Social Structure Influences On Meat Consumption
Meat production is a major cause of critical environmental problems and therefore individual dietary habits are a form of “environmentally significant consumption (ESC).” This study sought to understand the factors that contribute to individual consumption patterns of environmentally significant commodities. Gender, race, ethnicity, location of residence, and social class all appear to affect dietary habits. This research suggests that social structural factors in combination with macro-economic structure and psychological factors explain the meat consumption patterns of individuals.
Due to the environmental implications of food production and consumption, this research examines factors that influence the human diet and the aspects of food production that are most harmful to the environment. The study focuses on meat consumption because of its particularly serious effects on the global environment.
Meat production and consumption are environmentally significant because they requires the use of large quantities of natural resources (land, water, etc.), comparatively inefficient to grains and vegetable matter.
However, since scientific research shows that meat is unnecessary for a healthy diet, and furthermore that it may be a leading contributor to health problems, meat production is explained by more than simply response to consumer demand. Researchers theorize that it is a consumer preference due to the hegemony that meat producers have over the value and belief system of society’s culture, suggesting that values and beliefs have a greater influence on the choice of a vegetarian diet than demographic factors. Researchers also found that social psychological factors have a greater influence on consumer demand than demographic and economic factors.
Specific research findings:
- Self-identified vegetarians, who make up 2.3% of the sample, eat an average of 83.2 grams of total meat per day, compared with 217.8 for non-vegetarians.
- Women consume substantially less meat than men, which could be explained by differences in the values of men and women.
- Blacks and Asians eat more meat than whites; blacks eat more beef than whites. This may suggest that cultural meaning and value of meat is influenced by social context.
- Social class has a substantial influence on meat consumption, as laborer occupations eat more beef than total meat than those in service or professional occupations.
- Education is inversely related to beef and total meat consumption.
- Beef consumption rises with income, possibly related to the relative price of beef to other foods.
- Location of residence also appears to influence meat consumption. Midwesterners eat more beef and total meat than other regions; urban dwellers eat less beef (but not total meat) than non-urban dwellers. This could be explained by varying availability and price of meat in different areas.
- People eat less total meat and beef as they grow older, more likely due to the differences in the dietary norms of people in different age groups as opposed to the physiological changes that take place.