Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Students Think Vegan Food Tastes Better, Research Finds

Researchers suspect familiarity with veganism is increasing fondness for plant-based fare

A 2015 publication in Food Quality and Preference finds that college students are more receptive to veganism than non-profits and policy makers may be willing to admit.* The study suggests that foods that are similar will elicit similar responses, regardless of ingredients and origin.

Eighty students were provided a number of vegan and non-vegan food items, some were aware that the products were vegan or non-vegan, but others were not. The results?
Vegan products were not rated as less familiar than the animal-based equivalents. Even when people were told that they were eating vegan substitutes, their familiarity ratings were no different from those of subjects who were told they were eating foods of animal origin.  
[...]subjects did not indicate that they were less willing to try vegan products or foods they thought were vegan than the foods of animal origin or those they thought were of animal origin. 
[...]subjects also did not find the foods that were vegan or that they were told were vegan as more dangerous or disgusting than the foods that were of animal origin or that they were told were of animal origin.  
[...] there was no difference in expected liking for the taste of the foods [...] between the vegan and animal-based versions of the foods nor was there a difference in expected liking between subjects who were told they were rating vegan foods and those told they were rating animal-based foods.
Researchers also find that, for the most part, believing a food to be vegan actually increased how much the participants liked the taste. The only significant exception was vegan chocolate milk. The Daiya-based vegan macaroni and cheese even did well . . . until students were told it was vegan. Meatballs, both animal-based and plant-based, were the only items that were snubbed as disgusting, presumably because college students are not as familiar with meatballs as they are with the other foods in the study (chicken tenders, milkshakes, and macaroni & cheese).

Vegan or not? Students can't tell the difference.

Researchers suppose that this familiarity and openness to veganism could be a result of increased accessibility to vegan options for students of this particular campus. Their access is also increased by living in a metropolitan area (the study took place just outside of New York City). The New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area has a well-established vegan community with a number of restaurants and grocery stores offering vegan options.

What does this mean for non-profits that refuse to promote veganism?

Popularizing veganism increases positive associations for veganism, and folks seem to be quite receptive to trying vegan foods. They even like many of the vegan foods more than the non-vegan foods. So, it is suspicious that non-profits are so insistent that the public will not be receptive to veganism and we must "meet them where they are." Non-profits rely on elite- and corporate-run foundations for funding, and many of these elites and corporations have relied on speciesism and oppression to amass their wealth and have no interest in dismantling inequality. As a result, vegan advocacy tends to be ignored by foundations and high-dollar individual donors, thereby encouraging non-profits to diminish or even demonize veganism as a strategy of survival and growth.

This research supports the notion that the continued invisibility and stigmatization of veganism facilitated by non-profits will only inhibit progress for vulnerable humans and nonhumans that would benefit greatly from veganism.

*This study specifically explores veganism as a diet, though participants were aware of the ethical considerations behind the food choices to the extent that it shaped their responses.

Work Cited
S. Adise, I. Gavdanovich, & D. Zellner. 2015. "Looks Like Chicken: Exploring the Law of Similarity in Evaluation of Foods of Animal Origin and their Vegan Substitutes." Food Quality and Preference 41: 52-59.