I’m Luke McGuire, currently a Lecturer at the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter, where I have been working since 2020. Prior to that I studied for a BSc and MSc at Cardiff University, followed by a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. After my PhD, I spent three years working as a postdoctoral research fellow on a Wellcome Trust/ESRC funded project examining inequalities in STEM representation in the UK and USA.
My research interests fall broadly within the realm of social and moral development between childhood and adolescents’ attitudes regarding their LGBTQ+ peers, STEM gender inequality, the development of social class identity, and of course, how young people come to think about our relationship with non-human animals (particularly regarding food). In my spare time I can usually be found cycling across Dartmoor in search of stone circles.
A lot of my thinking in this area comes from my training in Social Domain Theory, a perspective that argues that our reasoning about the decisions we make involves us weighing up moral (e.g., “how much harm does this cause?”), social conventional (e.g., “what do other people normally do?”), and personal concerns (e.g., “how much autonomy do I have in this situation?”). Learning how to coordinate these different concerns is a key developmental task, and it struck me that all three are relevant in terms of what we eat. Choosing whether to eat meat involves thinking (or not) about harm to animals, conventions about food, and the personal autonomy that is granted to our dietary choices. So, I was really interested in how some of this would play out in children when thinking about food.
At the same time, we were driven by the amazing work that has already been done in social psychology and philosophy on speciesism and the meat paradox (I can’t name all the authors we’re indebted to here without leaving someone out). As readers of this blog likely know, we think about animals in strange ways, by loving some and eating others. This in part seems to be driven by speciesism (the belief that humans have some greater inherent moral worth than animals), categorisation and motivated-cognition processes (once we see an animal as ‘food’, the information we choose to pay attention to about its sentience changes).
In our study (conducted with my collaborators Sally Palmer and Nadira Faber), we’ve shown that children (9-11-years-old), as compared to adults, are less speciesist, believe farm animals ought to be treated just as well as humans and pets (i.e., they are harm averse), and perceive eating meat as less morally acceptable. The bottom line here is that we are not born as motivated meat eaters but construct this world view somewhere between 11 and 18 years old.
One interesting finding from this work was that children categorised farmed animals differently than adults – for example, were more likely to categorise them as “pets” than “food.” Why do you think children view farmed animals differently than adults, and how might adults be encouraged to see farmed animals more like children do?
Yes, it’s super interesting that children were much more on the fence about whether a cow, a pig, or a chicken could be classified as food or as a pet. We’ve still got a lot to learn about the relationship between categorisation, knowledge about food systems (e.g., what happens in a slaughterhouse), and motivated cognition. I have a strong belief that humans are, for the most part, motivated to reduce harm. Nobody wants to harm an animal for no reason (case in point: the recent furore directed at Kurt Zouma for kicking a cat). At the same time, we are conflicted because many people like to eat animals. The conflict here can only possibly arise once you understand that an animal must die to make the burger you are enjoying. I suspect that this knowledge coming to the fore in adolescence leads to a cascade of categorisation, speciesism, and motivated cognition processes. I am currently working with an MSc student who is examining this question, so hopefully more to come on that soon.
In terms of shifting ourselves back to seeing farm animals as closer to friend than food, I think it may already be too late in adulthood to take a full step back. Although, we can learn a lot from people who become vegetarian or vegan in adulthood – what was the underlying cause that took them back to thinking of farm animals as friend over food? For me, breaking this chain must start in youth. More open dialogues about how food is produced, along with equal placement of plant-forward options in schools would go a long way to beginning to break down speciesism and maintain the categorisation of farm animals as animals, rather than food.
Your findings support emerging research that suggests that children are less speciesist than adults. What does your work tell us about speciesism and its development, for example, does it point to an underlying cause of children’s reduced speciesism?
Absolutely, I think it’s fascinating that our work aligns with that of Matti Wilks, Lucius Caviola and other folks in this area. Matti, Lucius and colleagues showed that children 5-9-years-old don’t prioritise human life over animal life within moral dilemmas. We’ve shown that, on a speciesism scale, 9-11-year-olds score lower than adults. So, based on these two studies, we might reasonably argue that speciesist thinking emerges between 11 and 18-years-old. This goes back to the point above about food systems knowledge. I think many of us can remember realising that the food on our plate was an animal, but really knowing what’s happening in the ‘black box’ between farm and plate is something we tend to keep hidden from children. By adolescence, you are deemed old enough to receive this cultural knowledge. The open question is whether this then kicks off that chain of events.
What do you see are important directions for our field, particularly with regards to child development and compassion towards animals? Are there any unanswered questions you would like to see researched more?
I really hope that more researchers in the field of social and moral development start to see this as an important and worthy issue that deserves our full research attention. There is a dedicated core of brilliant researchers working on this issue with adults, but less attention has been paid to this from the world of moral development, which I find puzzling. It’s not an overstatement to say that understanding how we come to think about nature (including our relationship with non-human animals) is fundamentally connected to our survival as a species. We need more interdisciplinary research (as well as in collaboration with practitioners) to understand how we come to think about animals: the role of parents, the impact of cultural norms, the pragmatics of food education, how to make alternatives affordable and accessible – my list goes on and on. To steal from Diane Di Prima: “No one way works, it will take all of us shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down”.
“It’s not an overstatement to say that understanding how we come to think about nature is fundamentally connected to our survival as a species.” -Luke McGuire
If you were given the authority to add a topic to the National Curriculum, to be taught in primary or secondary schools across the UK, what would this be and why?
This was the hardest question here by far! My Dad was a teacher for many years and has long advocated for a Scandinavian model of education that focuses on social development first, years before starting to learn about long division or grammar. I’m not an educational expert by any means, but I think there’s a lot to be said for spending the first 7 or 8 years of your life just learning how to communicate and empathise with others. We know that theory of mind abilities (being able to understand how others are thinking and perceiving the world) are related to moral decision making. Perspective taking and emotional understanding are the key to the whole thing. So, that’s less of an addition to the curriculum and more of a total overhaul of the educational system – maybe don’t hand me that authority just yet!
