By Barbara Krooss –
More and more people are becoming “vegan-curious.”
How many more? Thirty-nine percent of all Americans, in fact, are trying to eliminate animal-related products and hope to eventually follow a vegan lifestyle, according to Nielsen Company, a market research firm.
The US vegan population has grown sixfold since 2014 and now stands at almost 10 million, which represents almost three percent of the U.S. population, Ipsos Retail Performance reports.
But, as Kermit the Frog famously noted, “It isn’t easy being green.” Eighty-four percent of those who tried a plant-based diet fell off the veggie cart, 53 percent within the first year, according to an oft-cited 2014 landmark study of 11,429 North Americans by Faunalytics, a nonprofit animal advocates’ organization.
Yet knowing why people fail brings knowledge—and ultimately a better chance of success for those desperate for a vegan lifestyle. This quest lead Dr. Jo Anderson, the Faunalytics research director, to follow up on 1,397 of the dietary dropouts, while Dr. Hal Herzog, a Western Carolina University professor, zeroed in on why almost 80 long-term vegans abandoned their plant-based diets.
The reasons fleshed out by both examinations ranged from health to logistics, finance and, yes, simply not being able to resist craving a big juicy hunk of meat.
Declining health was the most important reason. This was cited by 35 percent of Herzog’s group and 26 percent of those Anderson polled. “I will take a dead cow over anemia any time,” complained one of Herzog’s respondents.
Logistic hassles were blamed by about a quarter of Herzog’s group and 13 percent of Anderson’s crowd giving up. After all, being vegan is much more difficult than vegetarianism since it involves all aspects of a person’s life and ultimately requires a stricter diet, Anderson explained.
Money problems also lead 6 percent of Anderson’s group to bail on veganism. Pre-packaged foods, organic vegetables, meat and dairy substitutes, and dining out take just took too big of a big bite out of their pleather wallets.
Irresistible cravings undermined the commitment of yet another fifth of Herzog’s group. His research found that time may heal a broken heart, but it apparently doesn’t cure the lust for “forbidden food.” Herzog’ average backslider had avoided meat for nine years before succumbing to the smell of sizzling bacon. In perhaps a similar line, 32 percent of Anderson’s group complained of dissatisfaction with available food.
Another roadblock came from meat eaters. Vegans may be good-hearted but apparently, that doesn’t protect them from peer pressure. Social problems and anti-vegan prejudice were deal-breakers for 15 percent of Herzog’s group and 13 percent of Anderson’s crowd.
Going vegan for many was probably made more difficult because they didn’t hang with like-minded souls. In fact, 84 percent of Anderson’s “dropouts” were not connected to any vegetarian or vegan group or organization and a whopping 63 percent complained their diet made them stick out from the crowd.
Cognitive and motivational factors also played a key role. Almost 60 percent of Anderson’s “dropouts” didn’t view a meatless lifestyle as a part of their central identity, while six percent cited “lack of motivation” as their prime reason for quitting. Ultimately, going vegan for just dietary reasons tends to have the low success and commitment rates of other fad diets. Those embracing veganism based on a moral stance were more likely to succeed.
A quick and complete shift to a vegan lifestyle, in effect going cold turkey, also tend to be a recipe for failure. The first year is always the hardest even with a gradual shift to a lifestyle that demands a lot of substantive changes, time and planning. Complex behavioral changes, such as becoming a vegan, are best attained by “shaping behavior,” according to various psychologists. This involved rewarding successive approximations—small steps—towards a desired goal or state.
There is good news for vegan proponents even in the face of the high level of dropouts, according to Anderson. She notes these individuals are still eating only half as much meat as the average person. Beyond this, 37 percent claim they’d be willing to give veganism another try.