The Social Psychology of Veganism – Can You Read Yourself Vegan?

The processes of persuasion and behavioral change are complex. Social psychologists recognize that information can influence us differently depending on the channel of dissemination. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement relies quite heavily on text-based literature to promote pro-social attitudes regarding other animals. But, can you really read yourself vegan?

Veganism’s Historical Reading Agenda

In The Gospel of Kindness (2016), Janet Davis notes the movement’s shift to a humane education campaign. This strategy reflected the great improvements in literacy and printing technology. Organizations pumped schools, church groups, and community centers full of pro-animal books, teaching plans, trained speakers, and youth humane clubs.

Similarly, the movement also relied on the greatly popular books, Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe (1893). These books documented the variety of cruelties and injustices imposed on Nonhuman Animals. They also demonstrated the redemptive power of kindness and empathy. Movement historian Diane Beers notes that welfare organizations purchased millions of copies of these books for free dispersal.

Reading and Persuasion

Scientists are now seeking to measure the behavioral impact of texts that are intended to mobilize. For instance, one study on the impact of Michael Pollan’s work on university students found that, first, students experienced a sharp increase in food justice knowledge, but, second, any corresponding behavioral changes were minimal. Furthermore, researchers followed up on participants a year later and found that most changes had disappeared (Hormes et al. 2013).

Likewise, Malecki et al. (2018) examined the impact of animal welfare narratives on high school students in Poland and Italy. Attitudinal changes were only really observable for about a week after having read the novels used in the study. Additionally, no immediate behavioral changes were observed (for instance, the students were no more motivated to donate to a charity).


For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Narratives about animal welfare can increase pro-animal attitudes
  • Narratives have shortlived impacts
  • Narratives must be consistently applied to maintain effect


Beers, D. 2006. For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Davis, J. 2016. The Gospel of Kindness. New York, NY: Oxford.

Hormes, J., P. Rozin, M. Green, and K. Fincher. 2013. “Reading a Book Can Change Your Mind, but Only Some Changes Last for a Year.” Frontiers in Psychology 4 (778).

Malecki, W., B. Pawlowski, M. Cieńskia,  and P. Sorokowski. 2018. “Can Fiction Make Us Kinder to Other Species?Poetics 66: 54-63.

Saunders, M. 1893. Beautiful Joe. Philadelphia, PA: The Griffith and Rowland Press.

Sewell, A. 1877. Black Beauty. London: Jarrold and Sons.

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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Linked Oppression

Vegan feminist theory argues that the oppressive treatment of Nonhuman Animals, particularly in their being animalized, is fundamental to sexism (and other systems of oppression). Vegan feminism also argues that patriarchy informs violence against other animals. In other words, oppressions are linked.

Increasingly, psychological research is lending evidence to this theory. Gender usually has a noticeable relationship in regard to participant relation to other animals. Allcorn & Ogletree (2018), for instance, found a correlation between nontraditional/feminist viewpoints about gender and positive attitudes toward other animals. This included an interest in not eating them. Conversely, sexist participants were more likely to harbor anti-animal attitudes and support meat consumption.

Research of this kind supports the notion that violence and discrimination emerge in systems of domination. Marginalized groups across the spectrum are subject to routine social mechanisms to normalize this social inequality. Be they women or nonhuman, they are understood to be “other,” less than, animal-like, irrational, nameless, unimportant, unqualified, unclean, unworthy of rights or political representation, and inferior in general.

Finally, although gender is a major component in determining human-nonhuman relationships, it is ultimately species identity that creates the strongest influence. Humans, regardless of gender, are in a relation of extreme privilege with other animals. In fact, some psychological research does not support that gender roles associated with femininity increase empathy for other animals (Zickfeld et al. 2018).

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Gender impacts perceived relation to other animals
  • Tailor activism to account for the influence of gender role expectations
  • Incorporate an intersectional framework


Allcorn, A. and S. Ogletree. 2018. “Linked Oppression: Connecting Animal and Gender Attitudes.” Feminism & Psychology. Online first.

Zickfeld, J., J. Kunst, and S. Hohle. 2018. “Too Sweet to Eat: Exploring the Effects of Cuteness on Meat Consumption.” Appetite 120 (1): 181-195.