How can our readers best get in touch with you?
Thanks very much for giving me the chance to answer these brilliant questions. You can email me (email@example.com) or find me on twitter (@lukemcguirex). There’s a lot of work to be done here and I’d love to speak to anyone keen to collaborate – thanks PHAIR!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
The voluntary abstention from animal-derived food products, or veganism, is said to have both a long- and short-history. The concept of animal-product abstention has a deep and prevailing cultural history throughout the Middle East and Asian countries as well as being central to many religious philosophies including ancient Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
However, it was only in 1944 that the term ‘vegan’ was coined by Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy, to describe a then new sub-group of vegetarians who additionally abstained from the consumption of dairy and eggs for the purpose of animal welfare.
Despite its rich cultural history, much of what we know about the progression of the vegan or vegetarian (veg*nism) movement today comes from research and perspectives which utilise so-called “WEIRD” (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) samples.
To expand our historical and cultural understanding of veg*nism, we sat down with Gina Song Lopez, a graduate researcher studying the expansion of veg*nism in the Sino-Cultural Sphere (specifically: China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong). Here is what she had to say.
Gina, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Gina Song Lopez (宋芝蘭 Sòng zhīlán/Song Chih Lan in Mandarin Chinese). I did my BA at the University of Queensland, Australia, where I majored in Political Science and International Relations. After graduation I moved to Taiwan where I completed my MA in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University. Now I am a second-year doctoral student at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies at Lund University in Sweden. My research interests are largely focused on environmental politics and sociology in Asia, sustainability studies, Sci-Tech, and critical animal studies. Outside of research I really enjoy watching anime, drinking boba tea, and training Brazilian jiujitsu (I am not skilled at all though).
You recently started your doctoral research looking at the expansion of vegan and vegetarianism in the Sino-Cultural Sphere. What inspired you to take on this research?
This is a bit of a story. For my Master thesis I wanted to focus on Taiwan’s environmental movements at first. There is a bit of an established academic space for researching environmentalism in Taiwan, especially in the context of social movements and environmental politics and policy. However, around the time I was to start writing my proposal two things happened. First, I realized that beyond aspects of conservation and wildlife protection, animals themselves and concepts such as animal rights or animal welfare were largely absent or marginal in the literature. Second, veganism, as known in the West, started to gain traction in Taiwan with a few groups of very passionate and hardworking activists who I came to know. So, I realized that something important was happening and I needed to research it. After completing my MA thesis on the topic of the Animal Protection Movement in Taiwan, I knew that I wanted to take this to the next level and pursue a PhD. Then in 2019, with the publication of the EAT-Lancet report, I decided that I wanted to specifically explore the cultural and regional nuances of promoting plant-based diets in East Asia, starting with veg*nism and animal advocacy movements.
Can you give a brief overview of the history and the current state of the vegan and vegetarian movement in the Sino-cultural sphere?
When it comes to talking about the history of veg*nism in the region there is an important distinction and acknowledgement that needs to be made. To begin with, veganism and vegetarianism in the sense of ‘meat abstinence’ in East Asia has existed over millennia due certain religious practices (Buddhism, Daoism, etc). Also due to religion, meat avoidance has also often been coupled with concepts such as ‘mercy for animals’ or ‘respect for life’. However, while there are certain and significant overlaps, vegan and vegetarian practices are now in flux in the region.
The newer generation of vegans and vegetarians are more concerned with the environment, health, and of course, animal ethics. As for modern history, before the popularization of veg*nism this past decade, there was a ‘secular’ vegetarian project during the early 1900s where a group of intellectuals promoted plant-based nutrition for self and national development (see the work of Angela Ki Che Leung and Jia-Chen Fu). In the more immediate record, there are also some contextual and timeline differences.
In Taiwan, where I am most familiar with and have been researching the longest, the Life Conservationist Association (LCA) began promoting animal rights first in the 1990s. They produced the first Chinese Mandarin translation of Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ and led the charge for the passing of the Animal Protection Act in 1998. There are now several other prominent NGOs like the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), the Taiwan SPCA, Kindness to Animals (KITA), and Taiwan Animal Equality Association (TAEA). There are also university clubs and societies for animal protection and animal ethics discussions. As well as more international connections, you can find some Anonymous for the Voiceless chapters around Taiwan now. Taipei even joined the Official Animal Rights March organized with Surge Activism in 2019. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, many things were on hold for a while. As soon as things began opening up, the Taiwan Vegan Frenzy and the No Meat Market, the two main periodic vegan fairs on the island, resumed their events.
In China, vegetarian university clubs have also been quite active, as well as other social meet-ups and vegan advocacy groups like Vegans of Shanghai. To my knowledge, the Good Food Fund (GFF) has been a key driver in the movement in the past few years. Jian-Yi, the founder of GFF, was also involved in the establishment of the China Vegan Society which was launched this year along with the Meatless Monday campaign. The CVS just held a three-day VegFest in Beijing with reportedly over 10,000 participants in October. Hong Kong is certainly smaller in size and population compared to the previous two. Yet they also have an AV chapter with a monthly Cube of Truth and a HK Pig Save group connected to the Save Movement.
Much of what we know about the progression of vegan and vegetarianism has largely come from research which utilises so-called “WEIRD” (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) samples. With your insights into the Sino-cultural sphere, do you feel that this has produced a biased view of the movement?
