One method used by psychologists to understand a person's readiness to perform a given behavior and then actually respond is called the theory of planned behavior. It is a relevant behavioral predictive model proposed in 1985 and used extensively. One can apply the model to study individual dietary behaviors in regards to veganism to determine which factors may motivate people to change.
The model has three elements. First is the individual's belief about the consequences of the behavior. In the case of eating vegan food, will it actually make the individual healthier or feel happier or make him or her feel worse? Second, is the perception others have about the behavior (peer or societal attitudes). Do friends, family, and other social contacts have a positive or negative attitude about veganism or about the individual becoming vegan? In other words, how will the individual be judged? The third element assesses the individual's personal belief about whether or not they can actually perform the behavior and if there'll be aids or barriers in doing so. Is becoming vegan for a given individual even possible?
In the model, each element is weighted depending on individual circumstances and conditions. For example, if you are stuck on a desert island with no edible plant life, but with an abundance of small animals which you can capture, the weight on the third element will be an infinitely high negative value meaning that vegan eating behavior will not occur even if it is believed that being a vegan will make that individual feel better.
From my own experience, I believed strongly that being a vegan would make me feel much better and had evidence to support it. Eating meat didn't make me feel good at all, but when I ate a plant-based meals, my attitude and happiness improved immensely and my body felt better as well. So there was no question in my mind that it was a good diet.
Could I control my eating habits and stick to a vegan diet? That was a more difficult question to answer. At first, I didn't think it was possible. I had become too dependent on meat, not just for protein, but for flavor and convenience as well. Convenience was probably that highest factor. Meat is just what I ate - it was easy to get, good as an instant or well-cooked meal, and cheap. How could I replace that?
It came down to slowly making the transition and avoiding meat products that were the worst for me, such as beef, fish, and pork. When I had just one to go - chicken - the hard work began. I ate veggie alternatives as much as possible when dining out and began cooking veggie food at home. I didn't even know how to cook that well, so I figured that before giving up chicken, I'd become a good veggie chef first making the transition easier. When I finally had a set of dishes which I could enjoy and which satisfied my hunger, even when time was short, I made the leap and had my last chicken meal. So the control aspect was by far the biggest challenge and probably a common one for most people who want to make the transition.
The peer pressure element was not a major one but it did have an impact in a negative way. Peer pressure within my community and social world was against a vegan diet. There was no encouragement to become a vegan, and the chance was that I would isolate or pariah myself. It wasn't stated, but it just wasn't really an option given the eating patterns of my family and friends. In fact, I didn't even know any vegetarians or vegans until I started practicing it myself. My inspiration came from notable people who had written about it, mostly Gandhi and his autobiography. That book boosted my confidence and conviction that the change was good.
A recent study published by John A. Updegraff which appeared in Appetite, an online journal, examined men's and women's attitudes towards vegetables in the context of the theory of planned behavior and found that men's attitudes towards vegetables were not as positive as women's regarding the food's ability to improve health, happiness, and eating pleasure. Men were also less confident than women in their ability to eat vegetables in place of other foods and control their diet.
Based on this research and from my own experience, I feel that the best way to encourage a plant-based diet is for people to eat in an environment where they are exposed to well-prepared vegetable meals as the main course so they can try them and experience the benefits first hand in an un-pressured atmosphere. Making this happen regularly is a difficult challenge, but it starts with cooking food that you enjoy first, and then sharing it with as many people as possible!
If you would like to learn more about veganism, my audio seminar and eBook, 'On the Move - Intro to Veganism 101' explains what it is, why it's gaining in popularity, and the benefits to you and your health. For more info and an audio sample, click here.