Barbara McDonald 1 ªOnce You Know Something, You Can t Not Know I tº An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan - PDF

Barbara McDonald 1 ªOnce You Know Something, You Can t Not Know I tº An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan A BS TR AC T In spite of a growing body of vegetarian literature, there remains a lack of information

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Barbara McDonald 1 ªOnce You Know Something, You Can t Not Know I tº An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan A BS TR AC T In spite of a growing body of vegetarian literature, there remains a lack of information about how people learn to become vegan. Using qualitative methodology, this research identi ed a psychological process of how people learn about and adopt veganism. Elements of the process include who I was, catalytic experiences, possible repression of information, an orientation to learn, the decision, learning about veganism, and acquiring a vegan world view. Noteworthy observations include individual and temporal variation in the use of logic and emotion, the centrality of reading, the repression and recollection of undesirable information, and the importance of two types of learning tasks to successful vegans. Vegans are people who object to the use of nonhuman animal products for food, cosmetics, clothing, and vivisection - virtually all invasive activities involving nonhuman animals. In the United States, adopting such a lifestyle is a major change from the normative practice and ideology of human dominance over nonhuman animals. Veganism appears Society & Animals 8:1 (2000) Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2000 to be related to a propensity toward alternativism in other areas of life (Hamilton, 1993), and eschewing the use of all animal products represents a lifestyle change that necessarily involves all areas of life. How do people make such a remarkable change? A possible explanation might be offered by Mezirow s transformation theory (Mezirow, 1991, 1995, 1998), which predicts that such lifestyle change will follow a ten-step process that pivots on dialogue, re ection, and action. Mezirow s transformation theory has been widely discussed in adult education as an explanation of how adults learn to make major lifestyle changes. The ten steps, which Mezirow says can occur in any order, include a disorienting dilemma, self-examination, and critical assessment of assumptions. They also include recognizing that discontent and transformative experiences are shared, exploring new options, planning a course of action, acquiring new skills and knowledge, trying new roles, renegotiating relationships and building new ones, and reintegrating the new perspective into one s life. A central triad, upon which the ten steps depend, includes critical re ection, democratic dialogue, and re ective action. As part of a larger study, I discovered that Mezirow s theory does not explain the process of learning to become vegan (McDonald, 1998). The research presented here is in answer to the question, How do people learn to become vegan? - the rst question in my investigation of Mezirow s transformation theory. An online literature search of publications in education, psychology, and social sciences failed to nd research on how people learn to become vegetarian or vegan. In fact, I found no reference to any social science research using the keywords vegan or veganism. Vegetarian literature was more numerous (Adams, 1995; Beardsworth & Keil, 1992, 1993; Dietz, Frisch, Kalof, Stern, & Guagnano, 1995; George, 1994; Hamilton, 1993; Rozin, Markwith, & Stoess, 1997; Walker, 1995). None of these articles, however, focused on the learning process. One study reported four reasons for becoming vegetarian, including personal health, concern with animal cruelty, concern for world hunger, and environmental concern (Dietz, Frisch, Kalof, Stern, & Guagnano, 1995). Krizmanic (1992) reported that almost 25% of vegetarians surveyed said that 2 Barbara McDonald animal welfare, the environment, or ethics was the most important reason for adopting their diet. Vegetarianism was also explored as a case study of moralization, in which previously morally neutral objects or activities become moral (Rozin, Markwith, & Stoess, 1997). These studies, however, do not shed light on the process of how some people become vegetarian. Even more intriguing is why some vegetarians become vegans and others do not, considering that most vegetarians have access to information about the similarities and interrelationship between the meat and dairy industries. Stepaniak (1998) noted that the ethical position of vegans differentiates them from vegetarians: Because veganism encompasses all aspects of daily living, not just diet, it is inaccurate for people to de ne themselves as [vegan] simply because they have adopted the vegan mode of eating (p. 21). Becoming vegan represents a major change in lifestyle, one that demands the rejection of the normative ideology of speciesism. With only 3% of Americans claiming they had not used animals for any purpose within the