Yes and no. To be fair, the emergent field of vegan studies was a project that began in a WEIRD setting. It’s where concepts such as animal rights and animal ethics entered academic discussions and began drawing attention. Anyone researching veg*nism knows of the Oxford Vegetarians. The West is also where veganism as we know it–from Straight Edge counterculture to vegan celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Joaquin Phoenix–have been operating. Now, with the globalizing power of the internet and people like me going back and forth between continents working and studying abroad, veganism and vegetarianism is spreading around the world. Many people are learning about veganism and animal rights and adapting it to their own cultural and political contexts and thus diversifying what veg*nism looks like. In the case of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, I argue that local advocates are in fact ‘translating’ veg*nism. Re-interpreting the meaning of meatless diets and human-animal relations against the backdrop of prevalent cultural and religious practices. I think what is important is to begin taking notice of these local movements, expanding accounts of veg*nism to other geographies and cultures as its adapted, and see what can be learned from each other.
What are some common misconceptions about the state of the movement within the Sino-Cultural sphere?
One thing you hear a lot when talking veg*nism or animal advocacy both inside or outside of Asia is that it is easy to promote such concepts because of the cultural-religious context. As mentioned above, there are overlaps for sure and in fact there is a sense of shared goals with some veg*n Buddhist groups. So, this is somewhat true, but their dynamic is actually more complex. This is perhaps better illustrated by the fact that there is a conceptual gap when translating ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ to Chinese. Recently I was having a conversation with an informant about the word ‘vegan’ in Chinese and she mentioned that it has been a source of debate. This is interesting because there are about five broad categories of meatless diets in Chinese (‘full/pure vegan’ [全素 quán sù/純素 chún sù]; ‘ovo-vegetarian’ [蛋素 qàn sù]; ‘lacto-vegetarian’ [奶素 nǎi sù]; ‘lacto-ovo vegetarian’ [奶蛋素 nǎi dàn sù]; ‘plant-based allium/allium vegetarian’ [植物五辛素 zhíwù wǔ xīn sù]) and only one sort of fits the word ‘vegan’, which is usually translated as ‘full/complete vegetarian’ (全素 quán sù) or ‘pure vegetarian’ (純素 chún sù). So, they have had to be creative and come up with variations for ‘plant-based’. For example, 蔬食(shūshí, ‘shū’ means vegetable and ‘shí’ means food), or 植物基 (zhíwù jī, which literally means ‘plant-based’).
For the launch of Meatless Monday in China, GFF and CVS founder Jian-Yi also mentioned that they had to think about what type of wording/characters they would use in Chinese to make sure people understood what it was about. They went with 蔬适周一 (shū shì zhōu yī). Which is a wordplay that sounds like 素食 (sùshí, ‘veg*n’) but is also a homonym with “舒适” (shūshì) which means ‘comfortable’ or ‘cosy’ (no relation to the delicious vinegared rice wrapped in seaweed you might crave for lunch, which is spelled 壽司 [‘shòusī’] in Mandarin Chinese). They did this, in part, because the term 素食 (sùshí), the most common translation for ‘veg*n food’, is generally infused with religious connotations. ‘Sù’ may mean ‘veg*n’, but it can also mean ‘plain’, ‘essence’, or ‘element’.
Another issue is that religious veg*ns do not consume alliums (garlic, onions, chives, etc). So, a dish might appear perfectly vegan for someone in the West and local non-religious veg*ns, but then exclude most of the local veg*n population. To address this issue, products may be labelled 五辛素 (wǔxīn sù, ‘allium veg*n’). However, 五辛素 (wǔxīn) products may contain eggs or milk. So, you see how complicated things can get.
Other than that, perceptions about the state of the movement really depend on who you ask and what their advocacy priorities are. For example, veganism and plant-based diets are certainly gaining prominence. Awareness about animal welfare is also more widespread now but ideas about animal rights are still quite novel. So, mobilizing people around animal liberation motives, like many other places, is not always possible.
What unique facilitators and barriers does the Sino-cultural sphere face in terms of the progression of vegan and vegetarianism?
As elaborated above, the context of veg*n religious practice is perhaps both, the most unique facilitator and barrier. There are certainly other socio-political and cultural aspects. In his research on social movements, sociologist Michael Hsiao from Academia Sinica once said that Taiwan has ‘a demanding civil society’. This certainly rings true with the work of vegan and animal advocates and the demonstrations, lobbying, and petitions they are involved with. In China, according to a 2019 consumer study, food neophobia is not much of a barrier. People are more willing to try new plant-based and cultivated meat products. So, it is not surprising that significant changes are also coming from industry, supermarket shelves, restaurants and coffee shop menus.
As for barriers, commensality aspects and health concerns are top of the list. In terms of commensality, especially at home or eating out with friends, communal eating is important. Sharing cài (菜) (meat and/or vegetable dishes) that complement the fàn (飯) (rice or other starch and grains) plays a role in family and social relations. Many people who go veg*n and live with family often must navigate this and eat ‘side or edge’ vegetarian food (鍋邊素). Meaning that they only pick the vegetables and plant-protein contained in a dish and avoid the meat part.
In terms of health, while the American Dietetic Association (now, ‘Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’) might have established its position on the nutritional adequacy of appropriately planned veg*n diets, in the Sino-cultural context there is also the influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I am less versed on this aspect and have only recently began exploring it. However, people in East Asia do often talk about having to avoid/eat certain foods for their properties in TCM. Therefore, promoting veg*nism in the region from a health perspective definitely needs to engage more with TCM in order to reach and address local understanding of meatless diets and nutrition-based challenges. Unlike the word ‘vegan’, the phrase “what about protein?” (蛋白質怎麼樣？Dànbáizhí zěnme yang?) translates very easily into Chinese.
In the western world, the rise of veganism has been met with a rise in anti-vegan attitudes, does the movement in the Sino-cultural sphere come up against the same sort of resistance? If so, what does vegan resistance look like in the Sino-cultural sphere?
