Cultural differences: Vegetarian morality differs around the world


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The moral of the story: Don't judge a vegetarian by their diet...
The moral of the story: Don't judge a vegetarian by their diet...

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The psychological reasons for vegetarianism are more nuanced than has been previously theorised, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite.

The reasons people choose to avoid meat vary greatly across cultures, and researchers should be cautious about assuming that similar thought processes are at work, say the study’s authors, even though people might arrive at the same dietary outcomes. In particular, they suggest that animal and environmental welfare are the main drivers of vegetarianism in Western cultures, while in India, the idea of spiritual contamination and respect for tradition are core concerns.

In addition, the wider belief systems associated with vegetarians in Europe and North America compared to their omnivorous counterparts – such as lack of respect for right-wing political views, and strong pro-ecological views – may not apply to Indian vegetarians, driven by different morals and cultural norms.

“In Western cultural contexts, vegetarians and omnivores have been shown to view meat in very different terms,”​ they wrote.

“Although omnivores usually have positive explicit attitudes toward meat, associating it with luxury, good taste, and social status, vegetarians in the UK, Canada, and Germany tend to associate meat with cruelty, killing, disgust, and poor health and research with Irish and Dutch populations reveals that for many vegetarians, these negative associations are also present on the implicit level.”

The researchers found that Indian vegetarians endorsed the idea of ‘authority’ much more than Western vegetarians, with the notion defined as “showing respect for authority, fulfilling the duties of one’s role, and respecting the traditions of society”.

However, differences in attitudes and values between omnivores and vegetarians did not exist to the same extent among Indian participants.

The researchers concluded with a warning that similar moralised behaviours may not involve the same moral process. They wrote: “Taken together, the present studies demonstrate that moral reasoning can play a significant role in common, everyday decisions, such as what to have for dinner, and suggest that the psychological associations of vegetarianism are more nuanced than has been previously theorized.”


Source: Appetite

Volume 71, 1 December 2013, pp. 340–348

“Compassion and contamination. Cultural differences in vegetarianism”

Authors: Matthew B. Ruby, Steven J. Heine, Shanmukh Kamble, Tessa K. Cheng, Mahadevi Waddar

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Vegetarians & predominant politics

Posted by Caroline Scott-Thomas,

@Vasu Murti Yes, you're right about this being a stereotype, but one that was backed by this study - not simply my own view. The researchers weren't saying that all vegetarians were anti-right-wing, but that stance was much stronger among vegetarians than omnivores.

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a stereotype

Posted by Vasu Murti,

Caroline Scott-Thomas writes:

"...the wider belief systems associated with vegetarians in Europe and North America... such as lack of respect for right-wing political views..."

That's a stereotype.

It's comparable to saying all right-wingers are all anti-veg*n and all anti-animal rights.

It's comparable to saying pro-lifers have a lack of respect for the political left, when in reality, many pro-lifers might vote Democratic if there were more pro-life Democrats and pro-life Democrats had greater visibility.

If veg*ns tend to gravitate towards the political left, one reason might be that the left is open and receptive towards animal issues, whereas the right is not.

But there's a difference between gravitating towards a political party for moral reasons versus intolerance of other political points of view.

When vegan author John Robbins spoke at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland, CA in the summer of 2001 to promote his new book, The Food Revolution, he lightheartedly referred to George W. Bush as "shrub," and spoke favorably of California's own U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who has one of the most pro-animal voting records of any elected official.

But when I mentioned all of this to my friend Ron Scheinberg at a San Francisco Vegetarian Society (SFVS) potluck several years later, Ron said he didn't think partisan bickering does the animal rights movement any good.

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Association does not equal causation

Posted by polacekt,

JC, Stop asserting bad science as fact. A study that finds an association is hypothesis generating, which must be then proven with an RCT. The egg studies referenced are beyond flawed - the first study in the eggs vs cigs did no even measure egg consumption!

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