1.1. The Case against Animal Products
Global animal agriculture is a substantial contributor to environmental degradation, human health problems and animal suffering. First, animal agriculture exacerbates a number of serious environmental issues. According to recent comprehensive environmental analyses, rearing animals for food is a major cause of eutrophication, acidification, freshwater withdrawal, deforestation and climate change [1
]. It is estimated that 14.5% of anthropic greenhouse gas emissions are associated with animal agriculture [3
]. Additionally, due to the demand put on land for rearing animals or growing their feed, animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of deforestation in the Amazon [4
]. The implications of these emissions and land use for climate change are dire. The inefficiency of converting plant calories to animal calories means that animal rearing is resource-intensive, and this contributes to global food insecurity [5
]. This is especially concerning given that demand for animal products is forecast to increase dramatically as the global population grows and becomes more affluent [7
In addition to environmental concerns, many have ethical objections to using animals for food [8
]. In particular, a drive for economic efficiency has led to increasingly inhumane conditions for farmed animals over the last number of decades [9
]. It is estimated that globally, over 90% of farmed animals live their lives on factory farms [10
] where they are kept in cages, routinely mutilated without painkillers, and painfully slaughtered [11
]. This represents billions of animals every year [10
]. If we take this suffering seriously, the sheer scale and intensity surely means that today’s animal agriculture represents one of the largest moral failings of our time.
There are also concerns around the effect of excessive animal product consumption on human health, though the evidence here is less clear due to the difficulty of studying the health effects of different diets [2
]. Nonetheless, there are several epidemiological studies which show a correlation between animal product consumption and various health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and overall mortality [12
]. This has led to the view that a substantial reduction in animal product consumption is necessary for a global shift towards healthier diets [2
There are good arguments for individuals to move towards vegetarianism or veganism for ethical, environmental and health reasons. Indeed, some data suggest that an increasing number of consumers in the UK are doing precisely that.
1.3. Motivations and Constraints
Recent research has identified the major motivations and constraints around vegetarian and vegan diets [30
]. The main motivations to move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet are animal welfare, the environment and personal health, whilst the major barriers are sensory enjoyment of animal products, convenience and financial cost [30
]. Mullee et al. [31
] found that, when asked about possible reasons for eating a more vegetarian diet, the most popular option chosen by omnivores and semivegetarians was their health. The environment and animal welfare were chosen by fewer participants, and for omnivores, these reasons ranked below ‘to discover new tastes’, ‘to reduce weight’, and ‘no reason’. This finding has been replicated elsewhere [32
] and implies that, for those not currently reducing their meat consumption, potential personal benefits are more important than environmental or ethical benefits. More specifically, consumers often recognise health benefits such as decreased saturated fat intake, increased fruit and vegetable intake and disease prevention [32
]. On the other hand, some worry about not getting enough protein or iron from a vegetarian diet [35
Interestingly, this prioritisation of health motives appears to be reversed for vegetarians and vegans. According to a survey published by Humane League Labs [36
], whilst health and nutrition reasons for reducing animal product consumption are the most commonly cited by omnivores and semivegetarians, animal welfare is the most common reason given by vegetarians and vegans. This is logical, because improving one’s health or reducing one’s environmental impact can be achieved by consuming incrementally fewer animal products; viewing animal products as the product of animal suffering and exploitation, however, is more conducive to eschewing them altogether.
In a systematic review of consumer perceptions of sustainable protein consumption, Hartmann and Siegrist [37
] found that it is common for consumers to underestimate the ecological impact of meat consumption. This has been observed in many different studies [33
] and may imply a lack of knowledge about the environmental impact of meat consumption. Alternatively, this could reflect that consumers are generally unwilling to reduce their meat consumption [40
] and are subsequently motivated to minimise their perceptions of the negative consequences of their choices [41
Indeed, such motivated reasoning appears to be evident with respect to animal welfare issues. Most people eat meat but disapprove of harming animals, a conflict that has been dubbed ‘the meat paradox’ [42
]. Rothgerber [43
] identified a number of ways in which dissonance around harming animals arises in meat-eaters, and a number of strategies which are used to reduce this dissonance. Dissonance-reducing strategies include denial of animal mind, denial of animals’ ability to feel pain and dissociating meat from its animal origin [43
]. This motivated reasoning results in a number of odd conclusions, such as lower mental capacity being ascribed to food animals compared to nonfood animals and increased denial of animal mind when one anticipates immediate meat consumption [44
One can understand the motivation to continue eating animal products; the literature has identified several considerable constraints to adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Studies have consistently found that the strongest of these is simply enjoyment of eating meat [34
]. This was by far the number one reason for not being vegetarian in a recent UK survey [47
] and was the biggest constraint for online survey respondents who indicated that they do not want to go vegetarian or vegan [36
]. Despite the many potential benefits, the taste of meat and animal products is enough of a barrier to prevent dietary change for most people.
The second most important barrier is convenience, with many consumers saying vegetarian dishes are difficult to prepare and that there is a lack of options when eating out [33
]. Humane League Labs [36
] found that a lack of options when eating out was the most common factor that people said made it difficult to eat meat-free meals, whilst Schenk, Rössel and Scholz [30
] have argued that the additional time, knowledge and effort required to buy and prepare vegetarian or vegan food is especially a barrier to those newly transitioning diets.
Finally, for some, there is a financial barrier [49
], although there is considerably less consensus on this in the literature [30
]. A UK survey found that the high cost of meat substitutes was a barrier for 58% of consumers, though this survey conducted by VoucherCodesPro [47
] may have been inclined to focus on financial considerations. Another study found that a vegetarian diet is actually cheaper than one containing meat, but that a vegan diet is most expensive of all [22
]. This may be due to the relatively high cost of plant-based milks and other specialist products.
The present study investigates UK meat-eaters’ views of various aspects of vegetarianism and veganism. Whilst the common motivators and constraints to vegetarian and vegan diets are well documented, there is a paucity of open data assessing how meat-eaters evaluate the relevant aspects of each of these diets. This study seeks to address this gap by providing quantitative evaluations of the relevant aspects of vegetarian and vegan diets. Additionally, there is currently no quantitative comparison of these factors with respect to vegetarianism versus veganism. Therefore, this study compares ratings of common motivators and barriers between vegetarian and vegan diets. Finally, little is known about how these evaluations of vegetarian and vegan diets vary amongst different demographic groups. Therefore, this study examines the overall mean ratings of each of these factors and investigates how these views vary between different demographics.