Speciesism And Diet
Many people go veg*n out of an ethical motivation, being deeply concerned about the welfare of animals. Researchers have found that a key ideology driving this ethical motivation is a reaction against speciesism, which can be briefly defined as valuing animals differently depending on their species. For example, someone who thinks the life of a dog is worth more than the life of a pig has speciesist beliefs. However, the precise relationship between ethical motivation and speciesism is still relatively understudied. For instance, does rejecting speciesism motivate people to go vegetarian (ethical motivation)? The author of these two studies sought to better understand the relationship between these two concepts. Specifically, they wanted to see if either speciesism or ethical motivation was a better predictor of a person’s vegetarian status.
In the first study, the author gave an online survey to omnivores and vegetarians (including vegans) asking them about their diet and reasons for eating or not eating meat. The author gauged animal welfare motivation by having the participants rate statements such as “It is important to me that the food I eat on a typical day has been produced in a way that animals have not experienced pain” on a likert scale.
To look at speciesism, the author used a different likert scale to assess the participants, with statements such as “I think it is perfectly acceptable for cattle, chickens and pigs to be raised for human consumption,” to which responses ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The author concluded from the study results that how much participants are speciesist is a much better predictor of vegetarian status than animal welfare motivation.
In the second study, the author surveyed only vegetarians and vegans in order to better understand how speciesism and animal welfare motivation (called ethical motivation in study 2) predicted how much a person abstains from animal products. The author assessed ethical motivation with the statement “I follow this diet for ethical reasons,” with responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).” For speciesism, the author used a 6-item scale for statements such as “Humans have the right to use animals however they want to.” The results from this study supported those from the first, in that speciesism was found to be a better predictor of dietary status than ethical motivation.
Combining the results of the two studies shows that speciesism can largely account for variances in ethical dietary motivation between vegetarians and omnivores and between vegetarians and vegans. The author points out that because eating meat has effects on animals, public health, and the environment, it is important to understand why people make certain food choices. The results of his studies suggest that researchers should perhaps look at speciesism’s relation to meat avoidance in creating new studies.
Something to keep in mind when looking at the results is that the author defined ethical dietary motivation slightly different in the two studies. In the paper this article is summarizing, the author defined it as “a concern about the wellbeing of animals in deciding what to eat.” The author referred to ethical dietary motivation as animal welfare motivation in study 1 whereas in study 2, the author defined it “as the extent to which participants reported that they follow their diets for ethical reasons.” The benefit of defining this term slightly differently is that it shows the similarity of results is reliable. The downside to this difference in definition between the two studies is that the author is assuming that vegetarians are thinking of animals when reporting they follow their diets for ethical reasons. However, the author believes that since the results of the two studies were so similar, the participants likely were thinking of close to the same concept.
A drawback of the research is in study 1 the author did not define vegetarian or vegan for the participants when asking them if they identified with either of these terms thus relying on their own definitions of these terms. Another issue with the research is that participants may have lied when claiming they were vegetarian or vegan but the author points out the possibility of participants lying is often a limitation in survey research.
These two studies are valuable to animal advocates because they suggest that the best way to get someone to change their diet may be to help them reject speciesist notions. These results are also valuable to advocates because they show that people may be choosing their diets more based on implicit beliefs (speciesism) than beliefs that they are stating explicitly (ethical motivation).