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 animal well-being. 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 wrongs. 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 & Ajzen). Schematically and in steps:
  1. Knowledge and understanding of wrongs make people think or feel.
  2. 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.
  3. If this weighing turns out in favor of alternative behavior, the person will resolve to show this alternative behavior.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 the decision.

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.

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