Philosophy > General AR Philosophy
Eat Meat? You're Probably Socially Intolerant Too, Say Researchers

by Susan Bird May 26, 2015

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 admirable.
We're talking here about meat eaters who defend their omnivorous diets with certain familiar rationalizations.

"The relationships people have with animals are complicated," said 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 behavior."

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 legitimate justification.

"Morally motivated vegetarians may serve as a source of implicit moral reproach for many omnivores, eliciting behaviors designed to defend against moral condemnation," Dr. Piazza noted.

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 gets old.

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 meat defenders:

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 people?
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.

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