REDUCETARIAN - Eat Less Meat

Overview of Lab

Given limited resources, how can we most effectively reduce societal meat consumption? To answer this challenging question, the "Reducetarian Lab," the research arm of the Reducetarian Foundation (RF), conducts first-rate scientific studies on the relative effectiveness of various messages (i.e. eat less meat, go vegetarian, go vegan, etc.), framings (health, environmental, animal rights, etc.) and modes of delivery (videos, leaflets, articles, etc.). At RF, in the spirit of "effective altruism," we are committed to 1) revising our strategies in accordance with these results and to 2) making these results publicly available for the benefit of the entire community.


MESSAGING Study

The effects of “reduce” and “eliminate” appeals on individual meat consumption. [click here to read full study]


Summary

High levels of meat consumption is a major societal problem in the eyes of many environmentalists, health practitioners, and animal welfare advocates. While many other health-related and environmental behaviors have been the subject of extensive research (e.g. smoking, electricity usage, physical exercise), there is strikingly little experimental research that specifically examines the effectiveness of different interventions and messaging appeals aimed at encouraging individuals to reduce their meat consumption. To address this problem, we conducted a study examining the effects of a short news article on individual meat consumption and attitudes.


Methods

One group of participants read an article with a reduce appeal, which encouraged individuals to reduce their meat consumption but not eliminate it entirely from their diet. A second group of participants read an article with an eliminate appeal that encouraged individuals to completely give up eating meat. A third group of participants was the control group which read an article about walking as a form of exercise.

One week before participants read the article and 5 weeks after they read it, we asked them to report how frequently they ate meat products (e.g., chicken, pork, beef, and fish). We looked to see if participants who read the reduce and eliminate news articles reduced their meat consumption from week 1 to week 5 more than participants who just read the control article. We collected data from 2,237 participants.


Main Findings

  • Reading the reduce and eliminate articles caused participants to reduce their meat consumption by about 1 serving per week. Chicken, pork, and fish tended to be reduced the most, however these product-specific effects were not statistically significant. (note: the reduce and eliminate news articles performed the same – one did not do better than the other)
  • The reduce and eliminate news articles caused changes in all of the measured attitudes. Readers were:
    • More likely to agree that purchasing animal products contributes to animal suffering
    • More likely to disagree that animals raised for food have a good standard of living
    • More likely to agree that raising animals for food contributes to environmental degradation
    • More likely to agree that people would be healthier if they ate less meat
    • Readers of the reduce and eliminate articles were more likely to perceive that Americans in general are reducing their meat consumption
    • Readers of the reduce and eliminate articles had more discussions with friends and family about meat consumption and the treatment of animals raised for food.
    • There were no differences in how men and women responded to the articles.
    • There were also no differences in how young and old participants reacted to the articles (participants ranged in age from 18 to 87)


Main Implications

This is one of first experimental surveys to our knowledge that demonstrates the effect of a news article encouraging the reduction of meat consumption on individual meat consumption. In particular, it examines the effect over a long period of time (5 weeks), suggesting that the effect of reading a news article can be sustained for several weeks. However, we don’t know the persistence of these effects for periods longer than 5 weeks. In addition, this study also demonstrates that a news article can significantly change attitudes towards animals and factory farming/the food production system.

This evidence is certainly good news considering many people appear to be unwilling to eat less meat despite efforts by advocates.

We can’t say for certain that we should allocate more resources to writing online content encouraging individuals to reduce meat consumption. To make such a statement, we need more evidence about the effectiveness of other advocacy strategies, such as video clips, books, documentaries, etc., so that we can compare the results of the current study to those.