L214. It is enough to pronounce this name so that violent, sometimes unbearable images immediately arise. Cattle, rabbits, poultry… no one has escaped, in recent years, the association’s videos filmed with a hidden camera and aimed at denouncing the conditions of breeding and slaughter of animals destined to end up on our plate. In public opinion, the acronym has become the emblem of the fight against animal abuse. Considered very (too) radical by some, doing work of public health in the world of junk food for others, the association divides. But what many don’t know is that it pursues a goal other than denunciation: the promotion of a world without meat. And that to achieve this, it uses much more discreet and much less violent methods, those of soft power. Of “influence”, in good French, to which it devotes a very large part of its means.

L214 makes no secret of its purpose. Everywhere on its website or in its communications, it claims to promote veganism. But his videos are so striking that the majority of people remain on their first impression, that of an association that fights against abuse. “The surveys allowed us to make an indisputable observation when people doubted what we were saying. We are therefore seen as a structure that grumbles and denounces. But from the start, we wanted to democratize plant-based food”, insists Brigitte Gothière, the co-founder of the association. In fact, for eight or nine years, L214 has continued to intensify its efforts to change minds.

VegOresto, Vegan Pratique, Vegan places… are all variations of the association for this purpose. The VegOresto operation was launched in 2015: L214 privatized a restaurant and brought in customers, with the owner responsible for designing a 100% vegan menu. The idea being that he then keeps this offer on his card. Today, just over 3,000 restaurants are affiliated with the label. Vegan Pratique is a dietary advice site for individuals. The Vegan places are a kind of market that takes place in the big cities of France (still recently, in Lyon), all the vegan associations are invited and passers-by are given a taste of cakes without meat products and vegetable milks.

Harmless as long as they affect adults, these operations are more cringe-inducing when they target young people. For several years, L214 Education has been aimed at children via school, offering teachers educational materials, exercises, the magazine Mon journal animal… all free of charge, on simple request. Interventions within the establishments are also possible. “There is very little education in animal ethics in schools. After our workshops, we leave material available, not horrible images, but keys to understanding”, resumes Brigitte Gothière. On several occasions, agricultural representatives and deputies were moved by these activities in the school grounds. In 2019, then in 2020, the Ministry of National Education took a stand by reminding rectors that the association’s interventions were not approved by the State.

An analysis that disputes L214, recalling that the educational team is free to decide who it involves and that, in this case, it would also be necessary to prohibit agricultural representatives and hunters. The controversy has in any case not penalized the association which does not manage to respond to all requests. More recently, she set up training modules for hotel schools to familiarize students with vegan cuisine. “I explain to them that it’s one more string to their bow and that there is a commercial issue if they open their restaurant one day”, argues Olivier Héraud, the manager of the program deployed in 40 establishments since 2019 and now available online, again free of charge.

Because if the investigations and the videos are the best known activities of the association, they represent only a modest part of its expenses. In 2021, of the 4 million euros (for a total budget of 6.3 million) that L214 devoted to its various campaigns, 960,000 euros went to “investigations” (i.e. 24%) but 670,000 euros to the awareness of the general public (17%), 539,000 for young people (13%) and 561,000 euros for the promotion of plant-based foods (14%). And the trend is further accentuated in 2022, with 20% for surveys, 26% for young people and the general public and 19% for the promotion of plant-based food, according to provisional figures from L214.

While it is easy to measure the impact of videos that regularly lead to slaughterhouse closures, lawsuits or calls to order from the administration, it is infinitely more complex to assess the effect of L214’s influence policy. One certainty, the result cannot be measured solely by the evolution of the number of vegetarians or vegans in France. From polls to surveys, they remain an extremely small minority in France, barely exceeding 2% of the adult population in all categories (less than 0.5% for vegans alone).

On the other hand, the proportion of flexitarians – that is to say people who have greatly reduced their meat consumption without having become vegetarians – is progressing. Another sign, the better acceptance in cities and local authorities of the idea of ​​a meatless menu once or twice a week. “The first time we talked about this was in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate summit, we were laughed at,” continues Brigitte Gothière. And when Interbev, the interprofession of meat and livestock, adopts as its slogan, “Love meat, eat better” (implied, less but better), at L214, one cannot help but think that we are there for something. And that, in a few years, maybe…