If you’re a carnivore, you probably fall into one of these four camps (at least when it comes to rationalizing your meat-eating habits). (Photo: Flickr/mashroms)
Eat meat? You probably feel a little defensive about it.
At least, that’s what researchers from the University of Lancaster in the UK discovered in a new series of studies.
The findings, published in the journal Appetite, show that meat-eaters who justify their habit feel less guilty about it. Researchers also found that there are a limited number of rationales meat-eaters use, meaning they fit into one of the four distinct camps:
The Wannabe Evolutionary Biologists: These meat-eaters tell themselves, “We’re just natural carnivores. It’s out of our hands, really.”
The Nutrition-Obsessed: They swear by the “meat provides essential nutrients” method. This is the most popular rationale, per the research.
The Followers: This camp is just obeying the rules. They grew up eating meat, and most people do it, so…
The Palate Pleasers: This group is all about the culinary aspect. Meat tastes good, they eat it — end of story.
More than 96 percent of Americans eat meat, per Vegetarian Times’ “Vegetarianism in America” study, making meat-eaters the distinct majority. And according to the North American Meat Institute, American men eat 6.9 ounces of meat per day on average, and women eat 4.4 ounces daily.
But why do we need to justify eating meat in the first place? It’s because thinking too much about where meat comes from creates a mental conflict — consciously or subconsciously, says licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD. People as a whole are empathetic to all creatures and are naturally averse to killing, which is necessary to get meat, she points out.
“It is this conflict that in turn provokes our efforts to solve it, which is where explanations, and even rationalizations, can come in,” she tells Yahoo Health.
This didn’t use to be an issue for people, says human behavior expert Patrick Wanis, PhD, who notes that feelings of guilt associated with eating meat seem to be part of a societal shift. “For many years, we believed that because we’re humans, we have moral rights over other animals,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Now, we’re saying that humans and animals are equal, and therefore we shouldn’t be eating meat.”
Interestingly enough, the study also found that meat-eaters who justify their eating habits are more tolerant of social inequality, as well. Why are the two related?
Wanis says it’s linked with the ability to disassociate one thing from another, which comes in handy when you love animals, but regularly eat them. Some people are just better than others at removing thoughts of cause and effect.
“We become more tolerant of social inequality by choosing not to think of the pain that the victim of inequality is going through,” he says. “We can say that these people are adept at compartmentalizing their compassion.”
Of course, sometimes mental arguments to support a meat habit work, and other times they can cause a drawn-out internal argument. However, psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, tells Yahoo Health that it’s possible to eat meat and still love animals: “Acknowledging that they are somewhat — though not completely — at odds with one another (you can love dogs and feel that pigs are bred for meat), may work better for being at peace with your choice.”
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