Jo is a social psychologist with a decade of research experience, with scientific journals and publications covering a huge range of topics from retention in the reserve force to how much consumers will pay for clean meat.
She’s been with Faunalytics since 2017, a little over four years, and this discussion explores her work and newest report: “Going Vegan or Vegetarian: Many Paths to One Goal.”
Ana Bradley: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Sentient Media Podcast, where we meet the people who are changing the way we think about and interact with animals and our own world.
Today, we’re with Jo Anderson, the research director at Faunalytics. Faunalytics’ mission is to empower animal advocates with access to research analysis strategies, and the right kind of messaging to help them build campaigns to make them more likely to succeed and have a bigger impact. I personally fell in love with Faunalytics as soon as I discovered them. And I use their research often and their reports to help inform the decision we’re making at Sentient Media, and also to help us in grant applications. So big thanks to Jo. So a bit about Jo. Jo is a social psychologist with a decade of research experience with scientific journals and publications, covering a really interesting and broad range of topics, from retention in the reserve forces to how much consumers would pay for things like clean meat. Jo has a long-standing interest in animal advocacy, environmentalism, and the use of empirical evidence for social change. She holds a BSc in psychology from the University of Toronto, a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Waterloo, and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell in judgment and decision making. Another interesting thing that I noticed in your background was that you were also a defense scientist at the Department of National Defence, which I’m intrigued to hear more about.
Jo has been with Faunalytics since 2017. So a little over four years. And today, we’re going to talk about her previous work, and about a new report that Faunalytics have just released called “Going Vegan or Vegetarian: Many Paths to One Goal.” So Hi, Jo, thank you so much for being here today. And for all the work that you’ve done.
Jo Anderson: Thank you so much for having me. And for that lovely review of my CV. Pretty exciting to hear all that. It’s really great to be here and talking to you.
Ana: So glad to have you. And you know, you have a really impressive and varied background of things that you’ve been working on. So I wanted to start just by unpacking a little bit about what you do. As I understand it, you are focused on empirical evidence for social change. So I was wondering if you could elaborate on what that means.
So these days, of course, I am working for social change for animals trying to change the way society views animals, their use, their exploitation, to hopefully eliminate those things eventually. And part of studying social change is understanding that that is going to be and has been a slow process. But the empirical evidence part of that is looking as systematically as we can, at what has been done, what can be done, and using science and systematic review, to get as much information as possible about which of those approaches we’re using are most effective, promoting the most social change, making the most difference for animals, moving attitudes and behaviors in the right direction. So rather than relying on intuitions about what seems should work, doing it in a more systematic way to get evidence about it.
And what’s the difference? Like because empirical evidence is slightly different. Could you tell me a little bit more about what it means?
Generally speaking, it means observable data. That is really general though because observable data could be, you know, talking to your mom and your friends about veganism and seeing how they react. Usually, when we say empirical evidence, we mean that systematic scientific process of rather than talking to your mom and your friends, conducting a study with a randomly selected sample of a population, and pulling numbers from that, or using an experimental method or randomized control trial to give some people one message and other people a different message and see whether there’s a statistically significant difference between them. But honestly, empirical evidence is a really broad category and encompasses things like interviews, focus groups, as well, and the kind of rich, you know, talking style data that you can get from those things just looked at in a rigorous scientific way.
That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for clarifying that. So you’ve been a part of or involved in or created a huge variety of different studies looking at the list of journals. It’s so broad, and I was just really curious to hear about if you have a favorite study that you’ve conducted.
And so you gave me some of these questions in advance to think about and that one was definitely one where I had to put some thought into it. Because my honest answer, and I think probably the answer of a lot of scientists, is always the next study is always my favorite, the one that’s in the works right now that we’re working on that I’m excited to see the data for. But I didn’t want to dodge the question that way. So looking back over the ones that I’ve done in the past, I think my personal favorite is one from a couple of years ago, finished up just prior to the pandemic called “Reduce or Go Veg,” where we randomly assigned people to watch a video that had more reduction style messaging, versus vegetarian style messaging, and then looked at whether they would take a pledge to reduce or go veg. And after that pledge, whether they then went and ordered a meatless meal from a cafe that we have partnered with. And as a social psychologist, experimental designs are kind of our bread and vegan butter. So having that kind of methodology, and the different elements that went into it, looking at the pledges looking at the percentage of meatless meals. I really liked that study.
