Can We Love Animals And Eat Them Too?
Most people love animals and want to be kind to them. But many people also enjoy eating meat. Meat-eaters often feel ambivalent about eating meat, because consuming animals is a result of slaughtering them. This is the “meat paradox.” To remedy these negative feelings, meat-eaters use various psychological strategies to justify eating animals.
Some strategies include believing that animals do not feel pain or suffering, that humans are superior to other animals, and that meat is normal and necessary for nutrition. However, there is a more subtle way to grapple with the meat paradox – dissociating meat from its animal origins. In other words, disconnecting meat from dead animals, to avoid the negative feelings that arise from the meat paradox.
The authors of this article conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature looking at how people dissociate meat from its animal origins, reviewing and summarizing 33 papers altogether. They found that meat-eaters intentionally distance themselves from the animal origins of meat, and that connecting animals with meat made them more conflicted about consuming it.
Across studies, two main avoidance strategies were used: removing the animal characteristics of meat (e.g., the head, hooves, feathers, and so on), and using euphemisms (e.g., saying “pork”, “beef”, and “veal” for dead pig, cow, and calf). For example, one study found that images of less-processed meat triggered reminders of dead animals. This shows that removing animal characteristics helps consumers feel more comfortable about eating meat. Others found that some meat-eaters were not able to identify which animal their meat came from. So, euphemisms are an insidious and effective way to disconnect meat from dead animals.
In one study, a group of researchers influenced the buying intentions of meat-eaters. They manipulated a menu by changing the images and descriptions of food. When meat still had its animal characteristics, and words such as “pig” and “cow” instead of “pork” and “beef” were used, participants were more willing to choose a vegetarian meal. Another study looked at who avoids reminders of the meat paradox. People who most actively distanced themselves from the animal origins of meat were the most disturbed by reminders of it. So, people who are the most uncomfortable with killing animals for food are the ones who try the hardest to ignore this reality.
The authors caution that these studies measure intentions and attitudes about consuming meat rather than actual meat-eating, so further research is needed to see if highlighting the animal origins of meat will reduce meat-eating in practice. Still, emphasizing that meat is a result of animal slaughter may be an effective avenue for animal advocates communicating about veg*n diets.