A massive reduction in the quantity of meat being consumed combined with huge changes to farming techniques are essential to guarantee our planet’s future ability to support humanity. The first step in this process is the promotion of meat reduction as a practical way forward for the masses down this route.
The gluten-free pretenders or part-timers have been crucial to the growth of gluten-free products. They helped create a market that suppliers found profitable. In the same fashion, meat reducers are crucial for our own movement. Here are the main reasons:
1. Many meat reducers together may change the system faster than a few vegans.
As reducers together consume many more vegetarian and vegan meals than vegetarians and vegans (see Fig. 7), we may assume they are also the main buyers of veg meals and products. It makes sense that producers and distributors of vegan meals and products see this segment of the market as their primary target (Shore). Yves Potvin is the founder and president of the Canadian company Gardein, which produces meat alternatives. In a personal correspondence, he told me: “Flexitarians are the key to changing the world and the largest group that purchases Gardein, as vegans and vegetarians are still a small percentage of the population and flexitarians are on the rise.” Likewise, Seth Tibbott, founder and chairman of the famous Tofurky brand, told me: “While vegans and vegetarians both punch above their weight, we estimate that they are at most responsible for around 20 percent to 25 percent of our customer base. We feel that meat reducers, some of whom are former vegans or vegetarians, account for the vast majority of our sales.” Even at a niche store like the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, the owners estimate that 60 to 70 percent of their customers are omnivores or reducers (Bird). The same can probably be said for most vegan restaurants.
This large group of reducers, then, drives demand and has a greater effect on the market than the small group of vegetarians and vegans. Food companies develop new items to meet this demand—sometimes to compensate for their declining sales of animal-based products or as a hedge against the future. Supermarkets will offer these products, and chefs prepare meals with them.
What we see here is a virtuous circle of supply and demand. As demand grows, choices increase and so does the acceptance of eating vegetarian or vegan. This growth makes it easier for everyone to move further along the vegan spectrum, just as the pretenders made shopping, cooking, and eating easier for the woman with celiac disease. Keeping in mind the importance for each of us of vegan alternatives, it's not a stretch to say that many of this book's readers might be vegetarian or vegan right now thanks at least in part to the much greater group of meat reducers who unwittingly prepared the road for them. In short, whereas reducers aren't the embodiment of individual change, they seem crucial for societal change. And societal change, in turn, should lead to more individual change. The Faunalytics report on former vegetarians states: “Farmed animals may benefit more from efforts focused on encouraging the many to reduce their animal-product consumption as opposed to inspiring a relatively small fraction to achieve total elimination of animal-based foods” (Asher et al. 2014, p. 3).
Reducers, much less than vegetarians and vegans, are not necessarily motivated by ethical reasons. The motivation, however, is irrelevant in terms of the effect they have on demand. I talk about motivations in the next chapter.
2. As a group, meat reducers save more animals than vegetarians and vegans.
All the reducers together are responsible for avoiding more animals being killed than vegetarians and vegans combined. (If we would juxtapose reducers plus vegetarians against vegans, the difference would be even greater.) A 2016 national poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group in the US shows a total of 3.4 percent vegetarians and vegans versus 33 percent of the population eating vegetarian or vegan meals (VRG). The total number of these meals eaten by reducers (they are broken down according to frequency of vegetarian meals) is about three-to-four times higher than the amount eaten by vegetarians and vegans together.
THE CASE OF SOYMILK
Supply and demand is also exemplified in the example of soymilk and other dairy alternatives. Today in the UK, for instance, about one in five households chooses to buy plant-based alternatives for dairy milk. Between 2011 and 2013, the market grew an incredible 155 percent, according to a Mintel study (Harrison-Dunn). Even the most optimistic vegan will know without seeing any polls that this market doesn't consist entirely of vegans, nor are all of these consumers turning to alternatives because they care about what happens to dairy cows and their calves. They use such products mainly for health reasons and taste preferences. These motivations make the market grow, as they lead producers to offer more and better alternatives, which has made it easier for you and me to be vegan today.
3. Meat reducers are more likely to go vegetarian or vegan than regular meat eaters.
According to the Faunalytics report Advocating Meat Reduction and Vegetarianism to Adults in the US, when compared to regular meat consumers, moderate meat consumers are twice as willing to go vegetarian, while semi-vegetarians are almost six times as willing (2007). Research has shown that so-called small wins—minor victories that people or organizations achieve—are psychologically invaluable, with an effect that is disproportionately greater than the accomplishment itself. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charles Duhigg, who popularized the concept of small wins in his book The Power of Habit, writes: “Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach” (p. 112). Asking people to take small steps (going a day without meat, by way of illustration) and thus increasing the chance of an experience of success, is a crucial step for creating change. The opposite is also true. People may feel defeated whenever they reach for something and don't succeed.
4. Less Backsliding
According to different studies, former vegetarians and vegans are more likely than current ones to have stopped eating meat all at once. People who stayed vegetarian or vegan are more likely to have made a gradual rather than abrupt transition to vegetarianism or veganism. The evidence is still only tentative, but it's something to take into account. The advice to smokers to “cut back before you quit” may well apply to omnivores, too (Haverstock and Forgays, Asher et al. 2014).
5. The “Spread” Factor
One final reason why reducers might have more influence is that they're more spread out within society and thus come into contact with more people, institutions, and specific settings upon whom and in which they can exert an influence. The joint requests of the reducers for meals and products will be spread over more and different locations, restaurants, supermarkets, and other outlets.
This way, the reducers potentially confront a more substantial part of the supply with the vegan demand. A restaurateur may also be inclined to make more of an effort for seven people who participate in a Meatless Monday campaign, let's say, than she would catering for one vegan. Apart from the numbers, vegans may be more likely to flock together, preferring vegan restaurants and eating in vegan groups, so their potential influence is reduced. On the other hand, vegans may be publicly more vocal and in that respect affect the environment more completely. For instance, it's usually vegans who, by their writing and communicating, manage to induce a company to remove an animal ingredient from their product and veganize it. This is all somewhat speculative, and it would be interesting to examine the repercussions of the “spread.”