Fortunately, this degree of resistance and anti-veg*nism has not really happened so far. People might be surprised and curious to find out that someone would go meatless for non-spiritual reasons, but most often just assume it is because of religious reasons. Plant-based products like ‘faux meat’ and tofu have been conspicuous in Chinese vegetarian cooking alongside the existence of vegetarian Buddhism. Thus, veg*ns and plant-based food have usually had their own space and have not had to deal with such anti-veg*n reactions other than navigating family and social meals. The movement is also still small comparatively to the West. Many people still have never heard the word ‘vegan’. The only instance I am aware of in terms of public backlash was of a news piece from China a couple of months ago where a kindergarten in Chengdu was providing vegetarian meals to children. There was a social media post that led to public concerns about the children’s nutrition. The kindergarten was ordered to change its menu to adhere to national regulations.
What does the future of vegan and vegetarianism look like in the Sino-cultural sphere?
It’s looking promising! Being away from Taiwan for a bit over a year and now back for fieldwork I can notice a difference. Vegan advocacy is diversifying, not only with street activism and fairs. Hardworking and passionate advocates are trying to find the most effective ways to pass their message and engage with policy. Now there is also even more plant-based options around. I came back to find local brands of oat and almond milk at the neighbourhood supermarket. The establishment of the China Vegan Society this year is also a big step forward and I am excited to see what happens next.
Would you like our readers to be able to get in touch with you, and if so, how can they do so (e.g., Twitter, email, etc.)?
Sure! Readers can contact me via email (email@example.com) or follow me on Twitter and IG @veggyacademic.
Anti-veganism is the aversion to or dislike of vegans, often characterized by the perception of vegans as militant, hostile, oversensitive, hypocritical, self-righteous, opinionated, and moralistic. Such sentiments can be seen in almost every corner of society. From the way in which vegans are represented in television, on social media, in national news and in scandals like that of William Sitwell, the (then) editor of Waitrose magazine who joked about killing vegans “one by one”.
So, why do meat eaters denigrate those who abstain from meat and other animal products? Across the psychological literature there is a growing consensus that moralistic impressions seem to comprise the majority of negative attitudes towards vegans and, to a large extent, explain why they are subject to discrimination.
Importantly, by developing our understanding of what provokes anti-vegan sentiments means that we are better equipped to avoid or defuse it. To understand how we can enhance open-mindedness towards those who refuse meat and other animal products, I sat down with Maike Weiper, a researcher in the field of social change. Here is what she had to say.
Maike, could you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Maike Weiper and I am a research Master’s student at the Behavioural Science Institute (BSI) Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. Generally, my research covers the broad field of social change and societal reactions to this change, but I am curious where it will take me within the upcoming years! Besides my studies, I enjoy exploring vegan restaurants and I also love to dance.
You recently published a paper in Appetite, with your collaborator Roos Vonk entitled: “A communicational approach to enhance open-mindedness towards meat-refusers”. What inspired you to conduct this research?
I know from my own experience how difficult it is to go to BBQs where you are the only person that does not eat animal products. A lot of these negative reactions have to do with negative stereotypes that persist about vegans in society. Vegansare often considered to be judgmental, dogmatic and moralistic and there is a lot of hatred towards people who refuse to eat meat. This does not only relate to real-life interactions, but also to contact on social media. To me, it seemed very difficult to change these perceptions on a more societal level.
Soon, I recognized that reactions to my diet were much less harsh if I mentioned for example, that I have been eating meat for a long time before I switched to more plant-based diets. Talking to Roos about this experience, we had the idea that changing how vegans and activist organisations communicate about veganism might be a way to change how meat-refusers are perceived on a more societal level.
Can you give a brief overview of what you did and what you found with this research?
Of course! We conducted a study in which participants were asked about their meat preferences. After this first task, we introduced an alleged other participant – our target person – who refused to choose any kind of meat.
Participants then read an essay, supposedly written by the target person, about the target’s eating habits. Their eating pattern was described either in a static or in a dynamic way. So, participants in the dynamic condition for example read ‘I used to eat meat every day and I gradually started to eat more vegetables, peas and beans instead. Now, I follow a vegetarian diet’. While participants in the static condition read ‘Eating no more meat is clear to me since I know about its consequences. I eat vegetables, peas and beans instead. I am a vegetarian.’ Generally, our dynamic communication style was much more uncertain, but also more process-oriented than the static communication style.
As we had expected, dynamically communicating targets were perceived as less threatening in terms of anticipated moral reproach, and also as less arrogant, self-righteous and preachy. So apparently, a dynamic communication style does have an effect on how well vegetarians and vegans are perceived, at least in this online setting, but possibly also in real life or in society.
In your research, you target the perception of vegans as moralistic as the crux of the issue. Other research, for example, by Minson and Monin (2012) and De Groeve et al. (2021) has honed in on the same. To what extent do you feel this perception of vegans are moralistic is bound in reality?
Many, if not most vegans decided to go vegan for ethical reasons like preventing the slaughter and exploitation of animals and reducing their impact on climate change. And like Tobias Leenaert put it at the Animal Advocacy Conference, even if people opt for a vegan diet for different reasons, they might soon enough endorse these ethical values as well. So generally, vegans thought about these moral values quite a lot and often endorse them as part of their identity (‘I am a vegan’).
Many meat eaters, however, have not thought a lot about the ethical implications of their consumption (yet). And even more so, society and culture plays an active role in hiding ethical responsibilities in relation to meat consumption.
So generally, I do see why meat eaters tend to see vegans as moralistic. They have after all thought a lot about this morally-laden topic. Still, vegans do have their reasons for their so-called moralism and I think many meat eaters would agree with their ethical values if they would think about them without feeling threatened.
In your opinion, what are the dangers of anti-vegan sentiments?
At the moment, it often seems as if society has the environmentalists, feminists and vegans on the one side and climate change deniers, meat eaters and some other groups on the other side. In my opinion, this polarization is dangerous in that it prevents social change from happening in whole society (instead of only in certain subcultures). As long as society opposes each other in these aspects, millions of animals still suffer from it.
