Most People Care About Animals So How Can They Eat Them?

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Most people care about animals, but they also eat them. How can we eat something that we care about? How do people avoid this paradox?

A review by Loughnan, Bastian and Haslam (2014) suggests a number of psychological mechanisms that enable people to negotiate this paradox.

First, it is important to emphasize that perceptions of animals are relatively independent of the act of eating meat. So people may care about animals, but as soon as the animals get on the plate, they leave these emotions outside the dining room, so to speak.

But why do we even eat meat? Reports show that the primary motivation to eat meat is its good taste. Leo Tolstoy have once commented on this aspect of eating meat (I don’t necessarily share this viewpoint):

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.”

Research has shown that people who value masculinity, don’t see it as a moral issue to eat animals, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to eat meat.

Chronic meat eaters tend to reduce mind attribution to animals and see them as dissimilar to humans. They don’t see them as pets because if they did, they would experience negative emotions when eating them:

“Whereas some people (e.g., vegetarians) reduce this negative state by changing their actions, others may do so by strategically changing their beliefs, specifically about animals’ minds, suffering, and moral standing.” (p. 106).

The authors continue:

“People might accept that animals can suffer but deny that animals suffer when humanely killed. By limiting animals’ capacity to suffer, people can judge them less worthy of moral concern … they categorize an animal as food … they contemplate the differences between humans and animals” (p. 106).

Photo: Philip Bouchard