An Interview with Social Psychologist and Meat-Replacement Researcher, Dr. Christopher Bryant.
Feature image credit: Maël BALLAND
Christopher, could you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m Chris Bryant, and I’m a social psychologist specializing in meat reduction and alternative proteins. I completed my PhD on consumer acceptance of cultivated meat at the University of Bath in 2020, and have since been consulting with animal NGOs and alternative protein companies and publishing on the topic of meat replacement.
You have published extensively on the barriers to meat reduction, including your recent review “Going veggie: Identifying and overcoming the social and psychological barriers to veganism” with Annayah Prosser and Julie Barnett. If you were to pinpoint the single most prevalent or difficult to overcome barrier to vegetarian or vegan diets, what would it be and in what ways can it be overcome?
The paper uses the Transtheoretical Model of Change to position different barriers at different stages of the process. I think that, from a vegan’s perspective, barriers such as motivated reasoning can become very salient from our interactions with meat-eaters. However, what we can miss is the broader ignorance about, and avoidance of, information about factory farming. I think that one of the best things animal advocates can do is to remind meat-eaters of this reality in straightforward terms. Many of these people will subsequently engage in motivated reasoning because they don’t want to eat less meat, but they cannot even get to this stage (in the Transtheoretical Model, the ‘contemplation stage’) if they are simply avoiding the issue. For many people, even needing to express this motivated reasoning is a sign of progress.
You have also published extensively on the topic of cultured, or ‘clean’ meat. For example, you recent paper “Culture, Meat, and Cultured Meat”. In general, consumer acceptance of these products seems low. Though, there are some who are more willing to try than others. If you were to describe the demographic profiles (i.e., in terms of their gender, political orientation, dietary habits, attitudes, country of origin, ethnicity, etc.) of a person most and least willing to eat clean meat products, what would they be like?
There are a couple of encouraging sociodemographic factors which are associated with higher acceptance of cultivated meat. First, men and heavier meat-eaters are more likely to say they would eat cultivated meat. This is good news, partly because these groups are less likely to favour plant-based alternatives, and partly because these groups account for a disproportionately high amount of total meat consumption.
We also see higher acceptance of cultivated meat among those who are more familiar with the concept, which is another positive sign, since this may imply that acceptance will increase over time as familiarity increases.
More recently you have been looking at animal-free dairy products, for example, your recent paper “Don’t Have a Cow, Man: Consumer Acceptance of Animal-Free Dairy Products in Five Countries” with Oscar Zollman Thomas. Consumer acceptance of these products seems high, significantly higher than that of clean meat. Why this disparity, do you think?
It does seem to be the case that animal-free dairy products enjoy higher acceptance than cultivated meat. There could be a number of reasons for this, including the different function and status of dairy products in consumers lives, compared to meat, the perception of less complex technology involved in producing animal-free dairy vs. cultivated meat, and the already-existing preponderance of dairy alternatives, meaning that the ‘dairy alternative’ category is more familiar to consumers.
How far away are we from seeing clean meat and animal-free dairy products on our supermarket shelves?
In some countries, these products are already available in some form. Singapore was the first country to approve the sale of cultivated meat, and it has now been on sale there for over a year, while animal-free ice cream (Brave Robot) and, more recently, cream cheese (Modern Kitchen) is available in the US.
Interestingly, supermarket shelves are likely to be a more distant target than restaurants. Due, in part, to the high initial cost of these products, they are likely to only be available as premium products in the short term (though there is reason to be optimistic that their price will come down in the longer term!).
You have been working in this field for a number of years now, publishing routinely since 2018. In that time, what changes have you noted (if any) in terms of consumer attitudes toward meat-reduced diets and meat-free products?
One of the best indicators of progress we have found was in a study I co-authored with Hermes Sanctorum of the Belgian non-profit, GAIA. In this study, we ran the same survey on a large representative Belgian sample across two consecutive years. We found no change in attitudes towards cultivated meat, but a significant increase in satisfaction with existing plant-based alternatives. In 2019, 44% of the Belgian public were satisfied with meat alternatives; by 2020, this rose to 51%, marking a significant rise in a short space of time, and showing evidence of rapidly improving animal product alternatives.