Also on the smaller scale, liking is one key aspect in changing people’s behaviour. If meat eaters dislike vegans, they might never consider taking the step to reduce their meat consumption in the first place. So, vegans actually face a very difficult balance: They want to get across their message and ethical values while at the same time they need to be liked by meat eaters so that their message has any effect at all.
Your research has direct implications for animal advocacy, specifically, the communication styles that one ought to adopt when communicating with meat eaters to avoid reactance. If you could give two or three pieces of advice to our practising advocates, what wouldthey be?
In my opinion, we need a lot more understanding for each other in society. Most vegetarians and vegans have once eaten meat in their lives and know that the step to eating no meat at all was hard at the moment that they still ate meat. Our research showed that acknowledging this difficulty and talking about diets as a process instead of a fixed end result might help people to make the switch. They may perhaps take a bit longer to become fully vegetarian, but reducing the stereotypes of vegans as moralistic, dogmatic and judgmental is worth it, I think. If society becomes less polarized about these issues and understanding for each other grows, I think advocates can achieve much more.
What is the funniest or most outrageous anti-vegan meme that you have come across on the internet or in television?
To be honest, I am not very active on social media, but I did see a very promising one during one of the talks at the animal advocacy conference. A lot of times anti-vegan memes are offensive, disgusting even, but I think it is interesting what people come up with when they feel morally threatened. Even though the meme I selected, “my food poops on your food”, is most likely meant to be derogatory, I do think it is quite funny!
What is next for research on anti-vegan sentiments? Where would you like to see if go?
A lot of research has already been conducted on anti-vegan sentiments. Theory says that it originates in a moral threat that meat eaters feel when interacting with vegans and also that it can have a lot of consequences for the vegans who feel the resentment but also for animals who suffer from this polarization.
I think that now is the time to move on from researching the origins and consequences of anti-vegan sentiments to studying ways to overcome these stereotypes. We need to come up with creative ideas on reducing the moral threat while still getting across our message and moral values and we need to think big. Our study was only on one meat refuser, but this problem is bigger than one-on-one interactions.
How can we not only increase the liking of individual vegans but also change the stereotype of vegans in general? What are doable steps on changing the societal picture of vegans? And looking beyond veganism: how can we decrease societal polarization with regard to these topics in general? Those are the questions that we need to ask now and that will hopefully bring about the social change that we want to see in society.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
Readers are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fish are the most consumed yet overlooked victims of factory farming. Even as I write this introduction, I am unable to accurately represent the number of fish that are killed each year for food. Why? Because the aquaculture industry does not count fish by individual lives, but by tonnage. But, if we do the math, the tonnage equates to roughly 3 trillion individual fish slaughtered each year for human consumption.
These trillions of animals live in an ethical grey area: they are often considered inferior in their ability to think and suffer. As a result, they are afforded very few animal welfare protections. Approximately, fifty percent of fish used for human consumption come from industrialised farming operations, where fish live in cramped and overpopulated spaces, rife with disease and parasites, and are killed in shocking and inhumane ways.
But, the tide may be turning. Recently, organisations like Compassion in World Farming and Animals Australia have begun exposing the fish farming industry for what it is. And, in a recent report published by The Humane League UK, researchers have been asking how we can motivate the public to feel compassion towards and take action for the plight of fish. Eager to know the answer, Jared and I spoke with Maddy Dawe, a campaigner at The Humane League UK. Here is what she had to say.
Maddy, could you briefly introduce yourself for our readers?
I’m Maddy, and I’m a campaigner at the charity The Humane League UK. THL UK exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food – we do this by running impactful corporate and legislative campaigns. Our work is focused on chicken and fish welfare, given that these two species are farmed in the highest numbers and suffer from some of the worst welfare issues associated with factory farming. I’ve been working at THL UK for almost two years now and it’s been eye-opening, challenging and rewarding – no two days are the same here!
You and your colleagues over at The Humane League UK have recently published a new report entitled “Inspiring Action For Farmed Fishes: Finding Messaging that Motivates”. What was the inspiration for this research?
At THL UK, we seek to help the animals that are rendered most vulnerable by the intensive farming system. There are currently around 77 million fishes farmed in the UK, predominantly salmon and trout, and this number is only growing. However, despite the large size of the aquaculture industry and the sheer amount of individual fishes involved, the majority of the public has a limited understanding of fish farming, with many people not even knowing it exists at all. We wanted to set about helping fishes because, sadly, intensive fish farming is rife with welfare issues. Therefore, we needed to find out how to speak to our audience, and other potential audiences, about farmed fish welfare — how to do this in a way that not only inspires them to care about fishes, but motivates them to take action too.
While much work has been done to advance the position of farmed land animals, fish have often been neglected. Why do you think this is?
I think that unfortunately, at the moment, fishes are quite low in priority for most people – even those who are concerned with animal welfare. People struggle to relate to fishes – they don’t express emotion in the same way that we do and they look quite alien to us. It’s been said that humans relate more to animals with eyelashes, which goes some way to explain why animals like cows and pigs have been the priority for welfare campaigns in the past. Then you add in the factor that fishes are generally “out of sight, out of mind”. They live in this underwater world that most people rarely see, and can even find a bit scary. This is not to mention the prevalent myths around fishes not feeling pain, or the goldfish three-second memory – both of which have been debunked!
If you then consider the fact that the concept of farming fish is unfamiliar to large parts of the public, you can start to understand why fish welfare has long gone under the radar.
Can you give a brief overview of the research you did on Farmed Fishes and what you found?
Once we had identified the need to understand how the public views issues relating to fish farming and, most notably, what will motivate them to take action, we embarked on our study. We commissioned two research projects, working with the UK research agency KSBR Brand Futures and Rethink Priorities, a California-based think tank. The first piece of research took place in Autumn 2020 and involved testing various fish welfare messages (visual and written) on a series of focus groups. The second piece of research, conducted in spring 2021, was a survey completed by 8,000 UK participants, which tested different written messages.
