by Susan Bird May 26,
Meat eaters who justify consuming animals tend to have a number of similar
qualities, says a new study. Some of those qualities aren't especially
We're talking here about meat eaters who defend their omnivorous diets with
certain familiar rationalizations.
"The relationships people have with animals are complicated,"
study leader Dr. Jared Piazza of Lancaster University. "While most people
enjoy the company of animals and billions of dollars are spent each year on pet
care and maintenance, most people continue to eat animals as food. People employ
a number of strategies to overcome this apparent contradiction in attitude and
Those strategies tend to reveal themselves in four types of defenses, which the
study calls the four "Ns." A
large number of those studied -- between 83 and 91 percent -- justified eating
meat by saying it is:
Natural -- "Humans are natural carnivores."
Necessary -- "Meat provides essential nutrients."
Normal -- "I was raised eating meat."
Nice -- "It's delicious."
Certainly, none of these reasons are valid justification for treating animals
raised for meat the way we do. Humans are omnivores,
not carnivores. Plant-based foods offer all the essential nutrients we need.
Just because eating meat is a long running tradition doesn't make it right.
Finally, while meat might well be delicious, that's not even close to a
"Morally motivated vegetarians may serve as a source of implicit moral
reproach for many omnivores, eliciting behaviors designed to defend against
Does this sound familiar, vegans and vegetarians? Do your meat eating friends
and co-workers feel it necessary to "defend" themselves -- even when you haven't
specifically challenged their dietary choices?
Just the fact that you mention you don't eat meat as you discuss your order with
a waiter is usually enough for someone at the table to make an inane comment
about how good bacon is or how PETA stands for "People Eating Tasty Animals." It
What qualities did the researchers discover about the meat-eaters who defended
their choices in one of these ways? Not surprisingly, the findings of six
studies conducted by the University of Lancaster indicated
Tend not to be motivated by ethical concerns when making food choices
Are less involved in animal-welfare advocacy
Are less driven to restrict animal products from their diet
Are less proud of their animal-product decisions
Tend to endorse "speciesist" attitudes
Tend to consume meat and animal products more frequently
Are highly committed to eating meat
Tend to be socially intolerant
The "socially intolerant" finding is particularly interesting. Perhaps being
less receptive to animal welfare concerns means you're a certain type of person
who just isn't attuned to others' distress? Even if those "others" are other
Most of these attitudes would indeed seem to go hand in hand with the
rationalizations that eating meat is natural, necessary, normal and/or nice.
Yet many of us who are
vegetarian or vegan today grew up embracing some of the same attitudes. We
changed our views only when we stopped seeing the meat on our plates as a meal.
Something clicked and we began to understand what goes on to get that meal in
front of us.
That yummy burger or finger-licking good fried chicken began as an animal who
wanted to live and who didn't need to die to nourish us. Couple this truth with
the fact that raising livestock for meat is
tremendously hard on the environment and one must ask -- how long will meat
eaters hold on to their rationalizations?
Those who rely on the four Ns may be hard to convince. Some will never come
around. Remember, though, that many of us leaned on those same rationalizations
for a long time until we learned more about our food. Somewhere in our nature we
were animal lovers, and we saw the hypocrisy of "loving" animals but continuing
to eat them in a society in which we don't need to do so anymore.
Those four Ns aren't justifications. They're rather weak rationalizations that
don't hold up to scrutiny.