The psychological and ideological foundations of meat consumption, vegetarianism, and veganism
Despite increasing evidence suggesting that plant-based diets may have multiple benefits over animal-based diets (e.g., Craig & Mangels, 2009; Stehfest, et al., 2009), vegetarians and vegans tend to represent a minority of most Western populations. This thesis investigated the social and ideological foundations of perceptions of vegetarians and vegans in Western societies, and also explored the potential role of visions of the future in motivating support for social change towards plant-based diets. For my first two studies, I adopted a mixed methods approach to understanding perceptions of vegetarians and vegans in Western societies (Creswell, 2014). Study 1 was a thematic analysis of 44 online discussion forums containing evaluations of vegetarians and vegans as social groups, and the analysis was informed by discursive and rhetorical psychology (Billig, 1996; Potter, 1996). In my interpretations of the data, I highlighted the flexible and argumentative nature of expressing ‘attitudes’ towards vegetarians and vegans. I also discussed these discourses in relation to the wider ideological dilemmas of liberal individualism, rationality versus emotions, diet and health, and the human-animal relationship. In Study 2, I drew on the discourses in Study 1 to develop a survey-based investigation of attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans, in a sample recruited from the general population of Aotearoa New Zealand (N = 1326). Two attitude measures were developed based on a previous scale assessing attitudes towards vegetarians (Chin, Fisak & Sims, 2002). Attitudes towards both vegetarians and vegans were generally positive; however, attitudes towards vegans were significantly less positive than attitudes towards vegetarians. Subsequent analyses tested two dual-process motivational models of social worldviews, ideological attitudes and outgroup attitudes (Duckitt, 2001), in the prediction of non-vegetarian attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans. The dual-process models fit the data well, suggesting that ideological motivations to maintain social cohesion and social inequality were associated with increasingly less positive attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans. I proposed that these associations may be due to vegetarians and vegans representing a challenge to social traditions, and a rejection of human dominance over animals. In Study 3, I adopted a mixed methods approach to understanding visions of plant-based futures, in a convenience sample of first-year university students (N = 506). Study 3a involved a thematic analysis of participants’ visions of potential future NZ societies, where most of the population now consumes plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diets. Dominant themes included changes to health, the environment, and the economy, as well as changes to individual traits and values. In Study 3b, non-vegetarian participants were randomly assigned to imagine plant-based, vegetarian or vegan futures, and then completed a survey of collective future dimensions and support for plant-based policies (drawing from Bain, Hornsey, Bongiorno, Kashima, & Crimston, 2013). The strongest predictors of support for plant-based policies were visions of a vegetarian future as reducing societal dysfunction, and visions of a vegan future as increasing warmth in individuals. I concluded the thesis by reviewing the theoretical implications of the current research, discussing future research directions, and proposing some suggestions for the advocacy of plant-based diets.