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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Reality Politics

What is Real?

In the 1970s, Pringles Newfangled Potato Chips was ordered by the US Food and Drug Administration to call itself by another name. Pringles are fried crisps comprised of compressed potato flakes rather than the typical thin slice of potato. Since their launch in 1967, have been a huge hit. Incumbent snack barons were threatened by this success and pressured the US government to order the name change. Pringles were still chips of deep-fried potato, of course, but Big Food hoped to convince the public that Pringles was something other. They weren’t real chips.

Real hellmans mayonnaise reality politics

Big Food, like other institutions with government backing and elite funding, has the power to manipulate reality. As vegan products and analogs become popular, they have faced the same resistance. For example, Hampton Creek, maker of the vegan Just Mayo product, found itself the target of government-funded attempts to undermine the company at the behest of the American Egg Board (a branch of the US Agricultural Department that is supported by taxpayer dollars). Major mayo companies based in animal bodies also began to label their products as “Real Mayo.”

Meanwhile, in France, the popularity of vegan products of all sort has prompted the government to ban all “meat” and “dairy” related words from plant-based products.

Language Politics

All of this political wrangling points to the sociological importance of language. For humans, language not only reflects their social reality but helps to shape it. In the realm of vegan activism, this language politicization is seen in the language change of the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act. Politicians, pressured by animal industries, strategically inserted “terrorist” terminology into the act. In an instant, Americans practicing their fundamental right to protest as part of a long tradition of American resistance and critical discourse were reframed as anti-American and criminal.

Language is political given its sway over psychological processes; it can be leveraged to maintain the status quo or to disrupt it. It is generally those entities in power who retain the privilege of determining social meaning vis-a-vis language, but social movements are effective agents in disrupting social meaning. Movements can manipulate meaning, too.

Language cues individuals about how they should relate with a person, thing, or circumstance. Just Mayo, labeled and packaged as a fat-based sandwich spread, makes more sense to the uninitiated customer. Tofu, by contrast, makes many folks scratch their heads. Activists must find the right balance in working within the existent reality of non-vegans while pushing them to incorporate new attitudes and behaviors.

Pringles may not be an official “chip,” but they have consistently reigned as one of America’s (and Europe’s) best-selling potato products for over fifty years. Can vegan products expect similar success despite restrictions on their product labeling? While I hesitate to dismiss the potency of label language, I think there is reason to be hopeful.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Language matters
  • Present vegan products as similar to already popular foods


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Variety

Unfamiliarity with new foods can be a major barrier to successfully promoting veganism, but this is an easy enough fix. One study found that non-vegans who were repeatedly exposed to vegan alternatives to “meat” began to view them more favorably (Hoek et al. 2013). This is consistent with the mere exposure effect, a psychological response that surfaces when an audience is exposed to something many times over. Eventually, the audience will grow more comfortable with that something and form positive associations with it.

However, participants in this study also reported boredom with the three products repeatedly used by researchers, indicating the importance of variety. Indeed, the human brain is programmed to respond to novelty (Gallagher 2011). Activists could, therefore, increase persuasion by emphasizing the variety of vegan foods and recipes available. Stereotypes about tofu, twigs, and leaves will need to be challenged. Activists might also cue novelty by introducing provocative anti-speciesist theory, as this is not something many have had a chance to consider before.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Expose audiences to vegan foods to increase familiarity and liking
  • Try to include a variety of vegan foods to peak interest and avoid boredom


Gallagher, W. New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.

Hoek, A. et al. 2013. “Are Meat Substitutes Liked Better Over Time? A Repeated In-home Use Test with Meat Substitutes or Meat in Meals.” Food Quality and Preference 28(1): 253-263.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

Part of this essay was originally published by VegFund on May 7, 2013.

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The Social Psychology – Do-Gooder Derogation



One of the most important factors to going and staying vegan is a supportive network (Cherry 2006). Unfortunately, complicating this is a tendency for vegans to be perceived as “thinking they’re better than everyone else.” This chastising of morally-motivated individuals is something social psychologists have termed “do-gooder derogation.”

