19. The Enigma of Choice

Is our diet an option or a decision? Are our choices based on a rational process, social norms, or chance circumstances? Who makes our choices? And how do we affect them? Exploring these questions is essential to successful vegan advocacy.

What Is Choice

The word choice has two meanings: option, as in “my supermarket has many choices,” and decision, as in “I have chosen a vegetable platter.” The concept of carnism proposed by vegan philosopher Melanie Joy as a choice of consuming animal products is usually an option. Very seldom is it a conscious decision.

This distinction is important, because, once someone realizes that their carnism was not a rational, or even conscious, decision, but an option foisted on them by their society or family, they may become more open to change.

Actually, most of our life choices, including occupation, religion, life partner, residence, sport, hobby, or diet were not made by us examining all available options and applying some sort of rational decision process. Instead, they were determined by our social and family norms, or even by chance circumstances. The 1998 romantic film Sliding Doors, with two different storylines dependent entirely on whether Gwyneth Paltrow catches a train, offers an excellent illustration of the latter.

Interestingly, although we do not participate in determining most of our life choices, we usually assert ownership over them and defend them fiercely. We have actually codified our freedom to exercise these choices in our Bill of Rights. If that document were being drafted today, the second amendment might read “The right of the people to oppress and eat animals shall not be infringed.”

What Shapes Our Conscious Choices

Still, we do make some conscious choices in our daily lives, mostly of little consequence and mostly within the framework of the more consequential life choices determined by our social and family norms and casual circumstances.

Occasionally, a friend or family member may become open to more consequential life choices, like what they eat and /or their relationship with animals. For such occasions, it is helpful to recognize and apply the key factors that govern these conscious choices:

  • Departure from social norms. Most people prefer to act in accordance with prevailing social and family norms.
  • Departure from status quo. Most people have a greater acceptance for smaller changes, and are more willing to accept a major change, if they had experienced a similar, but smaller, change before.
  • Dealing with the unfamiliar. Most people have an aversion to accepting, or even, exploring unfamiliar or unusual concepts.
  • Amount of additional effort. Most people tend to avoid burdensome undertakings.
  • Multiple, alternative, or complicated solutions. Aversion to such changes is the basis of President Trump’s success with the voters.
  • Change of identity. Most people are much more willing to change their attitude (what they say), or their behavior (what they do) than their identity (who they think they are).
  • Cognitive dissonance. Most people are reluctant to act in conflict with their feelings or beliefs. This notion gave rise to the moderns advertising industry.
  • Perception of risks and benefits. Three huge industries exploit most people’s misunderstanding of this factor: insurance, securities brokerage, and gambling.

In general, young people of high school and college age are less likely to be affected by these factors, and are therefore, more open to change.

How Do We Affect Choices

Here are some examples of how we can employ each of these factors in our vegan advocacy:

  • Point out to your prospect that their social norms favor healthy eating, kindness to animals, and environmental protection. Provide social support by encouraging your prospect to join plant-based real-life and Facebook groups.
  • Offer plant based meat and dairy products to your prospect as a welcome expansion, rather than as a replacement for their animal food products. Let the replacement occur gradually and naturally.
  • Use terms like “plant-based or meat-free eating” rather than “vegan diet,” which may convey the notion of strange, different, restrictive, temporary, or deficient. Don’t sabotage your advocacy of plant-based meat and milk products by labeling them “mock,”, “fake,” or “analogs.” They are real food.
  • Invite your prospect to a plant-based dinner. Point out the rich availability of plant-based meat and dairy products in the local supermarket and fast food franchises. Focus on “the how” of the transition, as well as “the why.”
  • Keep it simple. Avoid discussing the intricacies of the animal rights philosophy, until your prospect has adopted a plant-based diet and has no price to pay for their embrace of animal rights.
  • Present the transition as a change in behavior, rather than a change of identity. Avoid labeling the transition as “conversion,” “recruitment,” “joining,” “signing up,” or “graduation.” But note that a change in attitude is not enough.
  • Point out to your prospect that choosing plant-based products will eliminate their conflict or dissonance between their natural affinity toward animals and their taste for animal-based food products.
  • Point out to your prospect the immense health and environmental risks of an animal-based diet and the corresponding benefits of plant-based eating.
  • Focus your efforts on young prospects.

The massive reforms in our nation’s food system that are required to liberate animals from our deadly oppression will arrive only with the growing quality, popularity, and availability of plant-based meat and milk products. In the meantime, each of us can help family and friends to make the transition.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement

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