Our findings revealed that in order to have the greatest effect, messaging on fish welfare should be tailored to different audiences. We identified three potential messaging routes that each resonated with a specific section of UK society. These were: emphasising the disgusting elements of fish farming; challenging unconscious biases by demonstrating that fishes suffer much like land animals but are treated even worse, and stating that a named corporation is contributing to the suffering of farmed fishes and is deceiving its customers about the fact.
The report recommends emphasising the “disgusting” elements of fish farming to change attitudes. Do you see this “disgust” strategy as more likely to be effective than, for example, educating the public about the clever things fish can do?
The findings of the research showed that, for all audiences, emphasising the ‘disgusting’ elements of fish farming resonated and motivated them to take action. This refers to anything that provokes a revolted, stomach-churning response, such as images of sea lice on the bodies of salmon at the fish counter (something that has been documented). I think that ultimately, no one wants to be repulsed by the food that ends up on their plate, and therefore arguments that focus on human-centric issues are always likely to be more successful. If animal groups want to engage people outside of their usual audiences, particularly those who wouldn’t usually be motivated by farmed animal welfare concerns, linking fish welfare to food quality could be effective.
It is true that people in our research were not highly motivated by messages around fish sentience or fishes’ amazing abilities. However, I don’t feel too disheartened by this. The topic of fish welfare, in the grand scheme of things, is so new to people – it’s too soon to expect the masses to care about fish sentience. If we can bring people in with the right messaging, such as the disgusting aspects of fish farming or comparing the treatment of fishes to other farmed animals, then perhaps they can start on the journey to learning more about fishes and why they need our help. This might be optimistic, but we’ve seen the public’s thinking shift for other farmed animals, so I’m hopeful that it can eventually be done for fishes too.
You recommend the use of tailored messaging to target different groups of consumers: ‘conscious eaters’, ‘anti-corporate vegans’, and ‘uncritical eaters’. Do you have thoughts on how advocates can effectively identify and target these three groups?
This is a great question, as we really hope that advocates can take the findings of our research and apply them in real-world situations. Here’s a description of the ‘stereotype’ for each of these three audiences:
1. The conscious eater
This group includes people who have reduced their meat intake or removed it from their diets (vegetarians, flexitarians, pescetarians). A defining characteristic of this audience is that they aim to consume more ethically. They are in the process of educating themselves on ethical and sustainable living and are receptive to being educated further. They are generally optimistic that they can make a difference. When it comes to fishes, the conscious eater may have a blind spot – they might have assumed that fishes are acceptable to eat, or that they are less of a concern than other farmed animals. When this bias is challenged, they are open to reevaluating their thinking and can get behind fish welfare causes.
2. The anti-corporate vegan
As the name may suggest, the anti-corporate vegan is more ideologically motivated and interested in proselytising on behalf of veganism. They believe that eating fish is wrong for many reasons but most importantly from an animal welfare standpoint. Many anti-corporate vegans do not know how cruel fish farming is – the state of intensive aquaculture is generally news to them. However, when they discover these facts, they are not overly surprised; they assume aquafarming would be awful because they believe all factory farming is awful. The facts serve to reinforce their decision to be vegan. They want to act on things that matter the most and, at present, this may be the welfare of other species such as cows, pigs, or maybe even chickens. We must persuade them that fish farming is urgent and needs our attention.
3. The uncritical eater
‘Uncritical eaters’ present the most challenges when it comes to communicating on farmed fish welfare issues – or any animal welfare issue at all, for that fact. The uncritical eater consumes meat and fish and, perhaps most importantly, is actively trying to avoid information that would make them change their diet. It is worth noting that this group includes self-professed animal lovers but their attention is focused on the welfare of companion or ‘cute and cuddly’ animals. They have made peace with the cruelty involved with meat production – as long as it’s not shoved in their face. They know that it happens but suggest it is an inevitable fact of life and they prefer to keep it out of sight and out of mind. It is unsurprising then that with regard to fish welfare, the uncritical eater sees it as a non-issue. However, human-centric reasons can be used to encourage them to take action for fishes. For this group, higher welfare will be a fortunate byproduct of the main issue: higher food standards.
In terms of reaching these three groups, we have had some success in creating targeted social media posts, by taking the characteristics outlined above and aiming campaign content at people who have corresponding interests. For example, to recreate a ‘conscious eater’ audience on social media, we have aimed our posts at people who have demonstrated interest in ethical consumerism, organic food, cruelty-free, healthy lifestyle and climate change. NGOs can also consider what audience is most representative of their current following, and tailor their messaging accordingly.
Your report is littered with advice for animal advocates working to further advance the position of fish. If you could make one suggestion to our practising advocates, what would it be?
I think it would be to not wait. As much as awakening the general public to fish sentience is important, the scale of fish farming and fish welfare issues is likely to take some time. We simply can’t wait that long to help fishes in their plight. With such huge numbers of individual fishes existing in factory farms, it’s imperative that we find ways to stop the worst abuses that they suffer as soon as possible. Whether this is through reducing individual fish consumption, campaigning for corporations to only source higher-welfare fish, or lobbying Governments to protect fishes in the law (which is our focus at THL UK), we must try to push for reform. We hope that the messaging avenues identified in our research can help advocates to motivate people to take action for fishes without having to wait for big mindset shifts.
Is there a statistic, fact or figure that comes to your mind which you feel sums up the severity of the situation facing our oceans and aquatic life?