However, research shows that individuals who feel threatened will be more open if they are given the opportunity to combat the perceived moral threat (Minson and Monin 2011). Discussing veganism with friends and family members, even if that discussion becomes uncomfortable, could actually reduce their need to bolster non-vegan attitudes.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Give others a chance to express their discomfort with your moral choices
  • An open dialogue may reduce negative attitudes


Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5(2): 155-170. Gallagher, W. 2011. New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. Penguin Press.

Minson, J. and B. Monin. 2011. “Do-Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally-Motivated Minorities To Defuse Anticipated Reproach.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(2): 200-207.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This post was originally published by VegFund on May 7, 2013.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Scripting

Effective persuasion necessitates that activists carefully direct desired behavior change. For vegans, what this means is that telling people to “Go Vegan!” is not sufficient, because it is not self-evident what going vegan entails. Veganism still appears a daunting task to most.

There are many reasons for this. First, veganism is still deviant and statistically uncommon in the West, and mainstream media represents it negatively (Cole and Morgan 2011). Second, professionalized animal welfare organizations (such as Vegan Outreach) dedicate a significant portion of their efforts painting veganism as difficult and unrealistic. As a result, individuals are getting negative messages about veganism from both sides, making the transition to veganism a confusing one and persuasion unlikely.

Simply demanding people go vegan is not enough, but scripting veganism can definitely improve results. According to social psychological research, the critical moves of behavior change should be clearly laid out and unambiguous (Heath and Heath 2010). The many changes necessitated to go vegan should be broken down into small changes so that it does not appear daunting and undermine motivation.

Meatless Mondays and vegetarianism are not recommended for inclusion in vegan scripts. The key is to script one big change into smaller changes, and this does not necessitate compromising ethics. It is common for professionalized nonprofits to employ flexitarian models with the justification that small steps are necessary, however, these organizations rarely promote veganism as an end goal. Their decision to promote small changes is based on their requirement to secure large grants and donations from elites, many of whom are threatened by veganism or anti-speciesism.

Activists can employ scripting to promote veganism without having to compromise. Consider the following script, which assumes moderate levels of accessibility. This would need to be tailored to low-income communities, cultural enclaves, or communities living in food deserts. Scripting should be tailored to suit the socioeconomic status and structural opportunities available to a given audience.

  1. State clearly to your family and friends you that you will be going vegan. Making a clear commitment will motivate and sustain your decision. It will also alert your support system, encouraging them to be respectful and helpful.
  2. Buy or borrow a few books on vegan ethics, vegan health, and vegan cooking.
  3. Locate a list of common animal ingredients to avoid and keep it handy.
  4. If you have a smartphone, download vegan apps to help with ingredient checking.
  5. Remove all nonvegan food items (flesh, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, honey, and all processed foods that contain these ingredients or other ingredients like gelatin, whey, datum, etc.) from your home and workstation.
  6. Create a grocery list and replace pantry with staples (use beginner’s vegan cookbooks to guide this process). Consider buying vegan analogs like veggie burgers to ease the transition. They are especially useful for busy lifestyles or for people with limited cooking skills.
  7. Get familiar with vegan fast food options in your area for times when you don’t have time to cook (websites and smartphone apps are available to help with this). While you’re at it, look up vegan-catering restaurants and natural grocers in your area. Keep your pantry stocked with vegan snacks for times when you’re in a rush.
  8. Devise a plan for parties, holiday dinners, and other social gatherings that are not likely to have vegan options (bring your own food or make a special request ahead of time, the same goes for air travel).
  9. Purchase new shoes, belts, jackets, and wallets to replace any nonvegan items you may have that are made of leather, wool, silk, fur, down, or suede (hard to find items can be found in online vegan shops).
  10. Replace your soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and other bath and body products with vegan alternatives.
  11. Join a local vegan group and/or an online community for support.
  12. Subscribe to some vegan food blogs for inspiration.
  13. Try one new vegan recipe each week.
  14. Purchase a vegan multivitamin (with B12), vegan Vitamin D3, and vegan Omega-3s (all available from natural grocers, online vegan stores, or online discount vitamin suppliers)
  15. Donate or trash any remaining products made from nonhuman animal products.

