Vegetarianism: Toward A Greater Understanding
Attempts to understand the motivations, tensions, and coping mechanisms underlying vegetarianism, and how different demographic variables influence vegetarian-oriented attitudes and behaviors.
This research was based on 11 in depth interviews of self-reported vegetarians.
Each of the eleven interviewees cited at least one or more of the four major underlying motivations for becoming vegetarian including ethical, health, sensory and reference group influence.
The ethical concerns dealt with two primary issues, including a concern for the quality of life of animals and the guilt associated with killing animals.
Vegetarian diets are generally regarded as healthy and there is growing concern with the health issues related with eating meat of animals who have been exposed to harmful chemicals or raised in unsanitary conditions.
Individuals also expressed a sensory aversion to meat, and also a disgust that is distinct from these sensory reasons. This disgust originates from thoughts associated with the origins of the cooked meat.
Some also follow vegetarian practices in the footsteps of other individuals they admire, as vegetarians are often perceived to be more health conscious, self-disciplined and attractive than non-vegetarians.
In analyzing interview transcripts, several tensions, representing opposing cognitive forces became apparent among vegetarians. People seem to use several different coping mechanisms to deal with these tensions.
The first tension is “pragmatism versus integrity” (the anxiety between holding vegetarian believes and behaviors while being practical in everyday life) – coped with by problem-focused strategies such as relying on a brand that guarantees no animal content, or concession based coping which is compromising.
The second tension is “individual freedom versus social belonging” (the tensions vegetarians face when maintaining vegetarian views in a meat eating society) – vegetarians will copy by keeping their vegetarian beliefs as low key as possible at social gatherings.
The third tension is “animal welfare versus self-welfare” (a tension reflecting the need to maintain self well being while at the same time empathizing with the welfare of animals” – coped with by concession based coping strategies.
The fourth tension is “abstinence versus pleasure” ( adhering to a diet of vegetarian foods only is boring and reduces choices and culinary pleasure – coped with using problem focused coping strategies such as purchasing vegetarian cookbooks, or concession based strategies by allowing some eggs, cheese or fish.