So what was the outcome?
Jo: The takeaway result was that people in the reduction condition were marginally more likely to order a meatless meal. After watching that video and taking that pledge, than people in the vegetarian condition. And the part that makes it particularly useful and interesting to me, is looking at the rates of signing the pledge. So in the reduction condition, we saw 60 percent of people were willing to take that pledge to reduce to some extent their meat consumption, whereas only 15 percent of people were willing to take the vegetarian pledge. And so this comes to something that I think people tend to forget about when we’re looking at any research around advocacy, that it’s not just important to look at how things go after we’ve talked to people once you know, once I’m having a conversation with you, and say, best-case scenario, you go vegan, do you stay vegan? That’s really important. But it’s also really important to know how many people are just going to turn away in the first place if you approach them with a vegan message, versus a vegetarian or reduction message. And so this study suggests that even though people who were actually willing to sign the vegetarian pledge, were a little more likely to order a meatless meal afterward, as you would you would hope. But it didn’t outweigh the fact that there were so few people who were willing to do it in the first place. Getting a reduction commitment from more people was more impactful overall than getting that vegetarian one.
Ana: Interesting, it’s fascinating. I wonder, have you looked more long term, those results like those the those the messaging that they received, translate over a period of months, or weeks.
Jo: So we haven’t in that study, but there is a recent one that I could point you to by a group of researchers, including Sparkman, Caldwell et al. called “Reduce versus Eliminate,” but the same idea over time, and they also found support for reduction messaging over a longer period of time, I think it might have been three months or six months. But yes, so not us personally. But there is starting to be evidence of that sort.
Ana: That’s really interesting. We’ve had a study running on our website for a few months now, which basically asks people a question at the beginning, before they read a long explainer article about industrial agriculture, to see what their perceptions are, and if they change, so you ask them a question at the beginning and a question at the end. And it’s too early to tell, you know, what the results are going to be at this point. But it does seem to be pointing towards the after people after people have consumed this piece of content, they are considering the suffering of humans, and more so the suffering of animals. So, I love these studies, which are exploring how media consumption like whether it’s video, an article, a tweet, how that kind of stuff impacts and influences how people change their behaviors.
Jo: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think maybe this is something we’ll talk about more. But I think that there’s a lot of thought put into how to persuade people of something in a really targeted way and not enough thought given to the social change that occurs the, you know, the culture, the Zeitgeist, whatever you want to call it, changing in a more pro-animal direction and every piece of media plays into that. It’s just producing this overall perception of animals being important and having rights, having a need for better welfare. All of that adds up.
Ana: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. It’s almost like a kind of, like a type of osmosis. Like just having it happening and kind of permeating people’s, you know, minds in this way. Just having it in the ether is so incredibly important. I mean, you know, that’s what we believe at Sentient Media. So I’m curious about you and your journey into animal protection and plant-based eating, what made you interested in this space?
Jo: Great question. So growing up as a kid, my mom was vegetarian, since before I was born, since the 70s, I think. And so I had it around me a little bit, which I think plays into what I was just saying about kind of the culture around you, even if it’s just your immediate family. You know, it was on my mind more than the average kid. I ate meat until I was in undergrad school, so 19 or so. And at that point went vegetarian. I watched “Meet Your Meat,” which I believe is a PETA video. So it’s another example of media being kind of the driving factor. It’s not a single factor, but it was the one that flipped the switch for me to vegetarian. And my vegan journey didn’t start until about 2016. So five years ago, and that was when I started volunteering with Faunalytics. So I had completed my graduate studies and done a few years working for the government, as you mentioned, Department of Defence in Canada. And yeah, I started volunteering with Faunalytics and eventually got hired on as the research director. And again, it’s just so many pieces of evidence from my own life of the importance of culture and your social surroundings. The fact that I was vegetarian for many years, and just didn’t think a whole lot, you know, deliberately, didn’t think a whole lot about the impact of dairy and eggs. And it wasn’t until I was surrounded by vegans, and just the ideas of animal advocacy constantly, that I really had to inspect those beliefs that I had about it being okay to eat eggs and dairy. And at that point, I had a slow transition from vegetarian to vegan. My vegetarian one was overnight. I didn’t have that much difficulty with it. For whatever reason, I guess I really liked eggs. It was much more of a gradual transition from vegetarian to vegan.
