Vegetarian: Reason, Politics, and Personality

Does everything have to be about politics? Can’t we just have convivial meals and enjoy the food? Maybe it does and maybe we can’t. So says a growing body of research on motivations for a plant-based style of eating.

Openness, Political Interests, Conservativeness, and Conscientiousness

Tamara Pfeiler and Boris Egloff describe how these personality traits predict whether or not a person will be a vegetarian. In their research, openness and political interest suggested a higher likelihood of vegetarianism. Conscientiousness and conservatism predicted a meat-eating diet. Pfeiler and Egloff studied a representative sample of German adults. So these patterns may not be the same in other countries. Their research will appear in Appetite.

However, one personality trait – conservatism – does appear to play a similar role in vegetarian diets for U.S. adults. Gordon Hodson and Megan Earle studied current and lapsed vegetarians for another paper to be published in Appetite. They found that conservatism is a good predictor for returning to eating meat.

Searching for a Framework for Understanding Vegetarians

Popular thinking holds that turning away from eating meat becomes a central part of a person’s identity. Yet other factors come into play. In one more new paper, Daniel Rosenfeld and Anthony Burrow tell us that constraints and aversions can play a role, too. Those reasons for eating plants are not really motivations, they say.

Many vegetarians report being disgusted by meat. That disgust, or aversion, does not work as a motivation. It’s more a fact of life for these people than it is an energizing force in their lives.

Other people face constraints. They don’t eat meat because they can’t. Perhaps they can’t afford it. In some cases, family and friends make eating meat impossible. In other cases, meat is simply unavailable.

Turning to folks who are choosing a vegetarian diet, we have two frameworks for understanding their motivations. The ethical-health framework divides motivations into two tidy categories: ethical beliefs and health goals.

The Unified Model of Vegetarian Identity offers a more nuanced way of looking at motivations for eating only plants. Since Rosenfield and Burrow proposed this model, they naturally think it provides a more complete perspective. Motivation is just one of ten dimensions to a person’s vegetarian identity in this model.

At the End of the Day, It’s Simply Food

These authors provide lots of food for thought. Plant-based diets are growing more common and the reasons are numerous. Thought, discussion, and research – it’s all good.

But we have a simple urge to set aside politics and philosophies. Enjoying a convivial, good meal is a fundamental pleasure.

Click here for the study of the German “veggie” personality and here for the study by Hodson and Earle. For more on frameworks for understanding vegetarian motivations, click here and here. And finally, for insight into prejudices against vegetarians, this study is well worth reading.

Vegetarian, photograph © healthy fitlifetime / flickr

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August 15, 2017