For those with the means to do so, this list can be tackled in a few days. For others who might be overwhelmed with the transition or who may have limited income, this script can be staggered over a few weeks or months.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Provide very clear steps for going vegan
  • Make sure steps towards veganism are manageable
  • Tailor script for each community


Cole, M. and K. Morgan. 2011. “Vegaphobia: Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers.” The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1): 134-153.

Heath, C. and D. Heath. 2010. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. New York, NY: Broadway Books.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Meaningful Moments

Remembering Meaningful Moments

The human brain must filter and interpret massive amounts of information across its lifespan. Of course, not everything lasts in storage. It will usually be those moments that were especially memorable in their distinction that stick around.

For this reason, we are more likely to remember especially exciting or unique points in our life. These might include births, marriages, graduations, vacations and so on. A child might not remember what they did on a given day from their summer vacation, but they will surely remember visiting Disneyland and meeting Mickey Mouse. Indeed, Disneyland consciously manipulates the visitor experience to maximize positive memory-making.

Making Memories to Maximize Impact

Social psychologists Heath & Heath (2017) emphasize that meaningful moments do not just “happen.” They can be created. Because social movements rely on the manipulation of audience awareness, it behooves activists to understand how to create the biggest impact. This is especially important in the highly competitive and fast-paced media landscape in which a movement’s message is easily overlooked or outpaced.

Social change activists can easily tap into the psychological tendency to remember meaningful moments by working to create experiences that stand out from the regular operations of day-to-day life. Street protests, disruptions, and marches, for instance, can create meaningful moments. Meeting other animals in sanctuaries can also create meaningful moments.

Leafletters hanging out vegetarian pamphlets to students rushing between classes might be able to hit larger audiences, but these students are used to being leafletted every day and this interaction is not likely to be very memorable.

What about Negative Memories?

Meaningful moments are not always positive. If someone steals your wallet, you are likely to be more cautious with your wallet in the future. If you were bitten by a dog, the potential dangerousness of dogs will likely be the key attribute remembered. Folks living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also serve as evidence to the lasting impact of negative memories.

This is why some vegans cite a particularly memorable moment as the catalyst for their move toward a plant-based lifestyle. However, vegan campaigners should be careful about creating negative memorable moments, as a negative association with veganism could alienate audiences. Audiences can also employ psychological blocks to avoid having to cope with unpleasant information.

For the Activist Toolbelt

  • Create meaningful moments to have lasting impact on memory
  • Avoid run-of-the-mill interactions and campaigns that blend into the status quo
  • Creating negative memories is not advised

Works Cited

Heath, C. and Heath, D. 2017. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Simon & Schuster.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Free-riding

When people support the need for social change but abstain from helping or participating to avoid the perceived costs and risks involved, this is known as free-riding. As rational actors, non-participants suppose that they will eventually reap the benefits achieved by others who participate and incur those costs and risks without having to contribute themselves.

The civil rights movement exemplifies this conundrum. Images of protesters being sprayed with high powered water hoses and attacked by police dogs permeated the news. This certainly discouraged a number of would-be participants from signing up. Likewise, those who come out in support of gay rights face discrimination, and some have even lost their jobs as a result (Taylor and Raeburn 1995). Participation can be scary, and it is easy to rationalize that it would be safer to stay at home and let others do the dirty work.

When protest can be so dangerous, how do movements motivate participation?

The problem for movements is that, if everyone free-rides, the common good cannot be achieved. If many participate, on the other hand, the costs and risks are more widely distributed and social change is more easily achieved. There are several ways that free-riding can be overcome, but I will specifically mention three: appealing to altruistic norms, making individual participation visible, and building a group identity.

Appealing to Altruism

As was discussed in earlier essays, there are several social norms that facilitate pro-social behavior. The norm of reciprocity suggests that individuals can be expected to return favors (so activists giving small gifts might expect recipients to be more easily persuaded). However, the norm of social responsibility finds that people will often help with no expectation of return at all. Clear appeals to would-be free-riders may help overcome the desire to stay back.

