Getting Inside The Minds Of Young Vegetarians
Animal advocates often seek to learn more about the mindsets of people who eat meat. This is so they can develop effective strategies to encourage them to change their consumption behaviors. This paper, published in Appetite, provides some useful information on differences in the mindsets and motivations of vegetarians and of people who eat low, moderate, and high amounts of meat.
The authors conducted interviews with participants between 18 and 35 years of age in the Netherlands. The participants included equal numbers of Dutch natives and second generation Chinese Dutch. The participants responded to questions regarding their consumption of meat and meat alternatives. They also responded to questions regarding their reasons for frequently eating or not eating meat. The results are as follows:
- In regard to overall demographics, the number of vegetarians in the study was low, at just 7% of the natives and 5% of the Chinese. Also, in both groups, about 70% of vegetarians were women and about 70% of high meat eaters were men.
- Consumption of meat substitutes was not very popular among the natives, even among the vegetarian natives, at just 25%. In contrast, the vegetarian Chinese reported to mainly eat meat substitutes, at 79%. The percentage of participants who reported eating red meat varied in both samples from moderate levels in the low meat-eating groups to high levels in the high meat-eating group.
- Participants rated their agreement with four possible motivations concerning food preparation and consumption. These included preferring to cook food themselves to ensure it is pure, feeling a personal connection with food providers, enjoying the taste of food, and enjoying cooking. The results showed that the vegetarians had a distinct profile. This is because they had a higher tendency to agree with the statement on purity—other reasons were not notably different between the groups. The authors suggest that the vegetarians’ focus on food purity “agrees with the notion that vegetarians have to manage vegetarianism, partly because they feel that others do not fully understand what they need.”
- In regard to avoiding meat, vegetarians reported two key reasons for this: “I don’t like meat very much” and “I think animal welfare is important.” In contrast, non-vegetarians were more likely to cite financial reasons for not frequently eating meat. Also, high meat eaters rejected almost all reasons for not frequently eating meat, while the other groups selected multiple reasons for avoiding meat. These included “I like to vary [what I eat],” “it’s healthier,” and “it is better for the environment.”
- In regard to eating meat frequently, low meat eaters mentioned most often that “it is healthier to eat meat frequently.” Medium and high meat eaters selected “being a meat lover” most often. All groups also frequently mentioned “it is what I am used to” and “it fits well with what I normally eat.”
- The authors conducted an analysis to identify reasons for or against meat eating that are most predictive of the meat-eating groups. For all groups, they found that liking to vary one’s meal, taste, habit, household context, and health reasons were significant predictors of meat consumption. And, for natives, special occasions and animal welfare were significant predictors. For the Chinese, environmental concerns were a significant predictor. Health was a significant predictor for low meat-eating natives for both eating meat frequently and not eating meat frequently. This “might be interpreted as a choice for eating meat without overdoing [it].”
Apart from the points mentioned above, authors highlight several key findings that may be of interest for advocates. They note that in the study, “the importance of animal welfare for the vegetarians was shared by only small percentages of the low and medium meat-eaters as a reason for not frequently eating meat.” This aligns with other research indicating that people who eat meat are able to separate meat from living animals. They further note that many meat eaters in the study did express concerns over meat consumption and health. And some expressed concern about the cost and environmental impacts of meat.
The authors recommend that advocates focus not on ethics—which could be seen as a criticism of a meat eater’s identity—but on potential health benefits of reduced meat consumption. The authors recommend that advocates also focus on, to a lesser extent, the impacts of meat eating on finances and the environment. Finally, the authors state that advocates must take cultural characteristics into consideration. The study identified different food preferences and motivations for eating or not eating meat among groups from different cultures.