Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Veganism motivation
What motivates a vegan lifestyle?
Definition: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purposes, from junk food vegans to raw vegans – and everything in between – there’s a version of veganism to suit everyone. Yet one thing we all have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey – as well as products like leather and any tested on animals.” (The Vegan Society, 2014, ¶1)
Vegans and vegetarians are often interrelated although there are multiple-facets of veganism which distinguishes it from vegetarianism. Vegans are often viewed as 'extreme vegetarians' due to their abstinence from all animal products and events that include the use of animals (e.g., the circus). The world of veganism has grown sinceand has resulted in Vegan societies, restaurants, cafe's, clothing stores, festivals and protests on animal rights. Have you ever wondered what motivates people to make this lifestyle choice which is different from what is culturally accepted?
This book chapter aims to:
- Provide a brief overview of the history of veganism.
- Explain the differences between vegetarians and vegans.
- Discuss motivations of vegans.
- Discuss potential psychological theories that explain vegan motivation.
History of veganism
Ancient history: The history of veganism is rather complex due to the term only being coined in 1944 by Donald Watson (Davis, 2012). Prior to this, vegetarian diets are dated back to Pythagorus (6th century B.C) who spread the ideas of Buddha. Those who wished to avoid the flesh of slaughtered animals followed the ‘Pythagorean diet’. The philosophical ethics that were the foundation for the Pythagorean dietbecame prominent between 490-430BC with a desire to create a universal law that pertained the ethics of vegan’s and vegetarians today (Spencer, 1993).
- Medieval times's:
- During the medieval period (500-1500AD) many abstained from animal products. Although this occurred, the abstinence was a form of self-punishment due to religious demands. The people abstaining from meat-consumption viewed eating meat as good, so abstinence was a form of suffering (Davis, 2012).
- From 1806:
- Dr. William Lambe in London promoted the view that consuming animal products was not healthy for the human body. (Photo and quote: “My reason for objecting to every species of matter to be used as food, except the direct produce of the earth, is founded on the broad ground that no other matter is suited to the organs of man. This applies then with the same force to eggs, milk, cheese, and fish, as to flesh meat.” (Lambe, 1806, as cited in Davis, 2012, p. 12).
- This lead to the book ‘Return to Nature’ by John Frank Newton in 1811 who expanded Lambe’s medical ideas and correlated them with ethical values towards animals. These views lead to the opening of ‘Alcott house’ in 1838, which ran consistently with these views. In 1842 Alcott house confirmed the use of the word ‘vegetarian’ which is what is now referred to as ‘vegan’ (Davis, 2012).
- The first Vegetarian Society and beyond:
- Was formed in in 1847 when Alcott house and the Bible Christian Church (vegetarian christians) came together. The integration of these two created the confusion between vegetarianism and veganism until 1944 when Donald Watson and friends coined the term ‘vegan’, this term was coined to create a distinction between vegetarians and vegans and the term quickly spread. By 1948 the first vegan society was formed in California and in 1981 the first Vegan festival occurred in Denmark and have continued internationally since (Davis, 2012).
- Today there are very little data on the amount of vegans in the world. The most recent poll conducted by a Gallup poll (2012) in the U.S found 5% of citizens consider themselves vegetarian and 2% consider themselves to be vegan.
- International data unavailable but vegan diets are seen to be followed in almost all countries including, Australia, China, India, the Middle East etc. (Davis, 2012).
What's the difference between Vegans and Vegetarians?
Table 1. Differences between Vegans and Vegetarian (International Vegetarian Union, 2013)
Ethical motivations and veganism is a highly correlated area. The definition provided for veganism is one based on ethical consideration’s for animal welfare and therefore it is clear that the majority of veganism and the extent of their beliefs can be mainly based on this motivation. Ethical veganism is based on a viewpoint where theywish to reduce harm to animals for food and/or other reasons. They have been found to make more sudden changes dietary and lifestyle changes to support their beliefs and create consistency in their life (Fox & Ward, 2008).
A high correlation between thesevalues and the changes in behaviour was found in a study by Beardsworth & Keil (1991) who found a total of 57% of participants citing ethics as their primary motivation. An interesting study by Filippi et al. (2010) found that ethically motivated vegetarians/vegans had higher EQ scores then omnivorous participants, this suggests that this may be an influence to why certain people choose to be vegan.
An influential text ‘Animal Liberation’ by Singer (1975) popularized the concept of speciesism. This concept is based on the same foundation as racism in which humans believe they are entitled to exploit other creatures of another species or colour because they are ‘superior’. The book describes similarities between animals and humans by comparing physical responses to pain. Singer further describes the experiments conducted on animals and the process of factory farming. Finally a vegetarian diet is advocated to reduce the over-production of meat, making the corporations who produce meat use their resources in other ways or go bankrupt; thus reducing animal suffering. This text has become the basis for many vegan based documentaries such as Earthlings (2005) and Speciesism: The Movie (2013) which depict the inhumane treatment of animals. The spread of this concept and the visual representation of it may be a contributing factor to ethical motivations.