Ana: Interesting, that’s really interesting to hear about. And I, as somebody who’s about five years in animal protection now? So you’re not exactly new, but you haven’t been in it for, you know, decades. So I’m curious like, because like you said, you’ve been working in the government and other spaces as well. Have you noticed any differences between how the animal protection space operates, versus other industries you’ve been working in?
Jo: Well, we have a lot less money. Apart from that, I would say, there are more similarities than differences from what I’ve observed, that the same things are needed to make sure that people are well treated, that there isn’t discrimination in organizations or across the movement, those things are all pretty constant, where there might be a little bit of a difference is the amount of passion and morality driven work that we see. As you can imagine, in the average workplace, you don’t find that many people who are doing what they do on moral grounds. And it makes a really interesting and difficult path to walk when the advocacy choices that you’re making are determined by more than one thing. And by that, I mean in business. The bottom line is the bottom line, whatever gets you the best outcome is what you should do. But for someone who wants to be a vegan advocate in particular, you know, Faunalytics advocates being as effective as possible finding the most effective solution. And sometimes that means accepting that people are going to only reduce or they’re going to start by reducing on their path toward veganism, and they might be reducing for a really long time, but still, eating meat eating dairy, dairy, eating eggs. And it’s difficult for a lot of people to reconcile the fact that that might be more successful that might produce more reduction, fewer harms to animals, but that it doesn’t align with their own moral views. So that’s constantly a balance that we have to walk and figure out how we’re going to cope with that as individuals and as a movement.
Ana: That’s a really interesting observation. And I hadn’t thought about it like that before, in the sense of people working in this space for moral reasons. And a lot of people come into their paid roles in animal protection through volunteering, myself included. So that is really interesting. And I think it also ties to the fact that one thing that I’ve noticed is that the animal protection people like the advocates who have been in this space for years and years, do operate in a different kind of bubble to other industries like I was working in tech before, and obviously, that’s got its own bubble as well. But it’s a different kind of bubble. And I think that you’ve just kind of explained to me why, it’s because of this moral reason like that these people are here for something that’s so close to their heart and the core of who they are as a person that they don’t want to compromise on, you know, on these moral grounds. They don’t want to say, well, reducing is okay. I’ve been a protest as recently as the last, you know, year or so, well, no, probably longer than that, because of COVID. Everything’s merged into one – probably two years ago, where people are still shouting “shame on you,” you know, to people coming out of McDonald’s and things like that. And I wonder, is there anything that you’ve learned, or any findings that you would present to advocates who want to kind of jump out of this bubble that a lot of animal protection, people are stuck in to reach these wider audiences and talk to people who are reducing or who are just interested in, in animals?
Jo: Yeah, I mean, that’s the reason for a lot of our work is trying to get outside of that bubble trying to get at the general population, quote, unquote. So not the people that are easy to approach, especially online, especially with COVID. But in general, more and more of life is online now than in the past. And especially if you’re a smaller organization, without a lot of budget, it’s much easier to do Facebook ads or Google ads, than it is to get out and do something physical in the world. And the issue with that is, we all have some sense of what the Google algorithm or the Facebook algorithm is like. And the fact is that it perpetuates these bubbles, it keeps you looking at content from people who are similar to you. And thinking about, you know, similar issues as you are already. So it makes it much harder for us to put information or support tools in front of people who are more different from us, the people who are most likely to need those things in front of them in order to start thinking about animal issues. So part of what I would say is to go as physical as possible with the supports that you’re offering, or with the educational tools that you’re offering. Whether that is literally physical, like getting out into the world and campaigning that way, or billboards or whatever. If the goal is to find people that aren’t already kind of bought into the ideas that we hold, then you need to get a little further from our usual audiences. And the other big part of it is just the idea of making it easier to go vegan or to reduce or go vegetarian on the way to going vegan to create support tools that are not about persuasion, because one thing that I keep thinking about keeps coming up one way or another in research, is the idea that most of these ideas of animal welfare and health and environmental benefits to going vegan are not new to people in the U.S. and Canada, or in the UK. We’ve been around talking about these things for a long time. And the research is showing that a lot of it’s not new to people, it’s more that they are not thinking about it most of the time. And until things become easier for them, they’re probably not going to take those steps to, you know, go fully vegan to go vegetarian. And so putting tools in place that are not about trying to change their minds, persuade them but are more just about supporting them, making it easy, making it enjoyable to eat plant-based meals, for instance. You know, having more vegan options, having the ability to find them easily. Making things that are delicious, are all really important and I think more likely to bring people on board than just doubling down on persuading people.
