it could be a healthy way of eating, in contrast to 60% of those who self-rated their knowledge as low.


Barriers to veganism

Some respondents thought becoming vegan could be too much of a challenge, others didn’t want to spend time on making the lifestyle switch, and a number of people worried about finding vegan food options.

The study found that in order to go vegan, people need the knowledge and information about veganism and plant-based nutrition; access to the right materials such as vegan food and ingredients and other products; easy and adaptable recipes or a practical meal plan; and have the ability to prepare a vegan meal or knowing what to buy and cook.


Recommendations for practice

We will be considering the following recommendations from the study in our work:

 - A focus on plant-based nutrition, as well as networking with health professionals and the public to communicate the benefits of it.

- Working with health organisations and charities to address the nutrition concerns of people with pre-existing health conditions.

 - Including meal plans that are easily adaptable to other tastes and preferences to address some difficult family-related dynamics

 - Consider the relationship and family-based context of food practices in pledge schemes.

Click here to download the full report.

(See here for press release)

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