Reframing The Veg*n Argument To Reach Across Political Divides
Although the detrimental effects of eating meat on the environment are clear, many environmental conservationists seem not to automatically adhere to veg(etarian)n (veg*n) ideology, which retains its stereotypical association as a left-wing ideal. Despite this, this study claims that moral psychology, and not political factors, are in fact better and more significant predictors of both eating and political leaning.
Here, researchers made an extensive investigation into a complex set of quantitative (numerical) measurements using two different existing scales, and combined them to establish at clear link between morality, politics, and veg*nism. For the purposes of this paper, veg*nism excluded only meat-eaters and included those self-defining as ‘pescatarians’: that is, eaters of sea animals such as fishes.
The study included 670 German citizens, with an average age of around 28, and the majority of whom were well-educated. As with many veg*n studies, women were over-represented, as were University students. Two thirds identified as omnivorous, one in five as vegetarian, one in 10 as pescatarian, and 6.4% as vegan. On the left-right, liberal-conservative spectrum, 69% identified as left-leaning voters.
The researchers sought to investigate why veg*ns tended to be more likely to have liberal left- rather than conservative right-wing political preferences. What implications do these linked ideologies have for transforming the dietary habits of right-wing environmentalists to positively affect climate change?
Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) proposes that beliefs and actions are not mainly dependent on rational and conscious processes, but more subconscious, intuitive ones. MFT establishes a ‘five foundations’ model whose dimensions include harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity, highlighting the relevance of different moral priorities for those with differing political perspectives. Those prioritising harm and/or fairness were more likely to be more liberal in ideology, whereas those for whom loyalty, authority or purity were paramount were more conservative.
The Meat Eating Justification (MEJ) scale allows researchers to establish the most important justifications for eating meat of each respondent. The scale has three subscales, each with three elements of explanation. These are:
- Pro-meat attitude, denial, hierarchical justification
- Dichotomisation, dissociation, religious justification
- Avoidance, health justification, human fate justification
Within each of these subscales is one indirect strategy for justifying the eating of animals (denial, dissociation, avoidance), with the others more direct and, interestingly, more likely to be employed by those identifying as male.
Where respondents indicated restricting certain foods, the researchers also categorised these reasons into one of the following: health, disgust, ethics, weight, religion, ecological, or other. This measure, alongside MFT and the MEJ scale, provided 19 factors in total for analysis and understandably produced huge volumes of data. The amount of analysis possible was therefore restricted, and discussion somewhat descriptive and explanatory. Still, valuable insights into potentially more effective advocacy were evident.
An “interesting interplay” was discovered between political orientation, moral foundations and meat-eating. Veg*ns were more likely to value care (in response to harm) and fairness as moral foundations, while meat-eaters valued purity and authority. The latter were also more politically right wing and endorsed all MEJ strategies. Left and centrist omnivores differed morally from their veg*n political counterparts in purity and authority, though no such pattern was clear when right wing omnivores and veg*ns were compared.
We often note that the same message does not resonate with everyone, and this research was able to propose the promotion of alternative ways of engaging right-wing environmentalists in some veg*n consumption practises. Liberal moral arguments are less convincing to conservatives and can in fact be counterproductive, increasing their likelihood of negativity towards veg*nism. Campaigns and campaigners must adapt to target those less (or differently) morally driven in a way that will resonate with them. The psychology of MFT explains both political and dietary preferences, and this study should help activists adjust key communications to place the elimination of meat-eating as an integral part of the wider environmental movement.