Anticipated Veg Stigma And Its Role In Transition
When meat-eaters are asked whether they would be willing to give up meat, a few objections that come up frequently are related to the perceived healthfulness, financial cost, (in)convenience, and tastiness of a vegetarian diet. Another concern is what friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers, would think of such a lifestyle. But which of these beliefs are actually stopping people from ditching meat? This study explored which barriers predict meat-eater’s openness to going vegetarian, and specifically whether the anticipated social stigma of being a veg*n plays an important role.
Vegetarians often experience uncomfortable conversations about their diets. Some avoid disclosing that information about themselves, experience anxiety when discussing their lifestyle, and sometimes face hostility from others. For this reason, the authors hypothesized that anticipated vegetarian stigma would predict the extent to which meat-eaters are open to becoming vegetarians; potentially more so than beliefs about healthfulness, financial cost, unfamiliarity, inconvenience, and tastiness of a vegetarian diet.
The study collected 579 meat-eating participants’ demographic information and measured the extent to which they 1) anticipate vegetarian stigma, 2) hold the aforementioned beliefs, 3) are open to becoming vegetarian, and 4) their political orientation. The measurements were all done through a questionnaire.
They found that anticipated stigma was associated with, but was not a significant predictor of, openness to going vegetarian. Even though the authors found a negative correlation between openness to vegetarianism and anticipated stigma, further analysis indicated that anticipated stigma did not predict openness. In fact, participants’ beliefs about tastiness, healthfulness, and financial cost (in that order) were the only significant predictors of them considering going vegetarian. Beliefs about tastiness predicted openness to vegetarianism 17 times more than anticipated stigma did, and beliefs about health did so six times more. Neither familiarity with a vegetarian diet, nor perceived convenience predicted participants’ openness to the prospect of giving up meat.
In other words, even though participants may expect “vegaphobia” from their social circle, most do not see this as a reason to not become a vegetarian. It is the belief that a veggie diet would not be as tasty, healthy, or affordable as their own diet, which keeps them from considering it.
The authors discuss the possibility that since fear of stigma was found to be negatively associated with openness to vegetarianism, but did not function as a predictor, that something else is going on. They suspected that the claim “becoming a vegetarian would be stigmatizing”, is a subsequent justification rather than a real barrier preceding food choice. Meat eaters may be justifying their eating behavior with a claim about fear of stigma when in reality it is not something they consider before making a food choice.
In post-hoc analyses the researchers answered two more questions.
1) What makes some meat-eaters anticipate more vegetarian stigma than others?, and
2) Which barriers to vegetarianism explain why men and political conservatives were found to be less open to becoming vegetarian than women and political liberals?
They found that participants anticipating more vegetarian stigma were more likely to perceive vegetarian diets as less convenient, to be young, be more conservative politically, be white, and live in a rural community.
The barriers which explain the discrepancy between gender and political orientation on openness to vegetarianism was not anticipated stigma. Perceived tastiness mediated the relation between gender and openness to vegetarianism: men may be more likely to believe they would not enjoy a meatless diet. On the other hand, the relation between political orientation and openness to vegetarianism was mediated by perceived healthfulness (as well as perceived taste): conservatives may be more resistant to a vegetarian diet because they don’t believe their nutritional needs would be met.
One of the limitations of this study is that it measured openness to a vegetarian diet through self-report rather than changed behavior, something which needs to be addressed in further research.
When it comes to changing minds about vegetarianism, it seems like it might be most effective to address the concerns about lack of taste, nutritional deficiency, or high cost. And unless you are addressing young, conservative, white men living in a rural area, attempts to destigmatize veg*ism may not be as influential in lowering meat consumption.