I’ve heard the statistic that our oceans will be empty by 2050 if humans continue to destroy the marine environment through overfishing, pollution and climate change. l’m not sure if this figure is entirely accurate – however, it does emphasise the dire state things are in, which is sadly very much accurate. And fish farming is not the answer to the depletion of the ocean – it’s actually contributing to the problem. A third of all wild-caught fish is estimated to be used as food for carnivorous farmed fishes. This huge disruption to marine ecosystems means that plundering the sea in the way we have been doing for so long is no longer an option.
What is next for research on fish advocacy? For example, what questions would you like to see the field address next or better?
Firstly, the research that we conducted was only based on a UK audience and therefore, I’d love to see similar studies taking place in different regions across the world to help us to understand if reactions to certain messages differ (which I suspect they would).
Secondly, it would be great to see more research into how we can make the public connect to fishes. Our research was very much centred on messaging that would get people to take action, and some of the successful routes to this did not involve people really connecting with or caring that much about fishes, nor wanting them to have positive experiences. I think there’s scope for more research into how we can get people interested enough in fishes to want to actually learn more about them and overturn prevailing myths about their lack of sentience.
How can our readers best get in touch with you?
To stay up to date with the work of The Humane League UK, you can follow us on social media. Our handle is @humaneleagueuk.
If you’d like to reach out to me directly, or receive a copy of the full report, I’d love to hear from you via email at email@example.com.
As a vegan mother of three, I often wonder if the way we depict animals in children’s books and film creates a disservice to our children. In children’s literature, we often encounter animals that can talk, have human emotions and desires, and face human challenges and obstacles; for example, in the hugely popular picture book series, “Tales from Acorn Wood”, the animals need help finding their friends, Pig and Hen, so they can enjoy a picnic together. These anthropomorphic depictions might be useful for teaching children how to navigate human relationships. But what do they teach children about animals themselves, when little of what children see or read about makes any contact with the realities animals face at the hands of humans?
In her provocative article, “To read or not to eat: Anthropomorphism in children’s books” (Society & Animals, 2021), Dr Anastassiya Andrianova, Associate Professor of English at North Dakota State University, considers some of the perils of presenting children anthropomorphic depictions of animals. The article spotlights and interrogates some of the “contradictory cultural messages” children receive about animals from books.
Jared and I were intrigued by the article as a potential counterpoint to some research in psychology that suggests animal anthropomorphism may, at times, help people feel connected to animals. Might anthropomorphising animals have a darker side? When used in children’s books, might it be a lost opportunity to teach children honest lessons about how society treats animals? Might such depictions “muddle” important distinctions between humans and animals?
To answer these questions and more, Dr Andrianova kindly agreed to chat with us about her article, ways to reconstruct the way we talk to children about animals and much more. Here is our conversation…
Dr. Andrianova, would you briefly introduce yourself for our readers?
My background is in comparative literature, especially British, Russian, and Ukrainian literatures. Starting with my dissertation on vitalism in 19th-century literature and philosophy, I have been interested in ecocriticism and human-animal relations, most recently examining the intersections of critical animal studies and critical disability studies. My recent publications include an analysis of nonhuman animal intersubjectivity in Ivan Turgenev’s story “Mumu” (Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 2020), a critical disability reading of Mikhail Lermontov’s “Taman’” (DisabilityStudies Quarterly, 2021), and the article most relevant to PHAIR, on the anthropomorphic depiction of animals in children’s literature (Society & Animals, published online ahead of print 2021). I am currently working on vegan children’s literature as well as on teaching literary theory through children’s books at the college level.
What inspired you to carry out this research on animals in children’s lit?
My research on anthropomorphism in children’s literature reflects both personal and academic interests: as a vegan parent of a young vegetarian child, a literary animal scholar, and a feminist, I was struck and disheartened by the depiction of animals in the books I was reading to and with my daughter. In these books, talking animals are used to tell human stories and teach human children lessons; they are often misrepresented and/or stereotyped, thereby communicating strange or outright false ideas about these fictional animals’ actual counterparts (e.g., that frogs and storks can become a loving couple in What I Love About You: Frog and Stork), or presenting idealized and sanitized versions of farms (e.g., Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown’s Farmyard Beat) that largely ignore the realities of factory farming, the rearing, use, and slaughter of animals for human consumption. Some books and rhymes are objectional in their trivialization of animal suffering and even death. As much as my daughter loves the French song “Alouette,” the titular lark’s defeathering reminds me, each time, of what typically follows the plucking of a bird: cooking and eating that animal. Or speciesism compounded with ableism in “Three Blind Mice.” Even “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” one of my daughter’s most favorite songs which magically puts her to sleep at naptime, of course instrumentalizes animals, suggesting to children that their fur, skins, and secretions are solely for human use and enjoyment. Most of these books, moreover, perhaps with the exception of Ian Falconer’s Olivia series and Olivier Dunrea’s Gossie & Friends books, predominantly feature male characters, as is the case with many children’s books. I want my daughter to identify with animals (and animal characters) and learn to empathize with them, not use them for her benefit.
“My goal is to encourage children and their adult mentors to start a conversation about animals, and why we are so keen on seeing them act like humans rather than letting them be themselves.”
– Dr. Anastassiya Andrianova
What are the dangers of a lack of distinction between humans and animals in children’s literature?
In Our Children and Other Animals (2014), Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart offer empirical analyses of how children “grow to feel emotionally attached to animals while simultaneously enjoying the vicarious privileges of their domination through consuming their bodies [and] bodily secretions.” The authors note, for example, that children would cry their eyes out over the orphaned piglet in the movie Babe (1995),but then happily chow down on bacon. Several of my friends recall being deeply saddened by Charlotte’s Web, yet have no problem eating meat. All of this confirmed for me the pernicious effects of anthropomorphizing animal characters and the link between reading and consuming: human children learn to consume animal characters as metaphors at the same time as they learn to physically consume their flesh, skins, and secretions.
