What’s The Beef? Some Meat-Eaters Are Disgusted By Meat
Increasingly, the world is realizing that the consumption of non-human animals is unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable. Taking each of these in turn, numerous health problems are associated with excessive meat-eating, including coronary artery disease (the leading cause of death in the United States), stroke, and high cholesterol. While there is likely no single perfect diet for optimal health, eating more plants and plant-based proteins—especially leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils—is a promising way to improve one’s health and potentially extend life.
The ethics of consuming non-human animals is also quickly becoming a larger concern. Cage conditions, slaughter methods, and overcrowding lead to physical and psychological harm. In the worst cases, whole herds and flocks are plagued by disease and in a constant state of stress, while the working-class humans charged with “handling” them are abused in their own ways. These practices have thus shown themselves to be the moral atrocities that they are. Finally, factory farming of the sort that has become routine in the current world accounts for a drastic amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing or eliminating this contributor to climate change is simply necessary for securing the future of the planet.
In short, consumption of non-human animals has become intolerable in three existential arenas. How to effectively persuade a critical mass of consumers to change their habits, a crucial part of the puzzle in changing the relevant industries, has long eluded animal rights and environmental advocates. Where other strategies target healthier living, global responsibility, self-control, and other appeals, a recent study has shown a potentially more effective technique: “meat disgust.” This study found that even some meat-eaters are disgusted by meat, and those who were disgusted by meat were more likely to decrease their meat consumption at a follow-up six months after the initial study. This may have important implications for informing interventions aimed at reducing meat intake.
To conduct this study, researchers sent out an online survey to collect information on people’s age and gender, whether they felt disgust towards meat, how easily disgusted they were generally, their level of self-control, and how much meat they consumed regularly. The 711 participants included in the study were divided into omnivores (eating both meat and non-meat), flexitarians (omnivores who were actively trying to eat less meat), and vegetarians (ranging from those who ate eggs and dairy to full vegans who ate no animal products whatsoever). Across the total sample, about 57% were omnivores, 29% flexitarians, and 15% vegetarians. They used a statistical tool known as multiple regression to estimate how important one’s dietary preference was in predicting meat disgust. Unsurprisingly, they found that 75% of vegetarians feel disgusted by meat. Less obvious, however, was that among omnivores and flexitarians, 18% experienced meat disgust. Although not a huge number, this is nonetheless significant, since the authors also found that after six months, those who were disgusted by meat were much more likely to reduce or eliminate it from their diet.
In all, this study is important for several reasons. Namely, it may have been the first to actually put a number on meat disgust and understand what predicts whether someone will feel disgusted by meat. While Becker and Lawrence acknowledge earlier work that looked at meat disgust, they note that this is still a relatively understudied area, leaving ample room for future work looking at what else might be an important consideration in understanding this feeling. Secondly, this study was apparently the first to estimate the proportion of different groups who feel disgusted by meat. This is an important finding, in that while it confirms intuition (e.g., vegetarians are more disgusted by meat than others), it also offers a glimpse into how more people may be persuaded to reduce or eliminate meat in their diets. Specifically, and this is the third major finding of the study, as mentioned, six months afterward, people who felt more disgusted by meat consumed less of it. This was only statistically significant for flexitarians, which indicates that if individuals begin consciously reducing their meat intake, they may ultimately feel more disgusted by meat, and subsequently reduce even further. This would make a dramatic difference in the three areas of concern for non-human animal consumption: health, ethics, and sustainability.
Ultimately, the authors of this study show that “meat disgust” may be a tool worthwhile adding to the kit of animal welfare and environmental advocates in changing more peoples’ habits. Especially in conjunction with other strategies, cultivating a broader sense of meat disgust could lead to a greener, healthier, more ethical world.