We are delighted to present the findings of a collaborative piece of research carried out between The Ecologist magazine, Kingston University and The Vegan Society. The project, conducted in 2019, centres around a vegan survey of subscribers to the newsletter of The Ecologist online and is an excellent example of how The Vegan Society is increasingly working with academics, researchers and other organisations in pursuit of new knowledge about veganism. We look forward to continued collaboration with authors of this study to support The Vegan Society's work and further the research and recommendations of this report.
Report executive summary
Veganism is an individual and collective undertaking that aims at eliminating, as far as is possible, all forms of animal exploitation. It involves, amongst other practices, the adoption of a diet free from meat, dairy, eggs, and any other animal-derived product. In recent years, the vegan movement and diet have been growing in popularity. The extent to which individuals, institutions and groups all over the world adhere to veganism has crucial consequences for animals and the environment. Hence, it is important to understand contemporary perceptions held by vegans and non-vegans about veganism. The present research aims at contributing to understanding these perceptions.
A survey was conducted amongst the subscribers to the newsletter of The Ecologist online. The approach was predominantly qualitative. Two hundred and sixty-nine subscribers participated in the research. They answered closed and open questions about reasons to change their diets, their perceptions about the joys, obstacles and challenges related to veganism, the factors that could lead them to go vegan and the information on veganism that they desired. The data were analysed with thematic analysis and subsidiary statistical analyses by researchers from Kingston University.
The results show that participants identified barriers to veganism such as personal preferences and tastes, practical barriers such as lack of time and availability of vegan food and social barriers such as stereotypes and abuse directed towards vegans. Participants were categorised in three different groups, non-vegans who were not considering going vegan; non-vegans who were considering going vegan; and vegans. The results show that these groups held substantially different beliefs and attitudes towards veganism. Non-vegans who were not considering going vegan believed that veganism is or may be unhealthy, is or may be harmful to the environment, is "unnatural", and may have detrimental social consequences. Some participants in this group declared that nothing would lead them to veganism. However, some of them stated that changes in the market and society, in personal life or concerning certain knowledge about the negative impact of meat-eating on animals and the environment could tip them over into being vegan. Vegans highlighted the benefits of veganism for animals, the environment and human health. For the vegan participants, witnessing the suffering of animals and realising the dominant dismissive attitudes towards their suffering are major challenges of veganism. For overcoming the barriers to veganism, vegan participants declared that they searched for information on the various related topics, cultivated cognitive and emotional strategies, and joined vegan communities. Non-vegans who were considering going vegan generally adapted intermediary positions between the two previous groups. Participants requested information about veganism mainly in such a way that could confirm their pre-existing beliefs and attitudes towards it. Nevertheless, there were also requests for practical information concerning subjects such as vegan recipes, child nutrition, and strategies for transitioning to a vegan diet.
Conclusion and recommendations for practice
Individuals who identify themselves as non-vegans and environmentalists may experience cognitive dissonance (a specific type of psychological discomfort) when exposed to information about the environmental impact of the meat, dairy and egg industry. Dissonance may have been a driver for the construction of beliefs by some participants, such as the beliefs that veganism is unnatural and harmful for human health and the environment. Professionals and institutions interested in defending animal rights and promoting human health, wellbeing and social engagement may consider discussing specific topics with the public as follows. This report highlights topics such as the impact on animals and the environment of the so-called “free-range" system, the use of soya and other vegetables for animal feed, the supposed association of veganism with the industry of processed foods and the conditions for conducting a healthy vegan diet. Non-vegans concerned with the environment may discover that veganism is empowering for fighting climate change and environmental degradation. The concluding remarks of the below report provide references to recent and comprehensive scientific works on these subjects.
Many thanks to authors Luiz Gustavo Silva Souza, Arabella Atkinson and Brendan Montague for this collaborative piece of work.