Bias Against Veg People From Both ‘Source’ And ‘Target’
Even though veganism may be a trending topic and animal advocacy may be a growing movement, abstaining from meat is not a new phenomenon. There are various indicators of the growth of vegetarianism and veganism — from the rise in circulation of veg publications to a growing number of celebrities who are openly embracing the diet and the ethics — but this growth does not necessarily mean that non-veg people are more accepting. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that “as vegetarians and vegans become more visible and politically active, intergroup conflicts between vegetarians/vegans and omnivores are increasingly likely.” Such conflicts can range from “moderate annoyances to serious maltreatment.”
This study looked at the reasons some people have a bias against veg*ns on the theoretical basis that veg people represent a “symbolic threat … to the status quo, given that prevailing cultural norms favor meat-eating.” The authors describe anecdotal instances of veg*ns being attacked in the media (such as the numerous inflammatory comments of Anthony Bourdain) as some evidence of the bias and to better understand why such attacks happen. They note “intergroup threat theory” may offer some explanation, and that this theory leans towards people who are the most threatened expressing the most bias. They note that recent work on this topic has shown that “those endorsing right-wing ideologies are indeed more threatened by vegetarianism,” which they say makes sense for a number of reasons related to perceptions of social dominance.
In this study, the authors outlined a wide range of hypotheses and tested them using three studies on “whether vegetarians and vegans are targets of systematic bias” and tried to understand in detail how that bias plays out. Although they “predicted that vegetarians and vegans would be targets of bias overall,” they also thought that “the magnitude of this bias was expected to differ systematically across targets: the more the target is perceived as deviant, the more bias predicted toward the target.” Indeed, the three studies found that vegetarians and vegans are the targets of bias. The authors state emphatically that, “unlike other forms of bias (e.g., racism, sexism), negativity toward vegetarians and vegans is not widely considered a societal problem; rather, (it) is commonplace and largely accepted.” They note that this finding may not be surprising given the context: recent statistics show that “73.4% of references to vegans in the UK news-media in 2007 were negative.”
While the study found that veg*ns may experience negative bias, there are differences in the sources and the reasons for this bias. In some cases, the authors note, veg people are “targets of envious prejudice (envy, jealousy),” which translates to people acknowledging that veg*ns are “‘right’ to not exploit animals, but (they) demonstrate restraint that many meat-eaters are personally unwilling to attempt.” In other contexts, however, “vegetarians and vegans are perceived as doing harm in another (way): they undermine the integrity of prevailing social values and traditions that exploit animals.” This study shows that veg*n advocacy is an increasingly complicated dance. On a positive note, the authors predict that, as the trend toward veg*n food continues, the bias against veg*ns would ostensibly “become increasingly unacceptable to express.”