Ana: Yeah, I think that’s really good advice. I mean, if there’s anything that I’ve learned, in particular looking at Faunalytics studies, and other work in the movement is that there’s definitely no, you know, silver bullet in terms of encouraging large groups of people to go plant-based. I’m very much into numbers, and I’m very much into data. So that’s probably another reason why I’m particularly a big fan of you and your work. But I like I’m not a hyper-emotional person. I mean, I’m sure that some friends would disagree. But I’m much more driven by facts and reporting, and that kind of storytelling, but traditionally, a lot of people are driven by their emotions, and perhaps by, you know, seeing upsetting content and things like that, appealing to people’s hearts, over their minds than trying to persuade people rationally, for example, to go vegan or vegetarian. So much of your work is on behavioral norms and on social behavior. And I was wondering what you think, based on your research on your experience, what you think about presenting the facts over appealing to people’s emotions?
Jo: I think, yeah, there’s no silver bullet, and one thing is not going to work for everybody. And facts are much more appealing to some people, emotions are much more likely to work with others, I believe, on average, probably the emotional content is more likely to work. But averages are so far from the whole story that I’m hesitant to dig into that too much. Because some people will be persuaded, like myself watching “Meet Your Meat”. But other people will just shrug it off, it just isn’t part of their makeup, but that affects them. So I really don’t think that it’s a case of using one or the other. It’s a case of keeping both the facts and the emotional content part of the culture that we’re in making them more of the conversation. And like I said, really focusing less on the reasons to go vegan, whether they’re factual or emotional and more on how to do it, and how to enjoy it, how for it to be a positive process that people can engage with, because they want to and they know it’s the right thing, as opposed to because they feel like they should or they have to, and it’s a sacrifice, really framing it in that positive way and making it something good for everyone.
Ana: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And I’m curious as well, like, again, based on all of your work, and like the work that you’ve done on a correct me if I’m wrong, but you did work on retention in the armed forces. So I’m curious about like this relationship, or potential relationship between retention in the armed forces and retention of say, vegans or vegetarians. Have you spotted any kind of trends throughout your career that could apply across movements?
Jo: That is really interesting. I can’t say I’ve ever had that question before. One of the things with any sort of retention that comes up again, and again, is social environment. Humans, like many animals are very social creatures, and the people around us matter so much. So with my work on the Canadian Armed Forces, there was definitely a very strong effect of the cohesion of the unit that someone was in, for instance, how much support they felt from their peers, essentially. And that is very parallel to what we’ve found in the past. And, and promote the idea of having a vegan network or a network of other people who have the same goals as you do have the same ideals as you a case of the bubble, but in a positive way. Surrounding yourself by people who support you and share your values is hugely important for going vegan. And just, you know, maintaining it when things are difficult, because no change that is that drastic, whether it is diet change or behavioral change, lifestyle change, no change like that is going to be smooth sailing the whole way. There’s going to be times when it’s difficult for one reason or another. And that’s why that social support is so key because it provides a buffer against just giving up at that time.
Ana: Yeah, it’s like finding your tribe, essentially. That’s really interesting. In my personal experience, I was the only vegetarian growing up, and I had maybe like one or two veg friends. And then I actively, like removed myself from vegan or vegetarian people. And I was always like the only one until I started at Sentient Media, where like, everyone is vegan or vegetarian. And now I’m kind of going too far the other way, where I’m only really speaking to vegans and vegetarians. So it’s an interesting balance, like, how do you make sure that you’re, you know, yes, you’ve got to have your tribe and the people who helped validate you and your emotions, and you know, the way that you’re eating, but you’ve also got to be able to make sure that you’re communicating with the wider world.
Jo: Absolutely Yeah, it’s so tricky, just trying to find that balance. And remember the time before you were vegan, and still relate to the people that you’re trying to convince, because if you can’t relate to them, and you’re just seeing them as completely other or foreign you’re gonna have a much harder time communicating with them in a positive way that they’re gonna listen to.