previous two years (Duda & Young, 1997), veganism represents an alternative ideology and lifestyle (Hamilton, 1993). How do people learn about this alternative ideology, and how do they learn to change their lifestyle? Method As a practicing vegan, I wanted to employ a perspective and methodology that would enable me to use my own experience to enhance understanding of how other vegans have learned; yet I wanted the story to be their own. My adoption of veganism, following years as a vegetarian and animal rights activist, was triggered by the loss of a long-time canine companion. My journey as a vegan in mainstream society and my familiarity with the personal and social issues surrounding veganism informed the interview protocol and data analysis. However, because I wanted to know the path that others had traveled, I chose a phenomenological perspective. Typically in phenomenology, the researcher attempts to remove his or her biases from the research. To enable the incorporation of my own understanding, I chose heuristics, a modi cation of phenomenological methodology (Moustaskas, 1990). Heuristics explicitly rec- An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan 3 ognizes the impossibility of neutrality in research and enables the researcher to study phenomena with which he or she has had intense experience. I used a naturalistic design to collect interview data from twelve vegans. Purposeful sampling was used, beginning with the June 1996 nationwide March for the Animals in Washington, DC. I employed snowball sampling to further identify vegans from a small core of vegans identi ed at the March. To increase the probability of interviewing committed vegans, I interviewed only those who had been vegan for at least one year (Table 1). I used an unstructured interview protocol, with the primary purpose of allowing each participant to share the story of how he or she learned to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Although I asked for clari cation or elaboration regarding their learning, most of my contribution to the interviews was to keep the participants from straying away from their stories. Table 1 The Participants Participant Number of Years Age Sex Vegetarian Vegan Profession Cary 31 M ~12 ~10 Attorney/Real estate Developer Drew 26 M 6 5 Youth counselor/former army ranger Franz 38 M 16 7 University professor Janet 52 F 7 7 Law student/former occupational therapist Lanny 40 M Structural architect Lena 40 s F ~14 ~13 Graphic artist Lisa 42 F Secretary Lucille 85 F ~6 ~5 Grandmother Michelle 60 s F 10 N/A Wife/grandmother 4 Barbara McDonald Sean 23 M 5 4 Tattoo artist Roger 23 M 6 ~4 Body piercer Maire and Will 40 s F&M 7 ~4 Secretary/Corporate mgr. ~ = Approximately I rst read the interviews in their entirety, noting initial impressions. I constructed a narrative of each participant s story, which I sent to the participant for review. Open and axial coding were used to create categories, following the procedure outlined in Strauss and Corbin (1990). Following axial coding, I employed the paradigm model to organize the emergent categories around a central phenomenon. Strauss and Corbin (1990) recommended that the researcher tell the collective story analytically, based on the results of the categorical organization. I found it more productive to develop the collective story from the initial narratives, constructed in the form of a schema, from the rst reading. I checked each narrative against this collective schema. Then I enlisted three participants to review the schema, asking them if it rang true from their perspective. The resulting model is a psychological schema of the process of how these vegans learned about veganism and how they adopted a vegan lifestyle. Findings The Process of Learning to Become Vegan Õ Õ Repression Decision Who I Was Catalyst Oriented World View Õ Õ Õ Õ Õ Õ Õ Õ Learning Õ Õ Õ Figure 1. The Process of Learning to Become Vegan. An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan 5 The process of learning to become vegan was rooted in the individuals sense of who they are and how they t in the world. During the learning process, the individual passed through a number of experiences diagrammed schematically as a general process of learning to become vegan (Figure 1). The elements are described below and de ned in Table 2. Table 2 Elements of the Vegan Learning Process Who I Was The background and experiences that made the participa who they were prior to the learning experience. Catalytic Experience The experience that introduced the participant to some aspect of animal cruelty, and resulted in repression or becoming oriented. Repression The repression of knowledge. Becoming Oriented The intention to learn more, make a decision, or do both. Learning Learning about animal abuse or how to live as a vegetarian or vegan. Decision Making the choice to become vegetarian or vegan. World View The new perspective that guides the vegan s new lifestyle. Each individual came to the learning event with a unique personal and cultural history, identi ed in this study as who I was. These histories shaped their original