Typical Veggie! You are what you eat! Correlations between meat consumption and personal characteristics
"I am vegetarian" - this statement doesn’t just communicate personal eating habits, but also one’s membership in a group of people who distinguish themselves from the meat-eating society through personal values and attitudes. As the proverb “You are what you eat” goes, there are correlations between one’s diet, be it vegan or vegetarian, and one’s personality and values. Recently, there has been a rise in research into the "veggie personality". Veggie is used informally in some countries, such as the UK or Germany to refer to vegetarians. In this context, the term encompasses both vegetarians and vegans.
This article will give a short overview of the current state of research on the so-called “veggie personality”.
Research in the West shows that veggies tend to be educated, young, and female. But why are older people, less educated individuals, and males, significantly less willing to reduce their meat consumption and more likely to hold negative attitudes towards veggies.
Veggies buck tradition
Being a veggie means rejecting the consumption of meat or all animal products but in the West these foods often form part of a country’s traditions. Those who hold more tightly to traditions and are less open to new experiences will be more opposed to a veggie diet. This is supported by various studies showing that veggies differ from their meat-eating counterparts (omnivores) in important attitudes and personal characteristics. For example, veggies tend to be more politically liberal and less attached to traditions than omnivores. This may also explain the positive connection between a veggie diet and higher education as compared to less highly educated people, more highly educated people tend to be more politically liberal.
Try new things… become a Veggie
Additionally, veggies are more open to new experiences than omnivores. Meaning, they are more curious and unconventional, more likely to challenge existing social structures, and more likely to try new things, like new diets. Therefore, findings that show openness tends to decrease with age may explain why older people are less likely to opt for a veggie diet.
The Veggie worldview and masculinity
Veggies also tend to have more universal world view than meat-eaters. They support values such as peace, social justice, and equality - which they also extend to animals. For example, veggies generally ascribe more complex emotions to animals than do omnivores. They are more concerned about animal welfare, donate more to animal benefit organizations, and make greater efforts to preserve and protect the environment.
The consumption of meat contrasts with the above-mentioned values as it signifies human’s dominion over animals. Even in modern, largely gender-equal societies, men are more likely to value dominance and power than women are. Veggie men are perceived as less masculine compared to omnivorous men because masculinity is associated with meat. That makes it harder to reduce meat consumption for men than for women. More broadly, social and cultural norms contribute to the gender, generation, and political group differences mentioned above, as different groups have different learned rules or standards for their behaviour, including eating.
In summary, the "veggie personality" encompasses a range of personality traits, political, and moral attitudes including being politically liberal, having high openness, valuing social justice and equality. These moral concerns are also extended to animals which make the consumption of meat and animal products incompatible with the “veggie personality”. Many aspects of the veggie personality run counter to traditional normative framing of masculinity. Thus women are overwhelmingly more likely to reduce their meat consumption compared to men. As society moves away from archaic notions of gender roles and embraces more universal values, hopefully we will achieve the much-needed reduction in global meat consumption.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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