Ana: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Okay, so I definitely want to get into your, your latest study. So it’s called “Going Vegan or Vegetarian: Many Paths to One Goal. And to me reading through it, it seems like it’s specifically seeking those outside, the animal advocacy bubble to find out who’s going vegan or vegetarian, and why. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about the study, what you set out to discover and how you went about it?
Jo: Yes, absolutely. So the study focuses on people who have just recently started transitioning to vegan or vegetarian. So people who have decided within the past two months to make that change, whether it’s overnight or a slower process, we allowed both in there. And yes, it was a general population sample, meaning, not people who had signed up for advocacy campaigns of any sort. A few of them had, but that’s not how we found them. As participants, we did a very widespread recruitment campaign to try and get people from all different sources. So that they would be as representative of the U.S. population as possible, rather than people who are motivated to sign up for a campaign, because kind of like I mentioned before, with the Reduce study that we did, it’s so important to separate the idea of success after you’ve already got them engaged, versus them being willing to engage in the first place. So that’s why we went with that general population sample, getting a sense of kind of what’s happening in the wild, so to speak, with people deciding to try and make that transition.
Ana: Nice. And so I guess at this point, it might be a good idea to define what you were meaning when you’re looking at vegans or vegetarians.
Jo: Yeah, so we advertised it just like that, essentially, are you thinking of going vegan or vegetarian? Are you already doing it? And we defined it in terms of diet but allowed for flexibility because there has been quite a lot of research showing that there’s a big difference sometimes between how people self describe saying that they’re vegan, saying that they’re vegetarian, and their actual animal product consumption. So a lot of the time our inclination as advocates and researchers is to say, if you say you’re vegetarian, but you’re reporting that you eat meat, obviously, you’re not really vegetarian. And therefore you’re not part of this study. You know, the judgment call on whether you’re going to say you’re not really vegetarian, you’re not really vegan, that’s not really part of what I’m thinking about. What I’m thinking about is, we don’t want to exclude people from research on those grounds, we want to understand more about it. We want to know why people are defining in a certain way, but then still eating some eggs or dairy or meat. And so what we did here was we asked both whether they considered the diet they were aiming for to be vegan or vegetarian, and also what they planned on eating on it. And then if there was a discrepancy between what we would think of as the definition of vegan and what they’re saying, we asked them to explain it, justify it. And essentially, just let us know what’s going on there. And the example that comes to mind for me is one person who described themselves as going vegan but said that they have backyard chickens that they had rescued who are members of their family and are not going anywhere, they’re certainly not going to be slaughtered, and they produce eggs. So rather than throwing out the eggs, they eat the eggs, but in their mind, there’s no reason not to consider that vegan. So for the sake of our study, we also considered it vegan because that’s how they self-define. But there isn’t that really strict definition that you see in a lot of previous work of essentially saying, No, you’re not vegan, you’re vegetarian because of those eggs.
Ana: So interesting. Yeah. So again, it is that kind of inclusivity and inclusive approach, letting people who are outside of the animal protection space be a part of it in some way.
Exactly. And also looking at it in terms of, as I’ve described it, a transition to vegetarian or vegan for many people, that we didn’t consider it a failure if they said that they were transitioning to veganism, but they were still eating some animal products. That’s part of the process that they had set out for themselves, and they’re on their way, you can see it in the declines. But they’re not there yet.
That makes a lot of sense. And so you’re looking here at the new vegans and vegetarians as it were. So could you tell me a little bit about who these people are? Like, what’s the kind of breakdown demographically speaking?
Yeah, so, um, we found that most people were white, that most people were female. By most I mean, the majority not, you know, almost all of them by any means. And that most were younger, under 35. And that’s similar to what we’ve seen in previous research. But I should caveat it with the fact that although we did our best to be as representative as we could be with the sampling, I am sitting here as someone who can basically be described by those characteristics that I just mentioned. So the chances of me finding more of those people than there are in the population is relatively high. So I don’t want to pretend that our sample is exactly representative of the population, there may very well be larger groups of older people or Black vegans, Black vegetarians, other groups that are underrepresented in the sample. But for the most part, that’s the pattern that we saw.
I think that the second-biggest demographic I’ve got here with 7 percent was Black people. I’ve been reading over the last year or so that there’s been a big increase in Black people becoming vegan or vegetarian. Do you think that that’s the case? Or do you think we just haven’t been capturing it as a largely white movement?
