Last year, my friend Peg, who owns / runs the local vegan restaurant, was reading The Accidental Activist. It inspired her to contact different departments at the University of Arizona here in Tucson, with the question if anyone would be interested in doing research into vegetarianism. Professor Merrie Brucks got back to her — she teaches a marketing class in the MBA program there. Every semester, the new class takes on a “client” for whom the class does marketing research. So I’m the client this year (on behalf of VegFund and, ultimately, of course, farmed animals).
I gave a presentation the first week of classes, and answered questions (the class is 1:15 long, and Professor Brucks had to stop the conversation after we had gone way over). The class was subsequently divided into four groups, and the different groups have been meeting with me to discuss their ideas, research, etc.
VegFund has pledged some money to allow the class to do larger, national surveys with their final questions. This way, we can maximally leverage the efforts of the class, to get the most useful data to allow us to help animals better. Here is my report from being with the class again last Wednesday:
The four groups are doing their exploratory research — more in-depth interviews and surveys of individuals that are intended to both utilize the research techniques they are learning in class, as well as to inform the design of their larger final survey. Professor Brucks, the class, and I asked questions and gave feedback.
There were several universal findings:
1. Everyone views veganism as much much harder than vegetarianism, and views vegans negatively (angry, fanatics, judgmental).
2. Everyone views chicken as healthy. Everyone who talked about health ate a lot of chicken.
I have pages of notes. As you might guess, some groups were further along. It was interesting to learn about the different research methods intended to get at people’s true motivations / opinions, rather than their rationalizations or desired view of themselves. Here are just a few items in addition to the above:
Group 1: Food Choice Motivations (general, not veg-specific)
When we met a few weeks ago, two of the people in this group had very different views on what they should be doing.
Looking to separate out what people think they should do vs what they actually do.
Motivations run into so far (in order of prevalence): health (chicken), religion, animal issues, environment
Group 2: Social Norms and Stigmas
One aspect is looking at people’s perceptions of the ladder, meat lover à omnivore à meat-reducer à vegetarian à vegan (a general theme of the class).
Most interesting here was their word association. Words like “meat” and “steak” and “chicken” all had positive associations, but “Tyson chicken” and “factory farming” had negative. “Tofu” was neutral, “faux meat” bad (“disgusting”).
They asked what a person would choose as their last meal (steak, surf-and-turf), and asked what one food they would eat for the rest of their life (chicken, because it is healthy). One of the team members was interviewing another team member’s roommate, and asked when the last time the roommate had had a meatless meal. “Oh, I can’t remember. Has been ages.” But they had just had vegetarian pad thai the night before.
Group 3: Vegetarian Products and Restaurants
People don’t see vegetarian products as healthier than eating chicken; think eating healthier means replacing red meat with chicken.
People can imagine eating veg for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. Need to have meat to be satisfied. (Discussion of Bittman’s “Vegan Before Six” idea.)
Group 4: Animal Suffering
Very hard to discuss; people immediately defensive.
People think cows, pigs, and chickens are all treated the same.
Rationalizations (in order of prevalence): Top of food chain, religion, just how it is, healthy to eat meat.
People say it is worse in other countries (China).
That’s all for now,
-Matt (cross-posted at my blog)