Cheese: The Unexpected Obstacle to Veganism

In a new study, researchers in Germany have identified a surprising factor that may be preventing vegetarians from transitioning to a vegan lifestyle: cheese.

In the eternal battle between willpower and temptation, a new study suggests that cheese may be the most formidable opponent for those trying to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on April 10, 2024, involved an online survey of 1,420 participants, recruited through social media posts in German-speaking groups focused on veganism and vegetarianism.

The participants included vegans, vegetarians, and prospective vegans (i.e. vegetarians who were considering adopting a vegan diet).

Their average age was 36.

The Crucial Role of Knowledge in Shaping Diets

The research team, led by Roland Mayrhofer from University of Regensburg in Germany, aimed to investigate the psychological differences and similarities between these groups, despite their shared motivations to protect animals and the environment.

The study revealed that factors such as knowledge, social support, and feasibility in everyday life play a significant role in shaping dietary choices.

One of the key findings of the study was the importance of what the authors term “vegan literacy” in distinguishing between vegans, vegetarians, and prospective vegans.

Vegans were found to have significantly more knowledge about the effects of their lifestyle on animals, health, and the environment compared to the other two groups.

This knowledge gap may explain why some individuals who are motivated to protect animals and the environment still consume animal products.

Cheese: The Unexpected Obstacle to Veganism

Perhaps the most striking finding of the study was the role of cheese in hindering the transition from vegetarianism to veganism.

The researchers found that giving up cheese was significantly more difficult for all groups compared to other animal-derived foods, with prospective vegans and vegetarians reporting even greater difficulties than vegans.

Some participants even described their inability to resist cheese as “addiction-like.”

The study also revealed that vegetarians had less knowledge about the fact that cheese production often involves animal-derived ingredients, and is therefore not always vegetarian.

This lack of knowledge may contribute to the “cheese paradox,” where the consumption of non-meat animal products is perceived as unproblematic by many vegetarians.

Social Support and Feasibility: Challenges in Adopting a Vegan Lifestyle

In addition to the role of cheese, the study highlighted other factors that influence dietary choices, such as social support and feasibility in everyday life.

Vegans reported receiving less support from their social environment compared to vegetarians and prospective vegans, suggesting that the fear of stigmatization may be a barrier to adopting a vegan lifestyle.

The perceived difficulty of maintaining a vegan diet in daily life was also found to be a significant factor, especially for vegetarians and prospective vegans.

This finding aligns with previous studies that have identified the lack of convenience and the limited availability of vegan options as challenges in adopting a vegan lifestyle.

The authors suggest that increasing the availability of reliable information about the animal industry, diet, and environmental issues could support individuals in making more informed decisions about their dietary choices.

By promoting “vegan literacy,” more people may be encouraged to adopt a vegan lifestyle that aligns with their values and ideals.

“The most important factor in becoming vegan appears to be knowledge,” the authors write. “Considering that many people express the desire to choose a lifestyle which harms animals and the environment as little as possible, increased availability of reliable information … is likely to support such a transition.”

Study Details:

  • Title: “Psychological Differences and Similarities Between Vegans, Prospective Vegans, and Vegetarians. Motivation, Knowledge, Vegan Literacy – and Cheese”
  • Authors: Roland Mayrhofer, Lara M. Roberts, Julia M. Hackl, Katja Frischholz
  • Journal: Frontiers in Psychology
  • Publication Date: April 10, 2024
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1163869