Eating Meat To Fit In
When a person says they are a veg*n, does this mean they never eat meat? Paradoxically, no. Many people who say they are veg*ns do eat meat on occasion. As this research suggests, veg*ism is a social identity as much as a way of eating. Some veg*ns even view their diet as a flexible guideline rather than a rigid rule. To shed light on this phenomenon, this study investigated what prompts dietary lapses in those who generally disavow meat-eating.
Omnivores are often conflicted about eating meat. Thus, they are more accepting of veg*ns who occasionally eat meat than of those who strictly adhere to veg*n diets. Conversely, veg*ns are most bothered by other veg*ns who lapse occasionally than by those who strictly observe a veg*n diet. Being a woman, giving up meat for ethical reasons, disgust with meat, and length of time as a veg*n all point to stronger adherence to a veg*n diet. Even so the rate of dietary reversion is high. An estimated 84% of veg*ns eventually return to eating meat for either health or social reasons, according to our own Faunalytics study.
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, researchers in this external study surveyed 243 self-identified vegetarians. Just over half (124, or 51%) reported eating meat since becoming veg*n, and 90% of this group reported the meat-eating as intentional. More in-depth narratives were gathered from 108 of the participants. This narrative data was analyzed qualitatively to form a picture of why and when veg*ns consumed animal flesh.
Slightly more than a third of respondents said they ate meat to ease discomfort in social situations. They did not want to be rude or burdensome. Veg*ism is a stigmatized identity and eating meat in certain situations appears to be an effort to manage others’ impressions. Other reasons included social pressure, cravings, feeling physically unwell, avoiding food waste, curiosity, and simple enjoyment of meat.
Gatherings with family or friends and special occasions were the prompts cited by just over half the study subjects for consuming meat. Several participants admitted eating turkey on Thanksgiving as it embodies familial and cultural traditions. Other situations likely to trigger meat consumption included social gatherings, meals with a romantic partner, work events, and while traveling.
When veg*ns did eat meat, just over half reacted negatively while 22% reported it as a positive experience. Feelings of guilt were the most common negative emotion. And veg*ns appear to rationalize eating meat in the much the same way as omnivores do. They set an intention to resist meat in the future or to moderate their meat consumption. They also seek to normalize meat-eating and reject ethical motives in favor of health concerns as justification for consuming animal flesh.
The authors conclude that many veg*ns lapse into meat-eating primarily to fit in. Presenting as a veg*n seemed to conflict with social acceptance. And yet in other contexts, they still claim to be veg*n. This lends weight to the theory that veg*ism is more an identity than an actual eating pattern. Understanding more about why veg*ns violate their diets may inform efforts to support those who try to maintain a veg*n diet. Rather than lambaste those who “slip” occasionally, animal advocates can use this study to gain insight into what derails good intentions. From there, we can find ways to make it easier for those who wish to adopt or maintain a plant-based way of eating.