How can we continue to eat meat if we wish to animate

image: Many of us experience the “meat paradox,” whereby we simultaneously care for animals such as these cows, but also consume them as meat.
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Credit: Doruk Yemenici via Unsplash

While climate activist Greta Thunberg laments that animal products are “stealing” her future, humanity continues to consume meat. In fact, around 90-97% of us eat meat, with global meat consumption currently on the rise. Yet the majority of people are concerned, at least to some extent, about the welfare of animals. In fact, research has shown that many are inclined to sympathize with dogs more than with other adults.

A new review of the literature by British researchers at the Societies Research Hub at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Nottingham Trent University, led by Sarah Gradidge, explores this ‘meat paradox’, namely the coexistence of eating meat and caring for animals.

Researchers recognize two main psychological processes in the Meat Paradox: triggers and restoration strategies. Triggers make meat consumers uncomfortable about their own meat consumption. For example, it could be when a meat eater is reminded about meat from the flesh of slaughtered animals. However, these thoughts can be countered by certain strategies, so that the person can escape the paradox and resolve their feelings of discomfort.

Researchers list the most common strategies for dealing with the meat paradox, such as when a person views “food” animals as being of low status and therefore unable to think, feel, or understand. Alternatively, some people justify meat consumption as “natural”, “necessary”, “pleasant” and “normal” (the “4Ns”). Another common approach is to separate meat from animals using alternative descriptions, such as “cattle”, “pig” and “poultry”. Certain behaviors, such as presenting vegetarianism as illogical, are also often used to justify eating meat.

Interestingly, researchers also report that people with different demographics and attitudes use different strategies to overcome the meat paradox. For example, one study identified cross-cultural differences, where Americans disassociated meat from animals more than Ecuadorians, perhaps because in the latter country it is more common for meat to be served with the head of the animal. animal still attached. Likewise, another study found that the French were more likely to deny that animals have a mind of their own compared to the Chinese.

People can also justify their consumption of meat because it is part of their religious traditions. For example, some people linked it to God’s abundant food supply, while in a separate study others pointed to the existence of an ethical slaughter within Islam.

Disengagement from animals appears to be significantly more prevalent in males than females, the review concludes. However, the researchers note that this is likely due to traditional gender attitudes. For example, the military thinks that eating meat is inherently masculine and associates it with the gender stereotype of “man as a hunter”. In contrast, those who do not believe in traditional masculinity as much (including men) show a greater commitment to animals.

In the review, the authors state:

“This research shows how stereotypes of masculinity force men, and / or those who wish to be ‘masculine’, to disengage from consumed animals, perhaps explaining why women identify themselves more as vegetarians and vegans than men. . ” For example, 63% of vegans are women, compared to only 37% of men.

In terms of political ideologies, greater conservatism seems to be linked to a negative view of vegetarianism and veganism and to the rationale for meat consumption as “natural”, “necessary”, “pleasant” and “normal”. individuals with right-wing political beliefs being more willing to consume meat. On the other hand, left-wing participants see vegetarianism and veganism more positively, including in an ethical and environmental context.

The main conclusion of the review is as follows:

“[S]some people are more likely to engage with animals than others, including: females; those who value masculinity less; have less traditional gender attitudes and men who value the ‘new masculinity’. Thus, people in these groups may be more sensitive to meat reduction interventions. “

Sarah Gradidge, the lead author, says:

“It is exciting to present the first comprehensive structured literature review on the ‘meat paradox’, and we hope it will inform both the ‘meat paradox’ literature and real-world behavior, like reducing meat. The work will be of interest not only to researchers on the “meat paradox”, but also to people and organizations aiming to reduce meat consumption and even meat consumers themselves who wish to better understand their psychological relationship to meat. This review is particularly timely given the urgent demands to reduce meat consumption in order to save the environment, and we therefore hope that the review informs these efforts. “


Research article:

Gradidge, S., Zawisza, M., Harvey, AJ and McDermott, DT (2021). A structured review of the literature on the meat paradox. Social Psychology Bulletin, 16 (3), 1-26.

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Adam Gray

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