Meat Avoidance During COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people avoided meat for a variety of reasons, including moral, social, environmental, and economic. However, as a result of COVID-19, the authors of this study claim that some people may have begun to avoid meat to protect the health of others.
To investigate anti-meat sentiments during the global pandemic, the researchers examined the online comment sections on newspaper articles that include the words “meat” and “virus.” They looked at newspapers in Argentina, France, India, and the U.S. in the first six months of 2020.
In March and April 2020, comment-section discussion was mostly about the role of meat consumption in transmitting animal diseases to humans, because COVID-19 may have jumped to humans because of wild animals being killed and sold at a market. Commenters focused on why eating meat was wrong and the importance of global environmental conservation. In June, commenters focused on whether slaughterhouses were COVID-19 “super-spreaders” that risked the health of their workers.
Over the course of the summer, the topic of COVID-19 and meat disappeared from newspapers. Journalists stopped covering COVID-19 so intensely and were less focused on the virus’s origins. In addition, the authors point out that the early-pandemic meat shortages had ended and people now knew that cooked meat couldn’t transmit COVID-19.
Fewer than 5% of comments on meat-related articles about COVID-19 recommended reducing or eliminating meat consumption. Most commenters focused on other issues. They blamed Chinese people eating wild animals for COVID-19. They either blamed capitalism and globalism or the often-marginalized workers themselves for the spread of COVID-19 in slaughterhouses. In France, the commenters emphasized that the problem wasn’t meat-eating but the industrial-scale production of meat. In the U.S., vegetarianism was sometimes perceived as an elitist perspective. In France, Argentina, and the U.S., commenters often saw meat as necessary for human wellbeing.
In India, according to the authors, vegetarian advocacy is sometimes associated with distaste for Muslims, Christians, tribal communities, and lower-caste groups. In the wake of COVID-19, commenters began to criticize the Chinese, especially for their consumption of wild animals. China and India have a tense geopolitical relationship. Commenters’ opinions on vegetarianism may reflect these tensions.
In conclusion, the study found that anti-meat sentiment during COVID-19 was brief and faded as the news cycle moved on to other topics. Although COVID-19 showed many negative effects of eating meat, these effects didn’t necessarily persist in the public consciousness. This is a helpful reminder to advocates that persuading the public away from eating animals is an ongoing process — telling people something once, or a few times, may not cause the message to “stick.”