The attitude (eating) behavior model behind veganism
Behind every human decision there is a process of weighing the pro's and con's.
The arguments used are not always logical to everyone.
What you're going to have for dinner today, is
the result of a decision-making process which
is usually quick, but in the long run the
process can sometimes lead to other decisions,
f.e. to become a vegan.
What is an important emotion to one person, can be an
irrational error to another. Still, we can look at emotions
as an active factor in the decision to do something or
not. Is the choice of becoming a vegan based on a rational decision-making
process? When so many people are against animal abuse,
why aren't more people vegans? Is veganism just refraining
from using animals, or does it do the vegan himself any
good? Why do meat-eaters get so defensive so easily?
In this essay we describe people's eating habits in a continuum - a
scale - going from more, through less to no use of animals
at all. On the one side of this continuum there are selfish
considerations, such as, "meat
tastes good and is healthy and it doesn't bother me
that animals have to suffer for it". On the other
side of the continuum there are the altruistic considerations
of the vegan, who wants to make use of animals as little
as possible, not even barely or indirectly, such as some
vegetarians will sometimes allow. Many vegetarians still
drink milk, while some vegan won't have photos printed
if this is done with the animal product gelatin.
This text also appeared, somewhat modified, in the
winter of 2000 edition of the Dutch vegan magazine "Gezond Idee!".
Upon which Titus Rivas wrote "The
denial of injustice: existential anxiety as a source
of the underestimation of animal suffering".
Important and less important factors in decision-making
An important drawback for vegans is the limited number
of choices in food products. An important
benefit is a clearer conscience, but this
may also be seen as a form of selfishness.
Spiritual and health considerations may
be reasons to abstain from using animals,
but they can become defunct when someone's
convictions change. A person may be allergic
and stop eating meat. He may want to stop
eating hormones or to reduce his intake
of fats. These are innocent selfish reasons,
that do not really have anything to do with
Important factors that influence decision-making
processes in general are information,
responsibility and effectiveness. People
who don't know what goes on in the food
industry and the animal
abuse that comes with it, won't be as
much inclined to skip meat from their diet.
So you have to know and understand how your
food is being produced, and you also have
to know that it can be done differently.
If you think this is the only way food is
produced, or that meat is indispensable to your health, you will not be so quick
to search for alternatives.
Role models can play an important role
too. Famous musicians can convince their
audience by the beauty of their songtexts.
You must also feel responsible for the effect your eating behavior has on animal suffering.
If you do not feel this, maybe you do see the negative
effects, but don't adapt your eating pattern.
Something similar holds true for the effectiveness of
your own behavior. "What can I do about it, and
would my contribution make a difference?" are some
of the questions people ask themselves. The massiveness
of the meat-culture has a negative effect on the measure
of influence individuals think they have of changing
Besides the usual weighing of pros and cons of certain
eating-behavior, the environment plays a part in the
form of the social norm. This part becomes even clearer
when a person comes out and says he's a vegan or a vegetarian.
People can react affirmatively or aggressively. This
attack from the environment does not necessarily mean
that people don't agree with the vegan. It may mean
that people subconsciously realize they are at fault,
and to mask this, people go
into the offensive. This makes it especially hard
on vegans to place value on the reactions of others.
Summarized in a model
Being aware of wrongs in industrial farming does not
always have to lead to the choice of becoming a vegan,
especially if weighing the pros and cons turns out unfavorably.
It may be that people think vegan food does not taste
good, that it's all to no avail anyway, because they
are afraid of other people's opinions, or because people
think that the authorities should do something first.
The considerations described before are all part of
the attitude behavior model, well known and often used
in psychology to interpret human behavior (Fishbein
Schematically and in steps:
Knowledge and understanding of wrongs make people
think or feel.
a) Pro's and con's of current eating
behavior and of alternatives people see
are weighed more or less consciously.
b) The opinions of significant others (e.g. partner,
friends, teachers, neighbors, parents, authorities)
are assessed or asked and weighed.
If this weighing turns out in favor of alternative
behavior, the person will resolve to show this alternative
At the same time an opinion is formed about one's
own responsibility and effectiveness. If that also
turns out positively, the chance of changing one's
behavior is fair. If it doesn't turn out positive,
people might change their views, but they just don't
do anything with them.
People that decide to give the alternative behavior
a try, gain experience which again leads to a modification
of the - considerations of the - deliberations behind
Influencing other people's decision
If you are a vegan and want to convince others, it
is important to know at what stage of the decision-making
process that person is. Has he been correctly informed?
Is his behavior on par with his convictions? If not,
then the chance of someone feeling attacked when confronted,
and counter-attacking is very real. In that case it
is more effective to have an open attitude and express
a lot of confirmations towards the other, to create
an atmosphere in which he feels safe to voice his doubts.
Social standards and pressure are effective for young
and old. The role of parents in this process is ambiguous.
If an adolescent wants to oppose his parents, he will
do the exact opposite of what they do. If the relationship
is better, then he will copy eating habits.
Role models are people
who are important examples to others. In youth culture
we are familiar with straight-edger's,
who share a vegan and all-over sober lifestyle and certain
musical preferences. On the other hand, too much conspicuousness
leads to stigmatization that can restrain the adoption
of convictions. A "Mohawk" is not easily taken
seriously by a "Suit".
"Making" someone into a vegan is almost impossible.
It's easier for a start (but difficult enough) to make
people aware that you cannot just shamelessly use animals.
It is no use trying to convince someone to start living
like a vegan if the distance to that other lifestyle
is great. The vegan has to consider that he may be right,
maybe he will even be put in the right, but today's
society offers very little to make vegan living attractive
yet. Being or remaining patient is essential.