Your research is littered with advice for vegan advocates, including the recent recommendation that we ought to focus on the quality of animal lives, not the quantity. What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to vegan advocates right now?
Yes, it certainly seems that focusing on the large numbers of animals involved doesn’t make the problem seem any more urgent, and in fact, it might demotivate individuals by making them view their own contribution as a ‘drop in the ocean’. This is one example of how animal advocates can utilise our knowledge of the quirks in human psychology.
There are three reliable ways in which vegan advocates can effectively help animals. The first is personal communication, and persuasion towards plant-based diets, which we explored in the ‘Going Veggie’ paper. Today, most of us can communicate with hundreds of people instantly on social media, and while it’s not a good idea to spam your friends, the occasional informational post about plant-based eating can do more to change attitudes than you might think.
The second is donating money to effective animal charities (see the meta-charity Animal Charity Evaluators for recommendations!). One of the best animal charities right now is Faunalytics, which conducts this kind of research on dietary change and other routes to helping animals. Vegans and other altruistic people might be inclined to bristle at such a hard-nosed financial suggestion, but the reality is that advocacy organisations simply cannot do their work without donor support.
The third is taking part in co-ordinated campaigns to influence corporate and government decision-makers (see The Humane League’s Fast Action Network for example!). While some animal advocates tend not to favour welfare improvements, it is important to recognise that these improvements increase the cost of rearing animals, and therefore decrease the number of animals reared. Therefore, welfare improvements don’t just make the animals we farm more comfortable – they actually cause fewer animals to be farmed.
Interest in veganism has been rising for a number of years now. 2019 being named the ‘Year of Vegan’ and 2021 seeing a record high number of Veganuary sign-ups. In your opinion, what do you think 2022 has in store for plant-forward diets and the vegan movement as a whole?
The last few years have been an exciting time to be vegan. It is quite clear that plant-based diets are on the rise, and that supermarkets, restaurants, and other food outlets are keen to be ahead of the trend. The number of product innovations in this area has exploded.
One of the exciting things about this space is that there is still so much room for growth and product diversification. While sales of these products have increased exponentially in recent years, most plant-based products are still more expensive than their animal-based counterparts, while some consumers want further improvements to taste or nutritional profiles.
These products could diverge, with some brands pursuing more health-focused vegetable-based alternatives, and others focusing on more indulgent and tasty product formats. Others, still, might focus on developing low-cost plant-based products for new markets.
One of the many achievements of Veganuary has been to create an event in the plant-based calendar for food companies. That means that this is an exciting time of year for vegans, and future vegans, because our dinners are about to be upgraded once again! In my spare time, I like to make vegan memes, the image you see to the right here, is one of my favourites.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
You can check out my personal website at www.chrisbryantphd.com and my consulting website at www.bryantresearch.co.uk. Academics, postgraduate and undergraduate researchers can also join our research group, RECAP (Research to End Consumption of Animal Products) at www.recapresearch.org. This group aims to facilitate collaboration among researchers, thus, accelerating impactful research with the goal of eventually ending animal product consumption.
You can also reach me at email@example.com for research projects or speaking engagements on the topic of reducing animal product consumption.
Key Papers by Christopher Bryant
Bryant, C., Prosser, A., & Barnett, J. (2021). Going veggie: Identifying and overcoming the social and psychological barriers to veganism. Appetite, 105812. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105812
Bryant, C., & Sanctorum, H. (2021). Alternative proteins, evolving attitudes: Comparing consumer attitudes to plant-based and cultured meat in Belgium in two consecutive years. Appetite, 161, 105161. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105161
Bryant, C., & van der Weele, C. (2021). The farmers’ dilemma: Meat, means, and morality. Appetite, 167, 105605. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105605
Zollman Thomas, O., & Bryant, C. (2021). Don’t have a cow, man: Consumer acceptance of animal-free dairy products in five countries. Frontiers In Sustainable Food Systems, 5. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.678491
Bryant, C. (2020). Innovation in meat production: A problem and an opportunity. Animal Sentience, 5(30). doi: 10.51291/2377-7478.1640
Bryant, C. (2019). Culture, meat, and cultured meat. Journal of Animal Science, 98(8). https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/skaa172
For more, see Christopher’s Google Scholar homepage here.
Authors: Rebecca Gregson & Jared Piazza