Vegan Mondays in Argentina: The Importance of Psychology

Vegan Mondays (“Lunes Vegano”) have arrived at Argentina’s Casa Rosada! (Argentina’s White House). And they’re succeeding – thanks to good pyschology.

Last year, thanks to prompting from Fernando de Andreis – General Secretary of the Presidency of the Nation – chef Dante Liporace agreed to make the cafe completely vegan once per week in an effort to promote healthy eating in the presidential palace.

Initially, it was not a glowing success. The inaugural “Lunes Vegano” back in July of 2017 was a total disaster. The cafe served 93% fewer customers than usual, with an alarming number abandoning their usual eating place in droves to grab hamburgers from the nearest McDonalds (with more than a few expressing their outrage on social media). The stunt also raised the hackles of Argentina’s powerful beef lobby, which was unimpressed by the move. What was the chef to do?

The Importance of Choice

Three weeks later, the cafe abandoned its “full vegan” Monday menu, in favour of a more moderate approach. This time, they offered a choice between vegan or meat-based meals. Whereas only 40 diners had shown up in previous weeks, the cafe was soon back to serving its regular number of diners (over 500). But more importantly, around 250 – about 50% – of the meals served were vegan.

As Charles Duhigg writes in Smarter, Faster, Better, perception of choice is a vital psychological tool for creating a healthy feeling of control. When consumers are offered a choice – almost any choice – it gives them belief in their own agency. That sense of agency – also known as an “internal locus of control” – gives individuals a sense of empowerment. It also helps them feel less stressed, and when we feel relaxed and in control, we actually make better decisions!

In the cafe example, customers who were given only the option of vegan meals likely felt stressed. The vast majority had probably never eaten a meal labelled “vegan” in their lives. Having familiar options on the menu reduced their stress, and made it easier to make more compassionate choices (“well, I don’t know if a vegan meal will be satisfying, but if I want meat, it’s there in case I need it.”). It turns out that, counterintuitively, having animal products on the menu actually made people order fewer animal products.

For me, the numbers speak for themselves – 250 diners chose vegan options when they were offered alongside familiar, omnivorous options. 40 ate the meals when there was no other choice. Which outcome seems best to you?

Vegan Mondays Work

Veganuary and Vegan Monday have a mixed reputation, both with the public at large, and within the animal rights community. Significantly, both are likely more popular with the general population than they are with vegans.

While the odd carnivore may mock Vegan Mondays, they don’t generally have a moral issue with the idea (unless, as in the example of a forced Vegan Monday, they’re given no other option). Vegans, however, are not always as circumspect. Vegan advocate Professor Gary Francione is well-known for loathing of both institutions, which he considers an affront to vegan morality. Being a moral absolutist, he feels veganism is the only moral course of action:  vegans should never advocate for anything other than total and absolute compliance with a vegan diet. In Francione’s “abolitionist vegan”* paradigm, promoting “meatless monday” anything less than veganism is tantamount to endorsing non-veganism.

Quite honestly, I don’t care if vegans embrace these ideas or not: they are not the target market. The people we want to abandon animal products are omnivores, not vegans. Let the vegans eat quinoa, or whatever strikes their fancy. My chief concern is the billions of people around the world who eat, wear and use animals because they don’t know better alternatives exist. I believe the most important thing that environmental and animal rights advocates around the world can do to eliminate animal use is to create viable, attractive alternatives to animal products.

Don’t make the Perfect the Enemy of the Revolutionary

Vegan Mondays work. They encourage people who might have never considered veganism to try meals without animal products. They give consumers ideas for meals they might want to try at home. And most importantly, they bring veganism out of the sidelines and into the mainstream.

The future is vegan. But in order to bring people there, we need to work with people, not in service of our own egos. Our aim should be progress, not perfection. If anything, the example of “Lunes Vegano” is a wonderful illustration of how vital it is not to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the revolutionary!

 

*I use the term in quotations when referring to Gary Francione, as I consider David Pearce’s Abolitionist Project – which advocates using biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world – true abolitionism. Francione’s so-called “abolitionist” vegans elevate personal purity over effectiveness, which I cannot abide and find antithetical to the central goal of veganism, which I believe is ending preventable suffering.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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