So if the current studies on leafleting effectiveness are unhelpful, what would be better?
First, we need a better way to determine what people are eating. People are notoriously terrible at remembering exactly how often they did a common thing over a prolonged time period, even if there’s no social pressure to answer a particular way. Possible solutions:
- Ask people what they ate yesterday.
- Monitor food consumption directly.
- Bring people into the lab and observe what they eat.
- Track dietary choices at individual level via dining cards (probably requires more detail than those cards currently provide)
- Track dietary choices at population level by measuring total consumption in the cafeteria.
- Give surveys asking people would like to eat, out of N specific options. Make all answers equally appetizing. Frame as cafeteria planning to avoid social pressure towards veg*n answers.
- Use various established tricks for mitigating social desirability bias
Another difficulty with the leafleting studies is that it is very difficult to asses who was in the treatment group 2-3 months later. Possible solutions:
- Track individuals who received your pamphlet (and a control group).
- At a college where you can track purchases by dining card: deliver pamphlets by mail to a randomly chosen half of your sample.
- Use control and treatment colleges or dorms, rather than individuals. Will require finagling to avoid other confounds.
- Hand out pamphlets in front of cafeteria or restaurant, see how consumption patterns change that night.
- Have pamphlets be a call to action to something trackable, such as visiting a website, requesting a free veganism kit, or attending an on-campus event. Number who visit or call is an upper bound on number of people influenced by pamphlet.
- Humane League is apparently trying this with facebook ads: I predict I will find that data much more compelling.
While we are at it, here are some interventions I think would work better than leafleting at reducing total meat consumption (although not necessarily the number of self-identified vegans or vegetarians):
- Pay-per-click ads. To the extent “it’s super cheap and it has to convince someone” applies, it has to apply here too, and this way you’re not paying for pamphlets that go straight in the trash. Also I expect vegans to care a little more about paper waste.
- Host discussion groups where brainstorm how to reduce meat consumption. In WW2 this worked much better than lectures on increasing consumption of organ meat. This could focus on vegan meals, or even Asian-style cooking where meat is a supplement rather than the focus.
- Lobby colleges to provide attractive no-animal-product options. This reduces meat consumption even among people with no ideological commitment to doing so. It also helps college students build a palate for vegan options that may continue into adulthood.
- Host low meat/veg*n meals yourself. College students love free food. At a minimum, that’s one meal’s worth of animal you’ve saved. Plus the palate building benefits of the cafeteria option.
- Talk to the food science people and steal their secrets for making food appetizing.