What I understand from Black vegans that I’ve spoken to and groups like AfroVegan Society, is that they are seeing an increase that part of that may be that we’re capturing it better than those of us who are out here as white researchers are trying to do better, I hope I am. But also that I think that there is a real difference occurring, as told to me by people who are more surrounded by those communities than I am personally.
Cool. And based on the findings as well, comparing to or built on a study you did in 2014, a study of vegans and vegetarians, this study seems to suggest that choosing veganism over vegetarianism appears to be more common than it used to be. Could you elaborate on that and explain if you have any understanding as to why that might possibly be?
Jo: Yes, I did think that that was really interesting. So in the 2014 study that we did we found that there were three times as many vegan or sorry, three times as many vegetarians as vegans. Whereas in this current one, 2020, when the data came in, it was about one and a half times as many, so much less of a difference. Put it another way, 40 percent of the people in the study were going vegan and the rest were going vegetarian. And there are methodological differences between the two studies. So there are some, you know, boring sciency reasons that that might be the case. But I personally believe that it is only partially that, and partially a change in the visibility of veganism in the world, partially through things like the Veganuary, gaining a lot of traction and mainstream media, and a lot of people trying it in the UK in particular. And you can see it in other types of research as well. For instance, things looking at Google searches for just the word vegan or vegetarian, you can see that the vegetarian trend line has been pretty flat for a long time, whereas searches for veganism have skyrocketed over the last number of years. So I do think that veganism has become something that people are aware of that people know that it’s actually occurring in the world. But it’s not just some extremely niche trend that’s happening for a few people.
Ana: Yeah, for sure. That’s really interesting. Do you know what the statistics look like in terms of how many vegans or vegetarians there are globally?
Jo: No, I don’t. Even for the U.S., it is so hard to get data on this, especially after the pandemic, I was thinking about this before our call. And I actually don’t know of any polling that has been done since COVID, to update the stats that we had from a couple of years ago. So it’s so hard to answer this question even for one country. For instance, I can say in the U.S., the number of vegans is probably somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the population. And the number of vegetarians is maybe about twice that. So say two to six, two to eight, something in that vicinity. But those are pretty wide margins that I’m talking about. And it’s because we haven’t had a really strong consistent set of studies that’s happened on these things over time. So we have a whole bunch of different studies estimating it with slightly different questions. Like you asked about how we defined vegan or vegetarian, different polling will ask the question a little bit differently, and it can really affect the results that you get. So I don’t have a great answer to that. But suffice to say, under one in ten, in the U.S., are probably vegan or vegetarian.
Ana: Cool. So I mean, I think I’m probably gonna know the answer to this question. But do you have any understanding of if that’s changed at all? Or if it’s basically kind of flatlining?
Jo: Hard to say? I hate saying that in interviews, but it is hard to say. What is easier to say, than whether the number of vegans or vegetarians is changing, is whether the amount of plant-based eating is changing. And that is a definite yes, we see that the number of people who are reducing whether they think of themselves as reducetarian, or semi-vegetarian or any of those terms, or just say that they think about and reduce how much meat they eat from the past, between about 25 and 40 percent of the population are in that category. And that’s self-reported information, obviously. But you can also look at plant-based food sales and see that they have gone up dramatically in the last few years, particularly during the early days of the pandemic, it seemed like a lot of people were using that as a chance to try out plant-based eating. So no single piece of information from this is perfect. But overall, yes, we are gaining ground, whether it’s the number of you know, pure vegans versus other types of reduction. Harder to say if it’s both, but definitely things are moving in the right direction.
Ana: Thinking about supermarkets, for example, just my local supermarket we go to, started the pandemic with, you know, the usual corner where there’s some tofu and vegan products. And now, it’s like the whole aisle is just vegan products. So over the course of like, you know, 18 months or whatever, it’s just grown and grown and grown, which is really nice to see. I have also been looking at studies that show that meat consumption is on the rise as well, globally. So yeah, it’s like yeah, we are succeeding, but there’s still some work to be done, right?
Jo: Yes, there certainly is, and globally is very different from just looking at the U.S. or U.K or Canada. It’s hard to think globally, that’s why a lot of advocates do focus on one region. But just the way within a culture, you have to look at all of the individuals to make progress for animals at a global scale, we have to look at how countries influence one another, and whether progress in western countries may influence Eastern countries, for instance, or vice versa. So it’s a really big and really complicated question.
