Why Vegans Make Some People So Uncomfortable and Angry
Disturbing evidence of pushback against people who do not eat meat
Posted October 27, 2019 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
A woman in London Ontario (Canada) has bumper stickers on her car that indicate her vegan choices. These bumper stickers include expressions such as: “If you love animals you don't eat them.” "Be kind, be vegan." And “Friends, not food.” One sticker shows a picture of a dog and a cow, asking the question: “Why love one but eat the other?” As a result of these bumper stickers, she has been yelled at, aggressively run off the road, and had meat and other objects thrown at her car. She is worried not only for herself but for her children. Regardless of your own diet and choices, we can likely agree that this is a sad state of affairs.
In our research lab, we’ve been studying prejudice and discrimination against vegetarians and vegans (henceforth labeled “veg*ns'). Some of this research was recently profiled by the Guardian in a piece entitled “Why do people hate vegans?” But I’ll elaborate on a broader range of findings in the present piece.
Below are listed some of the highlights from our research:
- Prejudice against veg*ns is real and strong. The prejudice that meat-eaters feel toward veg*ns is at least as negative as that expressed toward immigrants and is even more negative than racism expressed toward Black people (MacInnis & Hodson, 2017).
- Prejudice toward vegans is more severe than prejudice against vegetarians, with vegan men being the most despised (MacInnis & Hodson, 2017). Such findings highlight the importance of deviance and group norm violation in predicting prejudice toward outgroups.
- Meat-eaters are particularly negative toward veg*ns who avoid eating meat for reasons of animal welfare, compared to those who do so for health or environmental reasons (MacInnis & Hodson, 2017). This suggests that anti-veg*n prejudices are motivated and defensive as opposed to simply being a matter of disliking someone from another group (or someone who makes different diet choices than oneself). That is, the reasons WHY someone doesn’t eat meat is an important factor in determining the degree of bias expressed against them.
- Meat-eaters (MacInnis & Hodson, 2017) and those on the political right (Dhont & Hodson, 2014; Dhont et al., 2016; MacInnis & Hodson, 2017) feel that veg*ns are a threat to society and culture. In this way, veg*ns are targeted not for doing something, but rather for refusing to do something (eat meat).
- People who are threatened by veg*ns come to feel, over time, that food animals and wild animals are less deserving of moral concern and protection (Leite et al., 2019).
- Veg*ns feel discriminated against and marginalized, even by friends and family (MacInnis & Hodson, 2017).
- Conservatives (vs. liberals) are more likely to return to eating meat after trying to abstain from meat consumption. This is due, in part, to a perceived lack of social support (Hodson & Earle, 2018) and presumably reflects concerns about being stigmatized as a deviant.
- People who are more “pro-beef” (including greater consumers of beef) are even more prejudiced against vegetarians, a finding that holds up cross-culturally (Earle & Hodson, 2017). The fact that the amount of beef one eats predicts the degree of one’s anti-vegetarian sentiment suggests that some of the anti-vegetarian sentiment is motivated and defensive (and not simply a dislike for someone from another group who is “different”).
- Reminders that meat originates from animals reduces anti-veg*n prejudice (by boosting empathy for food animals) and lowers vegan threat perceptions (by increasing meat-based distress); however, it also elevates disgust over eating meat which increases perceptions that veg*ns are threatening (Earle et al., 2019). Thus, reminding people that meat comes from animals stirs a host of thoughts and emotions, some of which decrease, but others that increase, biases against veg*ns.
The experiences reported by the woman in Ontario are worrying, with real-life consequences for her and her family, but also for people in society more generally. If you find yourself feeling negative emotions when you see pro-animal bumper stickers, whether those feelings be anger, guilt, or confusion, it might be worth pulling over to the side of the road to think more deeply about your feelings and their implications.
