When faced with the paradoxical nature of our love for animals and our appetite for meat, the resultant dissonance can be resolved in one of two ways. We can either change the way that we eat, or change the way that we think.
Now more than ever, in a world where Kentucky Fried Chicken offer an Original Recipe fingerlickin vegan burger, changing the way that we eat is becoming an increasingly appealing option. So just how many people take the long road and become vegan?
Well, the truth is that the stats are a little tricky - they vary country to country and depending on the method used to collect the data. So, best taken with a pinch of salt.
Despite these issues, the data does seem to suggest one thing - veganism is on the rise! In the UK alone, the number of vegans rose from 150,000 in 2014 and to an impressive 600,000 in 2019. In fact, veganism was so successful across 2019, that it was named the “Year of Vegan”.
And, the evidence seems to suggest that the figures have continued to rise, even throughout the hardships of 2020 and more recently in 2021. Veganuary, for example, reached a new record this year with over half a million sign-ups!
While this is promising, we also know that as a substitute of actual change, people can convince themselves and others that they avoid the consumption of animal products, even if not a true reflection of their reality. Perceived, as opposed to actual behavioural change, is another common strategy for reducing dissonance.
Perceived behavioural change, as a motivated cognition for reducing dissonance has been documented in an experimental study by Hank Rothgerber. In this study, half of the participants were informed that they would shortly watch a documentary about meat production from the organisation PETA, while the other half were not. All participants then completed a questionnaire, assessing their meat consumption. Women, and those who believed that animals share similar emotions to humans reported eating less meat in the experimental condition, than those in the control. This was the first experimental evidence to suggest that when faced with the meat-paradox, people may downplay their consumption of meat to mitigate feelings of dissonance.
And there are those who take it one step further. Research shows that even those who identify as being vegetarian continue to eat at least some meat. For example, a survey of over 13,000 Americans found that 66% of self-identified vegetarians admitted to having eaten some animal flesh in the last 24 hours. Nick Cooney, author of Veganomics, argues that this figure could even be as high as 90%!
But, all is not lost. It seems that the meat-eating vegetarians amongst us, do eat less meat than the average person, approximately 25% less. So perhaps, vegetarianism (maybe even veganism) is their end goal, and a gradual reduction their means to such end.
Certainly, the reductions that we see in meat-eating vegetarian are keeping with the reduction hierarchy, which posits that planned reductions tend to follow a pattern of hierarchical exclusions. As is typically seen in this hierarchy, meat-eating vegetarians tend to prioritise the reduction of red meat first. Chicken and fish are the last to be removed, with as many as 80% meat-eating vegetarians still consuming fish.
Importantly, reduction alone can be powerful. That's because each individual meal has huge potential for motivating change. Consider the issue of water scarcity. Currently data suggests that between 3.5-4 billion people suffer from water scarcity. Often the focus of our discussions on water waste are around household uses, for example the number of times we flush the toilet or how long we take in the shower for. But, research shows that we should worry about the meat on our plate far more than the number of showers we take.
Livestock production is a highly inefficient use of water, it is an industry that consumes approximately 27% of the Earth’s fresh water resources. Because the consumption of meat has such a seismic impact on our fresh water supplies, even small changes to our diet, like eating one meat-free day a week, can have a measurable counter effect. Simply by replacing meat-based meals with vegetarian alternatives for one day, each person can help to conserve 589 litres of water. That's a whopping 98 toilet flushes!
What's more, it is said to be the reducitarians amongst us who are tipping the market, providing a demand for veggie and vegan alternatives to animal derived products. In 2018, the vegan food market was estimated to have a value of $12.7 billion. Statisticians predict that this figure we will grow to a staggering $24.6 billion by 2025! The booming success of the plant-based meat market suggests that we are transitioning to a more vegan world.