Ana: I was just thinking, you mentioned before about the role of family, and finding your tribe or the people who you’re surrounded by whether you’re, in the Army or new vegan, I was wondering if you had any other highlights of key factors or key blockers for new vegans or vegetarians?
Jo: So I should say that the main analysis where we’re going to get into barriers and supports for new vegans and vegetarians, is not this report, it will be a future one. So for now, we’ve just looked at a few factors that are a little bit more about demographics, and kind of your personal circumstances. And what I’d actually rather highlight if it’s alright with you is the fact that there was not a difference in terms of how gradually people were transitioning for whether they quit or not. And there was no difference in terms of the method that they use if they were reducing. So people who reduced gradually, kind of obviously, tended to be a little further from their goals throughout the course of the study, because they didn’t just go vegan overnight, for instance, that part makes sense, they also tended to feel less successful, as a result of that, they might say that they were 80 percent successful versus someone else’s 95 percent. But they were no more likely to quit. And that’s what we really care about that over the course of the six months of the study, those people continued, they continue to reduce, move in the direction of their goal, and not abandon that goal. So that is crucially important. And also the fact that we asked about different reduction methods for those gradual transitioners. For instance, whether they’re reducing by just cutting down their total amount of animal products, like doing vegan before six, for instance, or if they were going category by category, like reducing red meat first, then chicken and fish. It didn’t seem to matter in terms of how successful they were, which of those methods they adopted. So what we suggest out of that is, rather than focusing on the fact that everyone’s different, and it can seem overwhelming, it means that as advocates, we have the ability to tailor our messaging and our strategies to the people that we’re talking to, to help each individual think about their own lifestyle, and what will work for them, and commit to a specific but tailored goal. So, you know, if it seems really difficult to this particular person to give up ice cream, because they love it, well, then maybe they leave dairy for last and they start cutting out other things first, something that will help them ease into it in a way that is really very specific to them.
Ana: Yeah, it’s almost like anything that you do will work. That’s really cool. And great to hear. And absolutely, there are as many different preferences and ways into veganism as there are people. So I think that makes a lot of sense that that would be the outcome. You mentioned that this is part of a longer study or a series of I can’t remember if it’s three or more studies, but would you like to elaborate on what your next steps are and what your plan is?
Jo: Absolutely. So it is, it was one study in terms of data collection. But we collected data from over 200 people for six months, they did up to seven surveys over that time period. So as you can imagine, we have a lot of data to analyze. And so what we’ve done is split the one study into three reports. So the first one talks about overall success rates, felt success, consumption, success, all of that. And some of those personal characteristics, demographic factors, how they transitioned all of those things, but the subsequent reports will focus on some of the really exciting things like the supports and barriers that people have, whether that’s social support, the cost of vegan products, accessibility of those products, looking at how those play into success rates and felt success and coupled with that, my favorite part that I’m really looking forward to, like I said, my favorite study is always the next one. But I think the part that will be most useful to advocates and most interesting is looking at strategies that they’ve used to try and overcome some of those barriers. So we asked people, whether they had done anything, for instance, to look for lower-cost food options, to seek out new recipes, to find new restaurants that have vegan options for them. So those are all kind of in the like, accessibility cost category. But then we also had strategies pertaining to finding new social supports, reducing cravings, pretty much everything across the board that could be potentially useful. And so in that report, we will look at which of those strategies predict success, how they can be used to overcome barriers, and really provide information, we hope that will help advocates create tools for people to get past those barriers that they experience. So I think that’ll be pretty exciting.
Ana: That’s really exciting. Will we expect them to see these in the next year or so?
Jo: Yeah, for sure. The next one will be in the next few months, and then a few months following that. So by the end of 2021, I hope both of them will be either out or very nearly.