world views and, for most of the participants, in uenced their learning to become vegan. For example, most of the participants claimed to have been animal people all their lives, which they felt may have helped them become more receptive to information about animal cruelty. Information on cruelty served as a catalyst to one of two reactions. In two cases, individuals reported a reaction interpreted as repression. These participants put the information in the back of their minds until a later time, when another catalytic event facilitated its recall. A second, more common reaction was to become oriented in one of two ways: either to learn more about animal cruelty or to decide to become vegetarian or vegan and, subsequently, to learn more about animal cruelty and how to live as a vegetarian or vegan. The participant typically spent a fair amount of time, even years, learning 6 Barbara McDonald about animal cruelty or how to live as a vegetarian or vegan. If oriented to learn about cruelty but undecided about becoming a vegetarian or vegan, the participant made the decision after a period of learning about animal cruelty. Over time, the participant adopted a world view characteristic of vegans, represented by a belief in the equality of human and nonhuman animals. This world view became the foundation for an ethically-based praxis. The following discussion examines each stage of the process in more detail. Participants Testimonies Who were these people before they became vegans? Most of the participants had a prior love of nature and of pets but did not see the connection between their companion animals and food animals. Before becoming vegan, most of the participants felt that they had always been compassionate and caring to nonhuman animals, but they had compartmentalized their compassion. Will described it this way: We consider ourselves to be animal people, and compassionate, but it was cats and dogs, and pets, and you always felt compassion for them, but that was kind of compartmentalized, in that you didn t really think about the rest of the animal kingdom. Although most of the participants had always been animal people, they had not made the connection between nonhuman animals and the food they ate. Lucille, Lanny, Cary, Roger, Lisa, Will, and Maire all expressed amazement that they had not seen the connection. Cary, for example, said, When I saw hamburgers or steaks, I never put two and two together. I used to eat tongue, which is a Jewish delicacy. I never even knew what it was. It s that disguised. Even though they say the word tongue, I never knew it was that. Roger, a young body piercer, said that he... had lots of pets, dogs, cats. I also had an uncle that had a farm where he raised cows. I used to go up to my uncle s farm and play with cows and An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan 7 never made the connection where the meat came from until later in life and I was like, whoa! It s crazy. I loved the cows. I played with the cows. Lena, atypical of the participants, said that she did not have a strong affection for animals when she was young. Nevertheless, she recalled numerous events involving companion animals during her childhood. Janet observed that childhood affection for animals is not exceptional: I remember I was heartbroken when my pet frog [died]. Absolutely devastated me. But I don t think that s anything unusual. I think other children were the same way. In summary, most of the participants felt affection for nonhuman animals prior to becoming vegan. Their compassion excluded food animals, because they did not see the connection between the animals they kept as pets and the animals they consumed as food. Catalytic Experiences Catalytic experiences presented information to the participant about animal cruelty and resulted in further action. Participants usually encountered more than one catalytic experience. The catalytic experience triggered one of two responses. Most participants became oriented to further learning about animal abuse. Alternatively, a few participants repressed the information, only to have it resurface at a later time. Most participants who became oriented to further learning did not make an immediate decision. These participants became open to learning about animal abuse and eventually made the decision to give up animal products. For Lanny and Lisa, the catalytic experience was akin to a religious conversion. Lanny, who had learned about animal cruelty but had not yet decided to go vegetarian, made the decision one day while sitting re ectively in a bottomland pasture. Lanny s life had not been turning out as he thought it might, and he had gone outside to think about it. While he was thinking, he looked up and exchanged a long and pensive gaze with a buck standing on the hill above him. He said, 8 Barbara McDonald I just decided not to eat meat anymore. Just all of a sudden, that afternoon, for whatever reason, whether it was a force that made me decide, I don t know. But, it was that instant that I decided to give up meat. Lisa converted to veganism after watching a video on animal cruelty. She