All of us make dozens of food choices each day; we decide if we want coffee or tea, cereal or toast, cookies or fruit, plant-based or meat-based food. Why do those who choose not to eat meat commonly incur the jibes, scorn and wrath of those who do?
Many proud meat-eaters will trot out their favourite jokes such as, “What is the easiest way to tell if somebody is vegan? Oh, don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” It typically starts with the same worn-out cliches and can escalate from there.
To be fair, some vegans get evangelical about not eating animal products which can rub meat-eaters up the wrong way, whereas other vegans prefer not to make a fuss and aim to fly under the radar. Either way, there is an underlying tender point here for some meat-eaters, so an interesting question is: why do vegans get under their skin? The answer varies for different people, but there are three commonly associated theories.
1. Challenging The Norm
A recent study into veganism and vegetarianism in New Zealand highlighted the fact that vegans comprise a minority of most western populations and are therefore often seen as ‘challenging the norm’ or a possible threat to social and cultural identities. Consuming meat is central to many New Zealand traditions, holidays and habitual celebrations. Challenging these long-standing beliefs can sometimes be confrontational or seen as threatening, inciting unjustified feelings of ill will toward those who might suggest an alternative path forward.
2. A Question Of Morals
Some research has proposed that vegans are often viewed as “do‐gooders” motivated only by the perceived moral high ground. Believers of this theory favour the idea that this question of morals creates an unspoken ‘implied moral comparison’ ultimately leaving meat-eaters on the unfavourable side of this moral equation. In other words, by introducing the concept of animal cruelty to those who eat meat may result in feelings of guilt, judgement and uncertainty. Raising the question of eating animals places a certain amount of unspoken responsibility on humans around the status of animals and our moral obligation around how we treat them.
3. Group Dominance
According to a recent study exploring the “motivational basis of non‐vegetarians’ attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans” eating meat often holds “potent symbolic associations with human dominance over nature”. This deep-seated belief can be seen to be threatened or challenged by the concept of plant-based eating, effectively questioning the legitimacy of human dominance (male dominance in particular) over other animals.
When examining this theory, it raises many questions around the historical justification of exploitation of animals for personal gain, the gender differences in attitudes towards vegans and also the impacts of traditional on our societal beliefs and practices.
Plant-based eating is on the rise, so as veganism becomes more and more mainstream, we can expect to see a dilution of these kinds of negative opinions towards vegans.
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