Health motivations for veganism is often indicated by participants who indicate it as their primary or secondary to ethical motivation (Beardsworth & Kiel, 1991). A study conducted on the detrimental health effects of meat intake (primarily red and processed meats) concluded that the consumption of these meats leads to modest increases in total cancer and cardiovascular diseases mortality (Sinha, Cross, Grauboard, Leitzmann, & Schatzkin, 2009). In contrast to this Craig (2009) looked at the health effects of vegan diets and concluded that a well-planned vegan diet has health benefits in the reduction of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and
surprisingly, bone-health was significantly higher in vegans compared to lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores participants. The study contributed these benefits through the increase intake of vegetables, fruits, soy and nuts. Amongst the evidence cited for health veganism, is the The China Study which correlated animal products (including dairy) to detrimental health effects such as coronary heart disease and multiple cancers .
"The Natural Human Diet"
An interesting document by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), advocate that veganism is ‘The natural human diet’ (2010). PETA is an animal rights activist group based in the US, who support many public vegan activist campaigns and boycotting of major factory-farms and companies they view as unethical. The foundation of PETA is partly constructed on Singers ‘animal liberation’ and the concept of specieism (PETA, 2010). The natural human diet is presented through a series of statementthat have been supported by anthropologists and biologists, who claim our anatomy and evolutionary history makes human’s herbivores who are not well suited to eating meat. Further, they claim that humans lack the instinct of carnivores that drives them to kill and devour raw carcasses. Specifically, the article provides a section on ‘anatomically herbivores’ citing that human teeth, jaws and nails are not those of carnivores, human stomach acidity is weaker and unable to breakdown and kill the dangerous bacteria in meat properly, human intestinal length is comparable to that of herbivores, the long intestinal length creates longer digestive time giving bacteria in meat extra time to multiply thus increased risk of poisoning. Finally they cite that human psychology is not adapted to killing animals, which is why meat is dissociated from the living animal in western cultures. Although culturally it is accepted that humans are meat-eaters, those who are motivated by health may contribute these factors to their motivations. Further studies need to be conducted in order to find this association.
Vegan’s often cite environmental factors as an underlying motivation that is adapted with the lifestyle that occurs through veganism, this lifestyle often includes consumption of organic foods, reducing the use of cars, recycling, etc. (Fox & Ward, 2008). Further it was found that vegan participants expressed greater environmental concerns than the vegetarian participants (Ruby as cited in Ruby, 2008). The studies that shed light on the detrimental effects of animal agriculture are quiet extensive,the evidence provides insights into the environmental motivations of veganism. It has been found that one major contributor to climage change and global warming is the livestock industry, which emits 18% of total greenhouse gass emissions each year, this figure is higher than the percentage contributed from transport . Further, it has been contended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) that plant-based diets reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diet choice is just as important as transport choice (as cited in Joyce et.al, 2012). In correlation with this, through an analysis of vegetarian, meat and vegan diets it was concluded that a vegan organic diet had the least impact on the environment (Baroni, Cenci, Tettamanti, & Berat, 2007). Although environmental motivations only account for a small percentage of initial vegan motivations, it can be posited that vegan diets reduce environmental impacts and in-turn environmental factors become a motivation and further justification of a vegan diet (Fox & Ward, 2008).
Feminism and Veganism?
Ever heard a male say “real men eat meat”? Or noticed that steak houses are often testosterone fueled restaurants (often animal heads hanging on walls) with predominantly female waitresses? Or how often a carton animal is feminized (clothes, feminine facial features, etc)? these are all contributing factors to sexism and in turn feminists may identify with veganism. Carol Adams explored the masculinity of meat and sexist connotations in The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990), The pornography of meat (2004), and Why feminist vegan now? (2010) through in-depth analyses of the media and cultural influences behind the connotations. Although, studies don’t exist to show this relationship, future research may provide insight into how the masculinity of meat may motivate feminists to follow a vegan lifestyle.
Terror Management Theory
The terror management theory proposed by Greenberg, Solomon & Pyszczynski (1986) posited that a psychological discomfort arises from the need to live but knowing that death is inevitable, and that this discomfort is accompanied by different motivations. The psychological discomfort is unique to the complexity of human cognition that allows introspect, retrospect and prospect thus humans are explicitly aware of their own existence and inevitably death. The theory further takes into consideration the similarities and differences between human and other animals. The ‘terror’ is a result of the awareness of vulnerabilities and inevitable death and this terror leads to self-preservation. Further it was proposed that due to the terror humans created culture to give life order and meaning and buffer from anxiety and distress (as cited in Greenberg, Solomon & Pyszczynski, 1997).
- What's the relationship?
- It can be proposed that veganism is a learning process, through this process comes an awareness of animal cruelty, potential health risks, and environmental factors which may result in increased terror thoughts thus motivating individuals to buffer against these thoughts.
