Radical arguments for veganism may appeal to Black populations 

Black women are more likely than white men to consider animal rights, anti-racism and environmental protection as convincing reasons to embrace veganism, according to new research from the University of Illinois Chicago.  

The study by UIC sociology PhD student Victoria Brockett examined how different messages from social movements resonate with people of various races and gender identities. Black women were nearly twice as likely as white men to consider adopting a vegan diet when presented with arguments based on societal change. 

“The gap suggests that radical messages are much more likely to resonate with Black women,” Brockett said. 

The work addresses a broader hypothesis that a person’s “social location” influences the effectiveness of these frames, as sociologists call them. 

Veganism is a particularly interesting subject for testing this question, Brockett said. Although the movement was founded in the 1940s based on an ethical stance against animal mistreatment, it has since emphasized other ideals to motivate people to give up animal-based products.  

Some of these more radical frames, such as ending exploitation of nonwhite workers in the meat industry and the negative environmental impacts of animal agriculture, also stem from ethics and social justice. But other, more moderate pro-vegan arguments appeal to individual motivations to improve health and lifestyle.

Brockett compared the effectiveness of these radical and moderate frames in a survey of nearly 500 people who do not identify as vegan. Each received one of four vignettes representing a different argument for going vegan: personal health, environmental benefits, anti-racism or animal rights. 

Across the entire sample, the moderate approach of improving personal health was the most effective. But when segmented by race and gender, notable differences emerged in the performance of the radical arguments.

“Given their life, what they think about themselves, how they’re treated by society at large and the things that they’ve internalized about what it means to be a Black or white woman or man — that serves as a filter,” Brockett said. “So when a person receives a frame, it’s filtered through their racial and gender identity in terms of how much it’s going to resonate with them or not.”

The finding could be useful for pro-vegan organizations, which struggle against a perception that the cause is primarily embraced by white women and which face the activist’s dilemma of crafting messaging that must choose between being either pragmatic or visionary, Brockett said. But it also could inform messaging and operations for other advocacy groups.

“I think for social-movement organizations, the major takeaway is that if you’re trying to reach an audience that is already going to be in line with your radical vision, you need to take race and gender seriously within your own organizations and look at those dynamics,” Brockett said.

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