Why does someone else refusing to eat animals cause you so much personal distress? What is this telling you about yourself and your place in the world? Perhaps you are experiencing inner conflict; on the one hand you probably love animals and believe that you’re a good person, but on the other hand, you might be involved in decisions and practices that violate your own personal standards about not harming others. Lashing out at other people will do little to reconcile or solve such inner conflicts, and in fact, may allow them to magnify. We could all benefit from careful and thoughtful discussion with others about the world in which we want to live, and how we want our grandchildren to judge us as they look back on this period in history.
(To learn more about human-animal relations, my collaborator Kristof Dhont and I have a book coming out soon, Why We Love and Exploit Animals: Bridging Insights from Academia and Advocacy.)
Much needed is a shout out to the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations (GPIR)* for recognizing that both human-animal relations and anti-veg*n prejudices are real and worthy of study (in a larger context where social psychologists have otherwise been slow to consider animals or veg*ns as real or legitimate targets of bias). In fact, GPIR recently devoted an entire issue to human-animal relations (see Dhont, Hodson, Loughnan, & Amiot, 2019), putting itself at the forefront of studying human-animal relations in psychology.
* Disclosure: Dr. Hodson is an Associate Editor at GPIR
Facebook image: Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock
Dhont, K., & Hodson, G. (Eds.) (in press). Why we love and exploit animals: Bridging insights from academia and advocacy. UK, Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group). [LINK]
Dhont, K., Hodson, G., Loughnan, S, & Amiot, C.E. (2019). (Editors). (De)Valuing animals: Intergroup perspectives on human-animal relations (Special issue of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). Volume 22 (6). [LINK]
Hodson, G., Dhont, K., & Earle, M. (in press). Devaluing animals, “animalistic” humans, and people who protect animals. In K. Dhont & G. Hodson (Eds.), Why we love and exploit animals: Bridging insights from academia and advocacy
Dhont, K., Hodson, G., Loughnan, S., & Amiot, C.E. (2019). Rethinking human-animal relations: The critical role of social psychology. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 22, 769-784. DOI: 10.1177/1368430219864455 [LINK]
Earle, M., Hodson, G., Dhont, K., & MacInnis, C.C. (2019). Eating with our eyes (closed): Effects of visually associating animals with meat on antivegan/vegetarian attitudes and meat consumption willingness. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 22, 818-835. DOI: 10.1177/1368430219861848 [LINK]
Leite, A.C., Dhont, K., & Hodson, G. (2019). Longitudinal effects of human supremacy beliefs and vegetarianism threat on moral exclusion (vs. inclusion) of animals. European Journal of Social Psychology, 49, 179-189. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2397. [LINK https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ejsp.2497]
Hodson, G., & Earle, M. (2018). Conservatism predicts lapses from vegetarian/vegan diets to meat consumption (through lower social justice concerns and social support). Appetite, 120, 75-81. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2017.08.027
Hodson, G. (2017). What is the pressing “animal question” about? Thinking/feeling capacity or exploitability? (Invited Commentary on Marino, 2017). Animal Sentience, 2(17), #12, pp.1-4. http://animalstudiesrepository.org/animsent/vol2/iss17/12/
MacInnis, C.C., & Hodson, G. (2017). It ain’t easy eating greens: Evidence of bias toward vegetarians and vegans from both source and target. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 20, 721-744. DOI: 10.1177/1368430215618253 [LINK]
Earle, M., & Hodson, G. (2017). What’s your beef with vegetarians? Predicting anti-vegetarian prejudice from pro-beef attitudes across cultures. Personality and Individual Differences, 119, 52-55. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.06.034
Dhont, K., Hodson, G., & Leite, A.C. (2016). Common ideological roots of speciesism and generalized ethnic prejudice: The social dominance human-animal relations model (SD-HARM). European Journal of Personality, 30, 507-522. DOI: 10.1002/per.2069 [LINK]
Dhont, K., & Hodson, G. (2014). Why do right-wing adherents engage in more animal exploitation and meat consumption? Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 12-17. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.02.002