In this direct attack on the meat industry, I (as the foremost sparerib’s lover in Western Europe) will tell you (the world saviour) why eating less meat is necessary to partially solve today’s biggest problems. More importantly, I will tell you how you can acquire this. However, I first want to start by briefly informing you about the current state of affairs.
Anno 2022, humanity and the Earth are dealing with;
- Climate change,
- Global deforestation,
- Exceeding land degradation,
- Worldwide water and air pollution,
- Major and rapid loss of biodiversity,
- Increasing cardiovascular diseases and cancer,
- (New) harmful diseases due to zoonotic spillovers.
Unfortunately, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. I know, how can the production and consumption of meat play a role in all these, at first glance, uncorrelated problems? To me, it also seemed almost impossible and illogic, but the evidence is simply indisputable . Reducing global meat consumption will significantly decrease all these problems. I will spare you the numbers and the causal relationships (you’re not here for statistics, right?). However, you can use the references if you really want to dive deep into the empirical evidence.
Factors influencing our functional behaviour
In a small town called Englewood Cliffs, a book got published that shook the foundations of the psychological and sociological scientific world. Albert Bandura, by that time already a world-renowned scientist, published Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. As the title already suggests, he introduced a new theory – the Social Cognitive Theory. The theory was innovative because it placed quite some emphasis on the individual’s capacity to reflect and regulate their own behaviour. In the past, there was a general conception that human behaviour was predominantly governed by external forces. Bandura reconceptualized his conception by introducing the triadic reciprocal causation.
This model displays reciprocal determinism, a concept which stands central in his new theory and basically implies that behaviour, or more specific – actions, are not one-way streets (unidirectional) but rather reciprocal two-way streets (bidirectional). Human behaviour is not simply a machine where you put in a coin and expect a selected range of outcomes. Our behaviour is a complex set of interplays between personal factors, environmental factors, and behavioural factors. Together, these complicated relationships influence and determine our functional behaviour .
For example, you eat meat since it is your family’s tradition to BBQ on Sunday, and real meat is also way cheaper than plant-based meat while having more tenderness as well. However, it could also be that it is your family’s tradition to BBQ on Sunday since that is a cheap way to thoroughly feed the whole family. On top of that, it could be that real meat is simply cheaper due to people just liking the tenderness of real meat more. In this case, an individual’s preference (personal factor) influences the seller’s choices (environmental factor) which then influences the individual’s (economic) choices (behavioural factor). It is impossible to determine which factor exactly causes another factor since there is a mutual influence between the factors. The important takeaway of this is that an individual’s preference has the potential to influence the other factors.
The role of self-efficacy
This concept plays a central role in human behaviour and was firstly proposed by Bandura, arguing that individuals regulate their own behaviour through self-efficacy. Thus as you see, I’m now connecting to the behavioural factor of reciprocal determinism.
Self-efficacy refers to the sense of confidence and control that an individual has in their own ability to succeed in a particular situation. It has a pivotal role in human behaviour since it directly influences the motivation, personal accomplishment, and well-being but also the individuals’ approach to goals, and challenges. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is developed, and/or influenced by four particular sources;
- Mastery Experiences
- The experiences that an individual acquires by previously executing a new task, in other words; trial/practice.
- Vicarious Experiences
- The experiences that an individual acquires by observing a role model that shows how to successfully complete the task.
- Verbal Persuasion
- The impact of positive feedback, ensuring the individual that he/she is capable of successfully completing the task.
- Emotional and Physiological States
- An individual’s mental or physical state upon executing the new task influences how the performance on that task (e.g. being well-rested gives you more patience)
By utilizing this mechanism, we can attain our goal of reduced meat consumption, which will be discussed in the following section.
Besides stimulating us to maintain our world-saving behaviour, self-efficacy has some other positive health effects. Higher levels of self-efficacy are associated with lower levels of stress and hopelessness since individuals would then see potential threats as manageable challenges which they can overcome. Additionally, due to the greater trust in their own confidence, individuals with higher levels of self-efficacy are more likely to engage and maintain healthy behaviours. Thus, it is associated with lower levels of obesity, depression, and smoking. It also positively affects the overcoming of phobias or speech disability, dental hygiene, internal motivation, or academic/occupational success since these examples are all heavily dependent on self-efficacy .
Become a “reducetarian”
Instead of radically stopping our consumption of meat, both you and I will try to gradually reduce it. So, we start with having meat two times a day instead of three times. If we uphold that for two weeks, we move to one time a day and maintain it for two weeks as well. Subsequently, we try to have full vegetarian days once a week, building it up to multiple times a week. Now, maintain this for a longer period (preferably the rest of our life). We’ve now used the mastery experience of Bandura. Secondly, let’s find a vegetarian (or if you like radical – vegan) partner. They will show us how they maintain their meat-free diet (vicarious experience) but also surely encourage (probably deceive) us to consume less meat (verbal persuasion). Lastly, what if both you and I just drink a bit less and sleep a bit more? I mean, alcohol is not good and we both know that. What are the negative effects of having more sleep? It could be beneficial to try reducing drinking to be in a good headspace to accomplish our goal (emotional/physiological state)! An added bonus are the personal health benefits of consuming less meat include the reduction of risks of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, cancers, inflammations, and diabetes.
So, yes, it may sound like common sense, but honestly, how often have you thought this deeply about effectively reducing your meat consumption? If the answer is “rarely” or “never”, the nice thing is that you can use this psychological mechanism also to acquire other life goals, such as passing a university course. I hereby want to end this plea, by officially crowning myself a ‘reducetarian’ and inviting you to join the club. I want to thank my vegan girlfriend for influencing me so much that I (without her awareness) am writing my assignment on reducing meat consumption – once again displaying the power of vicarious experiences and verbal persuasion. Thanks for reading! I will go enjoy my vegetarian lunch (veganism is still a bit too extreme for me).
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