- Potential evidence for this can be seen from a study by Cox et.al (2007) which looked at the similarities between humans and other animals and the accessibility of death-related thoughts. The results revealed that when participants were reminded by 'disgusting' stimuli (ie. images) of their shared similarities with other animals, death-related thoughts increased. The study further offers theoretical insight into why people go to such great lengths to preserve their humanity and deny similarities with other animals. This potentially reveals that vegans cease to deny these similarities, as can be seen with those who have an understanding of ‘specieism’.
- Although veganism challenges the cultural view that animals’ are to be eaten and utilized and the theory proposes that humans created culture to give life order and meaning to manage terror thoughts, It can be posited that vegan societies, festivals, groups, etc. have been introduced to create a culture within veganism and the ideology serves individuals with meaning, order and stability.
- What's the relationship?
Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT)
Proposed by Festinger (1957) states that a psychological conflict or ‘cognitive dissonance’ arises when an individuals behaviours and beliefs or opinions are unaligned. Once dissonance is present, a person will be motivated to reduce dissonance, achieve consonance and actively avoid situations and information that may increase dissonance. Individuals will often change, behaviours, beliefs or opinions to reduce dissonance. In contrast, persons’ may attempt to forget or reduce the importance of the beliefs causing the dissonance.
- What's the relationship?
- It has been proposed by Jobs, Devine & Sobal (1998) that the adoption of a vegetarian/vegan diet is influenced by the increased awareness of ethical and health implications of meat-eating and physical aversions to animal-derived products. This adoption process described by the participants is consistent with CDT; individuals had collected and processed information and when inconsistency existed they changed their behaviours to align with new beliefs.
- Furthermore, Joy (2011) claims that meat-eating or ‘carnism’ comes from an awareness gap that is culturally accepted – this ‘gap’ allows humans to ignore the truth behind animal products. Joy further claims that veganism is often a result in the awareness gap being filled with information, resulting in cognitive dissonance then aligning behaviours/beliefs with veganism.
- What's the relationship?
Mezirow's Transformation Theory
Mezirow’s transformation theory (1991,95,98) involves a process of ‘perspective transformation’ and lifestyle change that occurs after a ten-step process. The transformation has three-dimensions:
- Psychological; changes in self-understanding
- Convictional; revision in beliefs system.
- Behavioural; Lifestyle changes.
The ten-step process involves critical reflection, new information and action. The action is often a result of an event that results in a need to review ones lifestyle. Finally, the theory proposed that people recognize that transformative experiences are shared, so as they begin to explore change they seek new relationships with shared beliefs and renegotiate old ones (as cited in McDonald, 2000).
- What's the relationship?
- The transformation theory can explain veganism in the sense of how an individual changes their perspective. McDonald (2000) found that vegans often came in contact with an experience of animal cruelty or sickness, which resulted in an increased awareness and in-turn a lifestyle transformation. As the theory proposed, people recognize that transformative experiences are shared and through vegan societies and festivals they are able to share individual experiences that assist people beginning the transformation and provide a support base.
- McDonald (2000) claimed that the transformation theory is unable to explain all aspects of becoming vegan. The theory, which is an adult-learning theory, over-estimates the role of democratic dialogue on the learning experience, due to veganism being outside the social norm, this democratic dialogue is mainly unavailable. This limitation may be overcome in the future due to the vegan movement becoming bigger and more educational and political resources available.
- What's the relationship?
- Vegan motivations are multi-faceted and often over-lap one another. Though it can be noted that ethical and health motivations are of particular significance to the majority and environmental often comes with the lifestyle changes. The studies behind these motivations are often small and self-reported measures, they could be improved with bigger sample populations and large survey to find underlying factors of the motivations.
- The learning process to becoming vegan is largely unknown due to the lack of empirical evidence and majority of studies encompassing ‘vegetarianism’ and not veganism. The theories provided in this chapter are potential avenues that begin to explain veganism.
- All theories are only potential idea's of how/why people decide to choose veganism.
- Future research into motivations and theories would be valuable to society as veganism is slowly beginning to grow around the world. As can be seen with vegan celebrities and prominent figures (ie, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Clinton).
Do I need to follow a vegan lifestyle to be ethical, healthy and environmentally friendly?
- You can be healthy without being vegan by reducing intake of red and processed meats and by following a healthy lifestyle.
- A healthy lifestyle involves being active as well as following a healthy diet
- Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables!
- You can reduce your environmental impacts by buying organic produce and going to local farmers markets, reducing meat and fish consumption and using public transport.
- Be conscious of some of the harm excessive meat consumption causes.
- Make ethical decisions; buy organic free range eggs, grass-fed beef, hormone free meat, etc.
Just remember that you can reduce your environmental impacts other ways, be ethical and realistic about animals and farming, and be healthy without being vegan!
- Motivation and vegetarianism: What motivates vegetarianism?
- A Cow at My Table (1998)
- Meet Your Meat (2002)
- Earthlings (2005)
- Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (2009)
- The Cove (2009)
- Eating Animals (2009)
- Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows (2010)
- Vegucated (2011)
- The Superior Human? (2012)
- Speciesism: The Movie (2013)
- Farmageddon (book) (2014)
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