Veganism & the Meat Paradox
I’m sure we all remember a time when Veganism was a strange and unheard of concept. I remember having to look up the definition of a vegan. And then thinking no one is EVER going to do that. Now around every corner there are adverts, billboards and promotions. Products including cakes, meat substitutes, even Vegan cereal?! But how does this fair when there is a meat paradox? What about the cognitive dissonance people feel?
What is Veganism?
Veganism is described in dietary terms as nothing can be consumed which is from the animals body or produced by animals, including insects.
Veganism has grown as a movement over the last decade. Even those who initially had no interest in it, are tempted to try and ‘go vegan’ for the week.
What is the ‘Meat Paradox’?
Veganism has a strong connection to the ‘meat paradox‘. Described by psychologists Bastian and Loughnan as being “the psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat, and their moral response to animal suffering”. Meaning individuals are against animal cruelty, whilst still consuming factory farmed meat. Therefore, can you be actively against animal cruelty if your actions reflect you support it?
In behavioural science we call this cognitive dissonance. This refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. In addition, the process of thought causes a level of mental discomfort. As a result, it leads to individuals altering their behaviour in order to reduce this discomfort, and restore balance.
Many individuals have felt this cognitive dissonance through moral guilt. For example, enjoying a food which is produced through the discomfort of another living creature. As a result they have made the switch to being Vegan and never looked back. However, many people may have switched to being vegan for other personal reasons.
The role of technology in the Meat Paradox
I listened to a TED talk by Juan Enriquez about how technology changes our sense of right and wrong. He makes reference to past events when it was acceptable to go and watch a beheading. However, over time that view completely changed. For instance examples of people fighting to the death for entertainment come to mind. If someone were to suggest such a thing now, we would be disgusted. And yet back then, it was sport.
Because of these changes in perception of what is right and wrong, over time we see major shifts of behaviour. Veganism is one of many of these shifts which has caused the direction of the food industry to change. And this has a direct correlation to the meat paradox.
Meat Paradox causing shifts and advancement
Over the last few years we have seen the emergence of major food brands such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King producing a ‘meat substitute’ for their burgers. If someone had told you that these fast food joints would be forced to make an alternative we would have never believed them.
The increase in cognitive dissonance has made people feel like they have to make a choice, or be more outwardly supportive. With the constant bombardment from social media, people feel they have to pick a side and cannot be against Veganism. People want to identify with the group, celebrity or movement which seems to have the moral high ground. In essence these feelings derive from the overarching meat paradox.
And the advancement of technology has made this easier. We have seen supermarket chains dedicate entire aisles to vegan food stuffs. Furthermore, provide meat substitutes which taste almost as good as the real meat. In fact, there are videos where meat eaters cannot tell the difference. They say a real steak sandwich tastes as good as a vegan one. As a result they feel less mental discomfort from the meat pardox.
As food technology advances, people will look at vegan options as being a ‘cheaper alternative’ to regular meat’. Having huge racks of meat lined up will be a thing of the past. Especially as the availability for an alternatives increases. As a result people will see an economically sustainable choice. Moreover, one which fits within their moral compass allowing them to happily make the switch.
In a sense, our perception of what is right and wrong will drastically shift, as it has done many times in the past. People of the future may even judge us for eating real meat, as we judge those before us who attended beheadings.
For this reason Enriquez reminds us to have humility and forgive. Humility for our ancestors who had different perceptions of what was right and wrong. And forgiveness for individuals in the present who may not hold the same views as us. I think in the current cancel culture we have, it is an important message for all of us to keep in mind.