Motivators and influences that contribute to following a vegan lifestyle in New Zealand : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

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Background: The number of people following a vegan diet has increased in many industrialised countries over the past decade, and the dietary option of excluding animal food products is currently a widely discussed and socially relevant issue. The vegan diet, often characterised as very restrictive, is associated with health benefits, and thus raises concerns. Our society is becoming more aware of their personal choices affecting the environment, and animal welfare. Controversy regarding the diet exists within a social context, with those actively supporting and advocating for it, while others question its purpose and proposed benefits. Therefore, determining the motivators and barriers to following a vegan diet within New Zealand may help guide further research within this growing field. Objectives: To better understand the key motivators and corresponding sources of information for New Zealanders following a vegan diet. Methods: This study obtained qualitative data via focus groups held on Zoom. All 41 focus group participants were living in New Zealand, aged 18 years or older, followed a vegan diet for a minimum of 12 months, and spoke fluent English. Vegan participant key motives, influential information sources, and challenges, were further explored through a series of open-ended questions, which utilised a constant comparative approach. In order to conduct a thematic analysis, the recorded discussions were transcribed and uploaded to NVivo 12. Results: Three overarching themes were identified as: driving motives, sources of information, and challenges when following a vegan diet. Firstly, the major themes established for motivators were related to health, being environmentally conscious, and ethical beliefs/values linked to various factors, such as animal welfare, culture and religion. Secondly, an examination of influential information sources identified health professional expertise (e.g. nutritionists, dietitians and doctors), media platforms (e.g. Instagram, Facebook), and advice-seeking from peers. Lastly, some common challenges that arose while following the vegan diet included health concerns, culture and family controversies, and cost and affordability barriers. Conclusion: This research indicates that vegans are generally bound to one or more motives, access various information to guide their lifestyle choices, and despite apparent challenges/barriers, many vegans are inclined to have strong motivations. While this study contributes to discourse on this topic, further research exploring where nutrition is not the key motivating factor for many vegans would be beneficial. Based on the findings in this thesis, it would be of benefit for future research to examine some areas of veganism more closely, such as animal welfare and environmental consciousness, and the detrimental effects of social media when misinformation concerning veganism is disseminated.