Compassion Vs. Contamination: Cultural Differences In Vegetarianism
In two separate studies, a team of four scientists from the U.S., Canada, and India examined the cultural differences between vegetarians in each of their countries. In the first study, they examined each group’s attitudes towards animal and ecological welfare, as well as the relationship between diet and political leanings. In the second study, the researchers examined the relationship between vegetarianism and religion, as well as each group’s endorsement of five moral standards.
For their first study, the researchers recruited 272 participants via the Mturk.com testing service, including 159 Euro-Americans and 119 Indians. The subject pool included both vegetarians and omnivores. All participants received a questionnaire in English to determine their attitudes toward various statements. In the Euro-American group, vegetarians were more likely to value ecological welfare and animal rights than omnivores were. In the Indian group, omnivores and vegetarians valued ecological welfare equally, but vegetarians were more receptive to statements concerning animal welfare. However, the differences were less pronounced than in the Euro-American group.
With regards to political leaning, the study contrasted Authoritarianism (associated with respect for authority and nationalism) with Universalism (associated with charity and multiculturalism). Within the Euro-American group, vegetarians were less likely to endorse Authoritarianism and more likely to endorse Universalism. Vegetarianism was most strongly associated with a rejection of Authoritarianism; the gap between omnivores and vegetarians was narrower with regards to Universalism. In the Indian group, the same correlations existed, but with much narrower gaps. In addition, respondents in the Indian group were more likely to endorse Authoritarianism than the Euro-American participants were.
For their second study, the researchers recruited four groups: Euro-Americans, Euro-Canadians, Indians recruited via Mturk.com, and Indians recruited from the student body at a university in Karnataka State. The researchers added this fourth group with the understanding that participants in the Mturk group may be more westernized than other Indians. Participants answered a questionnaire in English concerning several topics, beginning with their religious affiliation and association of meat with bodily impurity or corruption.
Next was an examination of five moral standards and how they affected each participant’s views regarding the morality of certain actions. Purity referred to whether an action violated standards of decency. Authority referred to whether someone violated or disrespected legitimate authority or tradition. Ingroup simply referred to whether the action was committed by a participant’s community. Harm addressed whether someone was harmed by an action. And finally, Fairness referred to whether people were treated differently than others.
The researchers found that among Euro-Americans and Euro-Canadians, vegetarians were not more or less likely to be religious than omnivores. In both Indian groups, vegetarians were generally more likely to be religious than omnivores. In all groups, vegetarians were more likely to view meat as impure, but this difference was especially pronounced in the Indian groups, and even more so among participants in the Karnataka group.
With regard to the five moral standards, vegetarians in the Euro-American and Euro-Canadian groups were less likely than their omnivore counterparts to endorse Purity and Authority. The opposite correlation was true for both Indian groups, where vegetarians were more likely to endorse the two ethical standards.
With regard to the Ingroup ethic, there was no pronounced difference between Euro-American and Euro-Canadian omnivores and vegetarians. By contrast, vegetarians in both Indian groups valued this ethical standard more highly than the omnivores did. Compared with their omnivorous counterparts, Indian vegetarians also placed greater importance on reducing Harm and increasing Fairness. In the Euro-American and Euro-Canadian groups, this difference was less pronounced. In many areas of the study, participants in the Karnataka group deviated more from the Westerners than did those in the Mturk group, suggesting that the researchers were correct in suspecting that the latter group was more westernized.
Overall, the researchers found that North American vegetarianism was more strongly associated with political leanings and ethical beliefs compared with Indian vegetarianism. This possibly stems from vegetarianism being rooted in tradition and religion in India, whereas it is frequently associated with a counter-culture movement in the West. The researchers also noted that Indian vegetarianism is generally under-researched compared with Western vegetarianism, and thus, efforts should be made to ensure Indian research participants are not overly westernized.