Exploring Embitterment Among Vegans And Vegetarians
Diets that avoid animal products are becoming increasingly common across the globe. For example, 2% of Germany’s population and 8% of Saudi Arabia’s population identify as vegan. Such lifestyle choices may be motivated by health or taste preferences, religious backgrounds, or ethical considerations such as environmental or animal welfare concerns.
However, those who adopt animal-friendly diets may encounter stigmatization or other negative social impacts. The authors of this study point out that such treatment is especially difficult considering that many vegans and vegetarians (veg*ns) feel their diet is an important part of their self-identity. While there is no scientific consensus about the impact of veg*nism on psychological well-being, previous scholars have hypothesized that reduced opportunities to participate in food-related social experiences, negative stereotyping, and generally belonging to a minority may affect veg*ns’ mental health.
To address the research gap, researchers from Germany looked at the impacts that stigmatization can have on one’s psychological well-being when engaging in a veg*n lifestyle. Specifically, the authors were interested in understanding “embitterment,” which they describe as feelings of anger and helplessness, humiliation, or generally feeling “let down.” In addition to exploring the difference in embitterment among vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores, they also wanted to investigate the factors that fuel embitterment among veg*ns — for example, perceived life satisfaction and discrimination, one’s motivation(s) for going veg*n, and the importance one places on diet.
Participants were recruited through a convenience sample and asked to complete a survey about their dietary patterns and demographics. The survey also measured the centrality of participants’ dietary identities, their dietary motivations, and their perceived discrimination, life satisfaction, and embitterment. In total, 1,147 responses were collected with the following demographic breakdown:
- Diet: 42% were vegan, 30% were vegetarian, and 28% were omnivorous.
- Gender: 77% identified as women and 21% identified as men.
- Education: 48% had a college degree, 17% had a high school degree, and 11% had a vocational degree.
The authors point out that among omnivores, women and people with higher levels of education were overrepresented, while the veg*n demographics generally reflected the larger veg*n population.
The study found that omnivores reported feeling high levels of embitterment the least frequently and had the lowest average embitterment perceptions. Meanwhile, vegans had the most frequent and highest average perceptions of embitterment. Furthermore, veg*ns were more than twice as likely to report having an eating disorder than omnivores (9% vs. 4%). Vegans reported higher perceptions of discrimination than people following other diets.
69% of vegans felt their diet was a central part of their self-identity compared to 35% of vegetarians and 10% of omnivores. While those with a high diet centrality were more likely to report feelings of embitterment, there was no correlation between dietary choice and life satisfaction. For example, while vegans tended to feel less satisfied by people in their social networks, they were more satisfied than vegetarians or omnivores about their health, the environment, and life in general.
Having an eating disorder, feeling perceptions of discrimination, and moral motivations for choosing a diet were other factors that increased feelings of embitterment. Meanwhile, having higher life satisfaction and education levels were correlated with less embitterment.
It’s important to remember that experiencing embitterment and life satisfaction aren’t “either-or” situations. In other words, even people with feelings of embitterment can still feel satisfaction with many aspects of their life. Regardless, the results of this study support other research that suggests stigma is a major challenge for vegans (and vegans of color). Therefore, providing social support and comfort to new and existing vegans is critical in any dietary advocacy initiative.