Why Veganuary is a great campaign

The end of the year is upon us, and January 2017 will see the fourth edition of the Veganuary campaign that started in the UK but is now available internationally. Veganuary is an example of campaigns that ask people to go vegan for a specific amount of time. In this post, I offer two reasons why I think campaigns like these are great. After that, I suggest some ideas for experiments.

Two benefits of temporary pledge campaigns

First of all, campaigns like these run not just for a specific amount of days, but also in a specific period of the year. Everyone starts together. That is in itself a great incentive to participate. People who fear they might not be up to the challenge of a month without animal products can find encouragement in the idea that they are not doing it alone. They are part of a group of thousands. It’s comforting, and it also helps to create a norm: “Wow, so many people are doing it; I can’t really stay behind, can I?” Moreover, the fact that it begins at a certain point in the year is also great to get media attention.

Secondly, a temporary vegan campaign offers people a way to opt out without losing face or being embarrassed. This is important because it might make it easier for some to actually get into it. I can imagine many people might not want to start on the vegan road because they fear that at some point they’ll abandon it and be embarrassed about that (or worse, they might fear backlash). In the case of a temporary vegan pledge, they are not making a commitment to be vegan forever. We all hope they will continue beyond the fixed period (the people behind the campaign estimate that about half stay vegan and many others keep reducing), but they can get out if they want to; they never promised anything else. Appropriately, the baseline for the campaign is “try vegan”, not “go vegan”.

Some experimental ideas

Using “gamification”, we could encourage people, or groups of people, to sort of “compete” during this campaign. People could team up within their company, school, or even city, to amass as many points as possible – points which they get for every vegan day. This is the case with the Belgian vegetarian pledge campaign “Days Without Meat“, which takes place every year in the forty days before Easter (the period of Lent). Teams of college students, company employees, or inhabitants of certain cities try to do better than other teams, in this case in reducing their carbon footprint, but it could also be in terms of the number of animals saved.

Another, more controversial idea is the following: I’m assuming many people who participate “cheat” a little bit here and there, eating some non-vegan stuff on occasion, or even regularly. That’s not a problem in itself, in my view, but maybe we can work with that. We could sell people “passes”. Every time they make an exception, they can choose to make a donation to a vegan or animal rights organization to “offset” their lapses. (I may write something more about the idea of offsetting later). This would not only collect some money, but, as this possibility would be built in from the start, might also counter people’s perception that they have failed after even one slip, and consequently give up on the whole thing.

Thirdly, it’s a good thing to work with celebrities who urge other people to participate. I think this would be most successful if the celebrities themselves were not vegans. With non-vegans, the general public will have the impression that everyone is in it together, instead of there being a vegan from on high telling other people what to do (in other words, this could reduce persuasion resistance).

I’m sure you’re vegan already, but please spread the word about Veganuary and suggest that your friends and loved ones join what will be over fifty thousand participants this year. And for others: Veganuary is open for donations. Right now, they are getting one sign up to the campaign for every euro invested in Facebook ads.

Vegan meals as the default airplane meal: who will make it happen?

In my previous post, I wrote about changing the default option as an interesting strategy to create behavior (and attitude) change. I suggested this was an interesting tactic especially where institutional change is concerned. It can be used by governments, businesses, organizations… It creates behavior and (indirectly) attitude change, and it doesn’t take away “freedom of choice.”

Here I want to suggest one concrete space where changing the default option could be implemented: airplanes.

When I want a vegan meal on a flight, I need to remember to specify that during booking, find out where on the site I can request it, or contact a travel agent. It’s not the default option, and it’s a bit of a hassle. And requesting my special meal does not even guarantee that I will get it (as happened on my last flight – I always pack my own meal to be sure).

why not make vegan meals the default meals on airplanes?
Why not make vegan meals the default meals on airplanes?

Now imagine it was the other way around: passengers get served a vegan meal (which doesn’t necessarily need to be called vegan; it could be a “vegetable lasagna” or “mushroom risotto” or whatever). If someone complains that the meal contains no meat, the flight attendant would tell them: “I’m sorry, you should have requested a special meal.”

This scheme has several advantages for airlines:

  • it simplifies things: the number of special meals is greatly reduced. Look at this list of options that came with the special meal I had recently. Many of the allergies and preferences (religious or not) would be covered by a vegan meal (though we should be wary of lumping them all together in order to not end up with an entirely tasteless vegan option).

list of special meals on airplane

  • it cuts costs: vegan meals can be cheaper, and there are economies of scale
  • it’s better for the environment, and the airline can use it in their advertising
  • it’s better for food safety. Plant based meals don’t pose the same health risks as meat meals, for instance, in case of a refrigeration problem.

And on top of that, the first airline to do it could get international media attention. It would also set an example for other companies to follow and could be an important precedent. Ideally, the meals would be so good that no one complains, and the airline actually gets famous for its meals.

As the acceptance of vegan meals grows, and as businesses and governments get more sensitive to climate change and health issues, I believe a vegan meal as the default option on airplanes can be realistic.

Any individual or organization ready to campaign for this? Spread the message!