Highlighting Individual Participation

Recognizing each contributor is also vital. When individuals are made accountable for their contributions, they are more likely to continue participating. When people are made to feel invisible or are unwelcomed, it isn’t likely that they will be sticking around. Voting is a great example of how this can go wrong. The rational actor recognizes that their individual vote is not likely to sway the outcome of the election, and therefore may feel little incentive to go out of their way to participate. Political campaigns try to remedy this with personalized appeals through post and text.

Social movements have historically overcome this problem with good communication and the deployment of smaller groups. In the 21st century, however, most social movements have adopted a larger, more bureaucratic organizational structure to maximize resource mobilization. This model reduces opportunities for individual-level communication and makes it difficult for participants to feel as though their contributions are noticed and meaningful.

Donating $20 to PETA for an annual membership seems like a drop in a large, anonymous bucket, but donating an hour of time with a grassroots organization has a more tangible impact. The communication, feedback, and community experienced at the grassroots level are far more motivating than generic donation requests and online petitions.

Nurturing Group Identity

Likewise, group identity can be a powerful motivator (Armstrong 2002). Identity creates a sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility to the group. Indeed, researchers have pointed to group identity as essential for sustaining veganism in a world that is otherwise hostile to the practice (Cherry 2006). For movements, there is an imperative to overcome individualistic approaches to social change, as isolation and alienation discourage participation.

Read more about free-riding in the context of Nonhuman Animal rights here.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Foster networks and communities
  • Emphasize why individual contributions matter
  • Acknowledge individual contributions
  • Reduce unnecessary costs, risks, or dangers associated with participation
  • Emphasize rewards to participation


Armstrong, E. 2002. Forging Gay Identities: Organizing in San Francisco, 1950-1994. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5 (2): 155-170.

Taylor, V. and N. Raeburn. 1995. “Identity Politics as High-Risk Activism: Career Consequences for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Sociologists.” Social Problems 42 (2): 252-273.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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New Package, Same Old Problem: Animal Crackers and Veganism

In a 2016 blog post, I tackled the cheeky but oft-espressed question as to whether or not animal crackers are vegan.  Technically, the ingredients are vegan, but what do these cookies symbolically represent in a society that is deeply speciesist?

In 2018, Nabisco revamped their packaging design to remove the old circus car cages at the bequest of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Although this marketing tactic suggests a greater respect for Nonhuman Animal autonomy than the old packaging which had featured them as inmates, there are a number of fundamental issues that remain unaddressed.

Are Animal Crackers Vegan?

Animal crackers (comprised primarily of wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening agents) usually do not contain actual animal ingredients. They are designed for a long shelf-life, and, since animal corpses and fluids are quick to putrify, plant-based cookies preserve better.

Common cookie additives like milk derivatives and eggs add nothing to the flavor but are used instead for binding purposes. These additives are utilized instead of plant-based binders due to their availability; meat and dairy industries sustain themselves and remain profitable through the repurposing of waste products like whey and gelatin. Animal byproducts glut the market and are simply cheaper ingredients for cookie manufacturers.

Although Nabisco’s animal crackers are technically vegan, they certainly capitalize on this glut of cheap animal ingredients for a large variety of other products. Nabisco animal crackers may be vegan, but Nabisco itself is not.

What Do Animal Crackers Mean Symbolically?

Ingredients are only part of the story. When it comes to food, processes of intentional invisibility serve the cultural reproduction of speciesism. Vegan sociologists note that processing, packaging, and labeling are applied to effectively remove any reference to the nonhuman persons killed to provide animal products for human consumption. Furthermore, ag-gag laws in many states in tandem with the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act now make it exceedingly difficult for the public to access information about the exploitation and killing of animals. This manufactured and institutionalized invisibility is unique to the animal sector of the food industry.

In the case of animal crackers, however, Nonhuman Animals are intentionally visible. Animal crackers are, as a result, functional in their ability to socialize children with ideologies of human dominance. The consumption of animal crackers reiterates to children their privileged access to the natural world and any subordinates who live within it. By being able to “collect” animals, pick them up, handle them, and eventually eat them, notions of human supremacy are underscored.

Wait, What about Gingerbread Men?

