Where’s the Beef? Attitudes about Meat in the U.S., France, and South America
In much of the Western world, eating meat is currently the subject of heated debate. Although animal products still occupy a coveted position in the overall “hierarchy of foods,” cracks in the larger narrative of meat consumption are starting to show. These include the notion that meat is a marker of social status, that it is a healthy and good source of nutrition, and so on. There appears to be an increasing amount of ambivalence towards meat-eating, and that ambivalence is manifesting itself throughout the “developed” world. More and more regularly, people are realizing that there are important personal, environmental, and ethical costs to meat consumption.
That being said, cultural habits die hard, and attitudes around meat consumption are deeply ingrained. To better understand how attitudes might (or might not) be shifting, a group of researchers compared a handful of countries: Argentina, Brazil, France, and the United States. Attitudes towards meat-eating (and vegetarianism) have been studied relatively thoroughly in the U.S., but less so in France, which has generally shown an “antipathy” towards vegetarianism. The reason for choosing to study these countries was that “attitudes toward vegetarians in Brazil, Argentina, and France have not been examined, to our knowledge.”
Based on government policy that mandates a certain amount of meat and animal products in school lunches and other venues, the authors suggest that, “given the importance of beef in Brazil and Argentina, and the structural opposition to people following vegetarian diets in France, laypeople’s attitudes toward vegetarians in these cultural contexts remains an important and underexplored topic.” To this end, the researchers conducted interviews with 1,695 participants to discuss their attitudes towards meat-eating, vegetarianism, and related topics. To narrow their research somewhat, they focused specifically on beef as the meat they were studying, because of its popularity in those countries.
They found that participants displayed both strong positive and negative attitudes toward beef, describing it as “tasty” and “juicy” as well as calling it “fat/fatty” and associating it with “blood” or being “bloody.” Negativity toward beef was found to be relatively low, with the exception of U.S.-based women (25% of whom are negative toward beef). Overall, about a fourth of respondents (25%) are ambivalent about beef, although ambivalence was much higher among Brazilian women (42%). The researchers note that this “ambivalence may be of particular significance because changes in beef attitudes, and consumption, are probably most likely in ambivalent individuals.”
When it came to overall attitudes about vegetarianism, perhaps unsurprisingly, women were more positively inclined than men, with women in all four countries having positive opinions of vegetarians (described as “admiration”). That said, attitudes were predominantly neutral, with only Brazilian and U.S. women having above-average admiration for vegetarians. Further to that, women in France and the U.S. were less bothered by vegetarians than were men, and there were “no significant gender differences in willingness to date vegetarians.” At a national level, admiration of vegetarians was highest in Brazil and in the U.S.
For advocates, the researchers conclude their study by suggesting that, there are significant gender differences when it comes to attitudes towards beef-eating and vegetarianism, and “there also appear to be country-level differences.” For advocates in the U.S., or in any of these countries, the study offers up a wide and granular range of data that is worth looking over in greater detail. “Given the shifting popularity of meat (and beef in particular) in the developed and developing world,” the researchers say, it is especially important to understand attitudes toward meat and toward vegetarians.” Advocates for farmed animals will no doubt agree.