In my article “To Read or Not to Eat: Anthropomorphism in Children’s Books” (Society & Animals), I expose the speciesist depiction of animals in mainstream children’s literature and its connection to children developing anthropocentric views later in life. Those in favor of anthropomorphism argue that difficult subjects, like religion and death, can be made more accessible through animals, without recognizing that this requires the denigration of animal life, suffering, and death—the latter, in the words of one writer, is “sad, but not traumatic.” The nonhuman animal is humanity’s most proximal and natural other; however, making this other lesser through humor and other literary techniques has broad ideological ramifications: it rears carnivores. Further, I draw attention to overt and more subtle animal violence, but also to seemingly innocuous “cute” representation of animals that has serious implications for children’s understanding of gender (girls being socialized into caring for “cute” puppies and kittens), dis/ability (disabled animals depicted as victims who inspire pity rather than empathy), and conservation (charismatic megafauna with neotenic features, like polar bears, privileged over other, less “attractive” species).
How can we go about addressing these issues and “make animals matter”?
In “To Read or Not to Eat,” my goal was not to do “vegan policing” or to suggest that we bowdlerize or ban children’s texts about animals; that is both counterproductive and futile. Rather, I want to encourage children and their parents, guardians, and teachers to talk about animals and the specific ways we can appreciate and celebrate their difference. To this end, I conclude the article with several questions about how animals are depicted, what sorts of messages such depictions convey, and how we might act upon them to help real animals:
How is the animal represented in this text?
What does this representation tell us about the actual life and conditions of the individual animal or the species of which they are member?
If this animal is recognizably anthropomorphic (beyond “speaking” human language as a narrator and/or character in the story), does this representation tell us more about humans and society than it does about other animals?
If so, what can we glean from such anthropocentric representation about both humans and nonhumans?
If, furthermore, such a representation caricatures, reduces, or otherwise belittles the animal (associating chickens with avoidance and fear, asses with stupidity and obstinacy, foxes with cunning, etc.), how can we improve on it?
Finally, what real-life changes to help the lives of animals does the story suggest?
And because I am not only a parent but also a university professor, I include animal-centered texts in my literature courses and ask my students some of the same questions about human-animal relations. Most of my work has a pedagogical component. In my article “Teaching Animals in the Post-Anthropocene: Zoopedagogy as a Challenge to Logocentrism” (JAEPL, 2019), for example, I invite others to “promot[e] inquiry and writing which interrogate the human-nonhuman boundary” as a way to “help students develop critical thinking and empathy.”
“I am not suggesting that we stop reading books that feature animals, but I am suggesting that we read them critically and talk to children about what such representations mean.”
Dr. Anastassiya Andrianova
What are the implications of your research findings for animal advocacy?
Cole and Stewart note one striking objection to vegan children’s literature: “a registered dietician in Atlanta” alleged that Ruby Roth’s Vegan Is Love (2012) could “easily scare a young child into eating vegan.” In Dan Bodenstein and Ronald Robrahn’s Steven the Vegan (2012), a book that takes up the tiresome objection that without meat-based protein children cannot build muscle, the eponymous Steven manages to successfully “convert” at least one of his school friends. If only I had as much power in my research and teaching about animals! By focusing on children’s literature and asking how early is too early and how early is too late to introduce children to the realities of industrial factory farming and anthroparchy, I draw attention to the serious role that children’s literature plays in early childhood development and how the kinds of books, nursery rhymes, and songs that children consume determine, to a large degree, the choices they make and the relationships they forge as adults. Reading to and with young children is, to me, a form of animal advocacy.
Any other research relating to animal studies that you have been involved in?
I am a literary animal scholar, so I offer new critically informed, animal-centered close readings of literary texts from an animal standpoint, challenging traditional interpretations that allegorize animal experience to make a point about human society. I think of this as putting the animal back into the text. In “Narrating Animal Trauma in Bulgakov and Tolstoy” (Humanities, 2016), for instance, I refuse to understand the dog in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog (1925) as merely a symbol for the oppressed Russian masses; in my recent two articles on Ivan Turgenev’s “Mumu,” I similarly challenge the allegorical reading of the canine characters; I also underscore how not only animality but disability is thus erased by being transformed into a metaphor. In my other projects on ecocriticism and ecofeminism, I draw attention to the climate crisis which threatens both the human and the nonhuman.
My work on anthropomorphism in children’s books in particular has led me to vegan children’s literature, Roth’s, Bodenstein’s, and others’ countercultural children’s texts marketed to young vegans, vegetarians, and other vegan-friendly or vegan-curious readers. I have a manuscript under review on this subject and some ideas for further exploration—in large part to promote these texts otherwise overshadowed by speciesist landmarks like The Rainbow Fish.
Which picture book do you think should be on every child’s bookshelf?
This is a tough question. I think that Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (1962) is a must-have, the first children’s book with an African-American protagonist to win the Caldecott Medal in 1963; remarkably, the text makes no mention of the child’s race, but the accompanying illustrations tell his story in a powerful manner. Another more recent book I adore is Jessica Love’s Julián Is a Mermaid (2018), which is about a gender nonconforming child who is fascinated by and wants to be a mermaid; the visuals are stunning, and the confluence of queer, animal, and disability studies (if understood as a revision of H.C. Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”) makes this a gem both for children and academics.
When selecting a book specifically about positive human-animal relationships, my recommendation would be Robert Neubecker’s Linus the Vegetarian T. Rex (2013) and Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl’s Sprig the Rescue Pig (2018), especially for the youngest vegan and vegetarian readers. The former features a brave and inquisitive female protagonist on an adventure at the natural history museum; through her meeting and befriending the titular dinosaur, she learns the value of nature, history, and museums, as well as of a healthy vegetarian diet. The latter similarly centers on a relationship between a young girl and a nonhuman animal, while commenting on the dire conditions of “unhappy” farmed pigs and celebrating animals’ sensory experiences.
Dr. Anastassiya Andrianova is Associate Professor of English at North Dakota State University.