Of course, bakeries manufacture human-shaped cookies, too, but these products usually take on generic forms. If they were designed to specifically resemble persons of African descent and were marketed to white children, for instance, the symbolic inequality manifest in the product and its consumption would be evident. In a white supremacist society within which people of African descent are systematically underemployed, victimized, and incarcerated, it would be morally problematic to objectify and infantilize this marginalized group even further by turning them into cookies for white kids.

In fact, this practice does take place in the Netherlands during the Christmas holidays. African colonial subjects known as “Black Petes,” who are cartoonized as St. Nicholas’s “little helpers” are fashioned into cookies and chocolates for white children to consume. Not surprisingly, this tradition is highly controversial.

The cultural context of animal crackers must be considered. Animal crackers are marked to human children in an anthropocentric society that engages in widescale, systematic violence against animals. As such, animal crackers are symbolically potent.

Is Nabisco’s New Packaging Vegan?

In the new Nabisco packaging, the depicted Nonhuman Animals are no longer categorically separated, stacked, and placed on display for the human gaze. They are now grouped together in solidarity moving toward the viewer with a commanding presence.

Nabisco’s decision reflects a larger trend in American industry. Companies that rely on all sorts of horrible animal exploitations have taken a cue from the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and increasingly frame their exploitation as “happy.” So, while animal crackers still symbolically represent human control over other animals, human consumers can avoid any feelings of guilt and are less likely to question their entitlement since the animals appear to be consenting, happy, and free. This same framing is engaged by zoos, circuses, and meat, dairy, and egg enterprises that oppress actual Nonhuman Animals.

Dropping the imagery of the circus indicates cultural progress since Nabisco’s classic cookies have played a part in the romanticization of an inherently inhumane industry. Yet, Nabisco’s focus on freeliving species in the context of the circus imagery it employed for decades could actually aggravate symbolic inequality. There is an element of thrill associated with the control of persons who are culturally understood to be uncontrollable. It is entirely possible that children will experience even greater feelings of supremacy and entitlement through repeated consumption of Nabisco’s now wild but capturable animal crackers.

This post was updated on August 31, 2019 to include mention of “Black Petes” with compliments to Geertrui Cazaux for the suggestion.

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Readers can learn more about the sociology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Are Vegans too Open to Free-Riders?

In an interview with The Atlantic, I present the compelling findings from my publication, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism.” In a meta-analysis of over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles on vegan motivation and consumer persuasion, I find that the pragmatic “reducitarian” approach to veganism and animal liberation that is promoted by nonprofits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement lacks empirical support.

The Atlantic also interviewed Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary to gauge the nonprofit perspective on the utility of flexitarian campaigning. Baur insists that incrementalism works, yet, typical of animal charities, offers no compelling evidence to support such a claim. Given the overall increase in “meat” consumption and persistent stagnancy in vegan numbers, his claim is especially suspect. Indeed, Baur points to the 2008 dip in “meat” consumption as an example of successful incrementalism, making the unscientific leap that this temporary decline was due to a Farm Sanctuary campaign and not the historic economic recession. “Meat” consumption in 2018, incidentally, hit a record high in 2018.

Other vegan activists interviewed in the article insist that flexitarianism remains an important tool for reaching a public uninterested in animal liberation who may be swayed instead by appeals to health and environmental sustainability. However, as I emphasize in my research, this “common sense” perspective lacks evidence. Most vegans go vegan out of altruistic concern for other animals, not health or environmental concerns. And more importantly, for those who are not interested in veganism at all, the research indicates that flexitarians, in general, do not substantially cut back on their consumption of animal products. Some even consume more animal products than someone who does not identify as a flexitarian.

In other words, folks are being encouraged by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (Farm Sanctuary included) to adopt the flexitarian identity, even though this approach has not been proven to convert new vegans or significantly reduce consumption of animal products.

I emphasize that this free-riding (adopting the prosocial identity without changing behavior) is intentionally cultivated by movement elites such as Baur. This is because disinvested pseudo-members provide an illusion of mass support without charities having to share movement power democratically. Why do nonprofits do this? They are beholden to the state and elite-run foundations, both of which have a vested interest in the maintenance of speciesism.


Read my interview with The Atlantic here.
Read the original article, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex,” here.
Read a summary of the article here.

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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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