Research Process

These findings are based on more than 100 hours of interviews with over 200 meat-eating Americans, along with analyses of hundreds of academic papers, opinion polls, news articles, advocate press releases, and industry advertisements.
Step 1

Understanding Framing

This project was inspired by the important role that framing research has played for other movements.
For instance, some historians of the gay marriage movement in the U.S. believe a key moment was shifting from the rights-focused framing of “marriage equality” to the values-focused framing of the “freedom to marry.”

These two tv ads demonstrate the difference. The first one gives a laundry list of specific legal rights denied to gay couples. In this frame, marriage is just a bundle of legal privileges.
Through extensive focus-group testing, LGBT activists realized this frame was not persuasive. In fact, it made it seem like gay couples were just looking for a tax break. So they pivoted to a new frame focusing on marriage as an expression of love and commitment.
Our study was directly inspired by this work. We asked, are there similar ways that our messaging is holding us back?
Step 2

Determining What We Already Know

Before starting our own testing, we wanted to make sure we weren’t repeating work. We reviewed all the research we could find related to how the public views animals and animal farming. Since we’re in the U.S., we focused only on research on Americans.

In the end, we reviewed 67 studies, surveys, and polls conducted from 2015 onward. Although these studies covered a wide range of topics, some themes were surprisingly consistent.

Altogether, this research shows that Americans have deeply contradictory feelings about meat. Even people who initially say that they don’t care about animals will reveal conflicted feelings on closer examination. But because meat is such a personal topic, it’s difficult to draw those feelings out without provoking defensiveness. This gave us a great starting place to begin digging deeper.
Step 3

Mapping the Narrative Landscape

Our last step before starting our own interviews was to take a look at what messages people are actually consuming.

We analyzed advertisements and press releases from both animal advocates and animal farming corporations, along with mainstream news articles.

Now that we knew what the experts are saying, we were ready to figure out what the public is actually hearing.
Step 4

Digging Deeper

We recruited people off of Reddit by advertising a paid public opinion study ($20 for a private 30 minute video interview). The only requirement was that they live in the U.S. and eat animal meat.

Our goal was to figure out, what are people thinking when they give strong pro-animal answers on surveys? By now, we knew what was happening when 98% say that eating meat is a personal choice: they’re thinking through the consumer frame, the lens that excludes external influences and consequences of our food choices.

But sometimes those same people express more animal-friendly views. What frames are active in their mind then? In order to find out, we used open-ended interviews. Rather than present them with messages, we used the most neutral questions possible, such as “What comes to mind when you think of animals used for food?”

After every 8 interviews or so, we paused to refine our questions, honing in on the most interesting themes of the previous round. On the way, we heard Americans describe their conflicted feelings about animals and meat in their own words. Buried in these words, we hoped, was the seed of a message that could change the animal movement relationship to the public.

Step 5

Designing and Testing New Messages

Once we were convinced that we’d heard the most widespread views, we were ready to start testing new messages. We convened focus groups of 2-6 people and presented them with an array of messages, then sat back and watched the conversation unfold.

Which hypothetical advocate messages could catch on among ordinary people, and even win out over common pro-meat rationalizations? After months of trial and error, we were ready to make our recommendations.
If you’re thinking about running your own framing research project, please reach out and we can tell you everything we wish we’d known when we started.