Attitudes Towards Vegetarianism And Meat-Eating: A Case Study From Belgium
Scientists from Belgium and France surveyed a total of 2436 Belgians using an online questionnaire with multiple-choice questions about vegetarianism and meat consumption. Their goal: to find out what motivations could be used for encouraging the public to reduce their meat consumption and switch towards plant-based diets.
More and more, the scientific establishment is finding that that a global shift to plant-based dietary patterns could reduce mortality, emissions of food-related greenhouse gases and have substantial economic benefits – Not to mention the already well documented health benefits associated with zero to low meat intake. Notably, according to the authors, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)/World Health Organization (WHO) recently concluded that there are positive associations between the consumption of processed and red meats and the risk of colorectal cancer.
Despite this, meat consumption in Belgium is still nearly double the recommended intake in the Belgian food-based dietary guidelines. Furthermore, the percentage of vegetarians in Belgium is very low (<1.5 %) compared to some other European countries. The researchers highlighted the importance of acquiring knowledge on the motivations that lead to the choices of vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or an omnivorous dietary patterns: “It is essential to design public health programmes that can support individuals in reducing their meat consumption.”
The need for education on the topics of food supply chains and dietary science becomes obvious as the study revealed that:
- More than one third of the respondents did not link cattle farming to the climate
- A quarter of the respondents tended to agree or agreed that eating fish is part of a vegetarian dietary pattern
- Only 21.8 % of the respondents believed that meat consumption is unhealthy, whereas almost the half believed that they should eat less meat
- About 54 % of the respondents considered that following a vegetarian dietary pattern is achievable
- 23.5 % of the respondents believed that eating vegetarian food frequently is unhealthy.
What’s more, 94% of respondents who consume meat responded that they had no particular reason for eating meat. The most common reported reasons for doing so were “good taste”, followed by “habit” and “this is how I was educated,” which correspond to previous findings in the UK. Meanwhile, for both semi-vegetarians and omnivores, the most common reason for eating a more vegetarian diet was “my health.” For omnivores, this was followed by “to discover new tastes” and “to reduce weight.” Finally, the most common motive for not eating a vegetarian diet was “no interest,” followed by “the taste” and “I never thought about it.”
The results confirmed findings made by of previous studies, which stated that men have more positive attitudes towards meat consumption than women. This separation in attitude stems from the cultural associations with meat and masculinity. Furthermore, in the past women were shown to be more interested in health. Similarly, a previous study carried out in the Netherlands observed that vegetarians were more concerned about the ecological and health consequences of their food choices than omnivores.
In addition to the findings above, nearly 25% of the respondents believed that eating vegetarian food frequently is unhealthy. All of the reported results show that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of food. Improving education, in particular for regular meat eaters, about the health benefits of reducing their meat intake is of vital importance. The researchers believe such statistics will help to create better targeted health campaigns for reducing meat consumption in Belgium.
Whether in terms of targeting or adjusting their approaches to education, animal advocates will benefit greatly from this study. Amongst the most worrying are the issues of psychological positive association with meat by men and the widespread positive opinion of eating fish. The present confusion raises doubt in the public and perpetuates the status quo which should be challenged by spreading strategic information on the manifold advantages of well-balanced plant-based diets.