Ana: That’s awesome. I’m really looking forward to those. So I mean, selfishly, I’d like to speak a little bit about the media. So you know, 100 percent of the work that we do at Sentient Media centers around creating better visibility or more visibility around the use of animals by humans. So whether it’s, you know, making sure our movement’s messages are on the first page of Google or empowering advocates, and training people how to write with the Writers’ Collective, and getting articles placed in, mainstream or local outlets. I thoroughly believe, and we can see the results of the people that, we’re reaching with this work that more visibility, making sure we’re creating a variety, and allowing space for a variety of voices and opinions is key in influencing and changing behavior. We did touch on this at the beginning, but I was curious to see or to hear if you have any insight into how media influences behavioral change, because, at least in my experience, it’s been incredibly difficult to find kind of hard data or facts that show the direct impact of media on people’s behavior because of this inability to know exactly which moment or which, you know, article it is that makes people go Oh, yeah, you know, that’s like, turned the switch for them.
Jo: Exactly. And because I think for most people, it’s probably not one thing that just flips the switch, it’s the accumulation of all of it, like we’ve been talking about that it creates this perception that the world is becoming a more animal-friendly place, and you need to get on board. So yes, I absolutely agree with you that that media is hugely important. And the more the better, the more diverse the better, the more outlets and countries. Getting it out there and in front of people is hugely important. But like you said, that makes it very difficult to study. Because you know, any one article, even if you show that that article was very impactful, it’s not operating in a vacuum, there are always more things. And so it’s very hard to know from looking at the impact of one article whether that particular article is needed versus anything on this topic, gradually increasing awareness. One thing I can say is that we’re running a study right now, looking at the relative effectiveness of different advocacy strategies, with media among them. So including news articles, and including documentaries, as well as a few others that are kind of tangentially media related. And the goal there is partially just to get people to tell us, have you seen animal advocacy content, essentially content about farmed animal welfare, or suffering in any of these venues in the last five years, and that way, we can get more of a holistic sense of whether people are not just experiencing but remembering these things, and if they’ve had an impact. So rather than looking at it on a case by case basis with one documentary, or one particular news article, trying to get that cumulative package of impact on people, so that’ll be coming out sometime in the next six months or so.
Ana: Amazing. Yeah, we’ll definitely have to connect about that once it’s out. One more question for you is, if money wasn’t an issue and if you could create any study you wanted in the world right now, like what study hasn’t been made yet that you would like to do?
Jo: It’s such a huge question. If we’re talking in terms of studies that are actually possible to do, rather than trying to, you know, assign things at a country level, say I want this legislation to be passed so that we can see what impact it has, that would be my ideal fantasy world version. In the real world, I think it would be something looking at the not just the first-order effects, like the direct effects of advocacy on people and throw in over time, because you know, we have all the money in the world. So looking at the direct effects of different advocacy methods and styles in an experimental way, over time, but then beyond that, also looking at the second-order effects. So not just those people being influenced directly, but the idea that some of those people will not just reduce or go vegan, but will become advocates themselves and have a ripple effect on the world. So if we can look at that as well. I think that would, that would be the closest we could get to something that really comes close to understanding social change at a higher level, which by its very nature is just incredibly complicated, the tangled web of social interactions, but getting at those social connections and how people impact one another. I think that’s probably what would be my go-to, because it’s so hard to study that it hasn’t really been done.
Ana: Nice. That sounds really cool. Let me know when you raise the millions to do that one. And finally, what would you like to leave our listeners or viewers with? Of course, you know, subscribing to the newsletter, having a look at your website, and finding your studies on there. But how else can our community get involved in support what you all are doing at Faunalytics?
Jo: The best way you can support us is by using the work that we produce, we make it for advocates to use everything on our site is available free, there’s no login required, you can, like you mentioned, if you would like to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates on research that’s coming out. But we also obviously really appreciate donations and other forms of support. So you can go to faunalytics.org/support, to find out how to do all those different things, whether it’s volunteering, buying some merch from our shop that’s opening next week. Really, any form of support is hugely helpful. And we just hope that you will use our work and use our resources to do what you can for animals.
Ana: That’s awesome. I didn’t know you had a shop opening that’s very exciting, some Faunalytics merch! So in summation, for those who are perhaps at the start of their plant-based journey. I think this study shows that every single step, no matter how small, is really important. You have to accept that life gets in the way sometimes, I think that came across quite clearly in your study, and reducing your portions of animal-based products is a huge success. Right?
Jo: Exactly. Yep. Keep making those steps. And eventually, you’ll get there. And it all makes a difference along the way.
Ana: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time today, Jo for all the work you do, and I can’t wait to see more.
Ana is the Executive Director at Sentient Media. Her background is in content production and startup consultancy.