The link between Western meat- and dairy-based diets and increased pressure on natural resources is not a new one, especially in sustainability circles. But a number of recent articles and media such as the recently-released documentary Cowspiracy have brought this controversial topic back into the mainstream and social chatter. Some have generated more fruitful engagement than others.
Prompted by news that following the city’s bankruptcy, Detroit’s Water Department would shut off water supplies to customers that had been failing to pay bills, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), announced that they would pay the overdue water bills of 10 Detroiters providing they switched to a vegan diet for a month. Calling it a ‘win-win,’ PETA’s rationale was that the plant-based diet would reduce unexpected healthcare costs for families struggling economically.
However the offer hasn’t been received well by either influencers or Detroiters. A number of news sources criticised PETA heavily for trivialising poverty with a gimmick, calling it condescending whilst failing to broach the systemic issue of water affordability. Non Profit Quarterly tweeted the announcement but called it “the rock bottom of disrespect for poor people” in an article.
— Nonprofit Quarterly (@npquarterly) August 4, 2014
All in all, the tactic received 8million, mostly negative, posts on social media within the week. And as of 30th July, only 5 households had applied for PETA’s assistance.
As well as this, PETA failed to make any connection to the social dialogue around the environmental impacts of meat diets. An article in the Guardian about the opportunity that Millennials have to have a tangible environmental impact through switching to a more plant-based diet has been shared more than 16,000 times, including by the same influencers that have been negative towards PETA’s campaign.
— Tagher (@KennethTagher) August 1, 2014
Our social listening tools show that during the week when PETA’s campaign was launched, the Guardian article prompted more social media posts from influencers than PETA managed to secure. So instead of a ‘win-win,’ all PETA managed was to generate hostility, whilst missing the opportunity of advancing the discussion around the impact of our diets.