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The data clearly shows the biggest difference between those who are currently vegetarian, compared to those who stopped being vegetarian, is that current vegetarians are motivated by "Animal Protection" -- 68% for people who are veg, vs only 27% for those who went back to eating animals.
This is not surprising. As I've argued for years, telling people they should chose their diet based on self-interest (health) leaves them much more easily influenced by peer pressure, family, and convenience. It is in most people's "self interest" to fit in and eat what their friends and family eat.
On the other hand, people who are motivated by the animals, disgust at eating animals, and concern for the environment -- in short, individuals who care about more than self-interest -- are those who are stay veg. That these motivations prove "protective" against recidivism should strongly inform our advocacy choices.
HRC makes another very important point: like the vast majority of people who are motivated by health, former vegetarians eat a lot of chickens, leading to an immense increase in cruelty and suffering. Again, this is a known fatal shortcoming of the health argument, as discussed in Advocacy Can Hurt Animals, and Ginny Messina's Bad News for Red Meat Is Bad News for Chickens.
HRC offers other important recommendations:
- Include honest and thorough information about the "how" of ethical eating;
- Think of advocacy as a long-term relationship;
- Encourage people to take incremental, sustainable steps;
- Focus on chickens.
But most importantly, the data supports the bottom line:
If we want to actually help animals, if we want to change society's view of animals, we need to advocate for the animals.
Thanks to HRC and VegFund for this study. See also: this Psychology Today summary, as well as Why Do Most Vegetarians Go Back to Eating Meat?