described her reaction to the video this way: I watched the video. It was almost like, it was like they say, the curtain was pulled back. The truth was made known. I felt like I had been born again. It was like there is no turning back now. Now I know the cruelty that exists. The catalytic experience was often, but not necessarily, emotional. An intense emotional reaction to the catalytic experience usually also included a cognitive interpretation that enabled the participant to immediately comprehend, as well as feel, the consequences of the new knowledge of animal abuse. Cognition typically manifested recognition of the power relationship between human and nonhuman animals and was fed by negative emotions, such as guilt, sadness, and anger. Rarely was a decision made or did learning occur without an interaction between emotions and cognition. Participants often described their understanding as immediate, exempli ed by Michelle s statement: I thought, my God, I just didn t realize what things went on, I really didn t. Although Will had had catalytic experiences before, followed by his repressing information about animal cruelty, he described the cognitive and affective impact of the catalytic experience that resulted in a decision: Yeah we hit the decision point because once you were face to face with certain facts that, it s like, once you know something you can t not know it. So once we saw those issues, and saw those tapes, and saw the slaughterhouse, and all that, we both, that afternoon, we were sitting there thinking, I have to [go vegetarian]. Janet s second catalytic experience also occurred after she had been learning about animal cruelty. Janet had raised a young mockingbird she called Chirp. One day, Janet left Chirp outside unattended, and one of her dogs killed him. She felt guilt, pain, and grief. That evening while Janet was cooking, she experienced an epiphany: I cracked an egg and I thought God, that s like a An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan 9 baby Chirp. When that happened, I thought I m gonna be a vegetarian. And I never went back. The emotions felt during the catalytic experience were typically negative ones: pain, shock, guilt, sadness, or depression. Lisa, like Michelle, cried as she rst learned about animal cruelty. Lena told about her emotional reaction to a video about vivisection, saying, It affected me so dramatically. It just broke my heart. I have never had [anything] to [have] such an effect. Emotions seem to have been one of the major de ning characteristics of the more memorable catalytic experiences. The decision to become vegan following a period of vegetarianism was more often rational. Will and Maire, for example, spent a lot of time discussing veganism before they decided to make the decision. Maire noted that they really consternated over [becoming vegan]. That ended up being a big decision, a big conversation, with us. Drew, who examined animal rights literature for about a month before making his decision, said his decision was mostly rational. I just decided I did not want to contribute to the big... meat machine anymore... I would not say it was emotional. The Repression of Information Two of the participants heard about animal cruelty but did not immediately respond to it. These participants repressed information about animal cruelty, only to have it reemerge at a later time. Cary, for example, read an article on veal when he was 16 years old. He said the story hit me hard. Regardless, he put the information into the back of his mind and went on with his life. When I asked him if he was unable to make the change because of family pressure, Cary said, Not even my family, but my dietary habits. I had never hardly met a vegetarian until college. So, I m really going way off on a loop if I m going vegetarian in high school.... I mean you can t go vegetarian if you don t eat vegetables. Will also found a way to hear, but not respond to, the information on animal cruelty. After learning about the clubbing of Harp Seals, he and Maire began receiving information about animal cruelty in the mail and were slowly 1 0 Barbara McDonald becoming active in animal rights. Still, they remained meat eaters. When I asked Will how other people could hear the information but not act on it, he replied, If they accept this as really being the truth, then there is a moral decision that has to be made, and if I make that decision, then I ll have to quit wearing leather, I m going to have to quit eating meat. There s a denial there. But that s very strong. That s very very strong. I mean, people can rationalize things very easily.... So they block it out, and throw a big rationalization in it that says, Well that s what they say, but that s really not the truth. Becoming Oriented Following a catalytic experience, the participants became oriented to further learning. For some, this orientation included making a decision to go vegetarian or vegan. For others, the orientation was toward learning about animal abuse, how to live a new lifestyle, or both. Becoming ori
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