Meat eaters justify diet using Four Ns
How do we manage to tread this line, lamenting horses that died in WWI on one hand but eating cows on the other, or reading stories about Piglet and Babe to our kids and then feeding them ham sandwiches?
Some clues come from new research into how we justify eating meat led by the UK's University of Lancaster and published in the journal Appetite.
Asked why they ate meat, most people gave four main reasons which the researchers called the Four Ns: that meat eating is Natural ("humans are natural carnivores"), Necessary ("meat provides essential nutrients"), Normal ("I was raised eating meat") and Nice ("it's delicious"). Of all these reasons "necessary" was the most common.
The people who endorsed the Four Ns were more likely to be men. They also felt that cows were less likely to experience feelings like sadness and joy, says one of the researchers, Mirra Seigerman of the University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences.
"People love animals and are genuinely concerned about them. But they also eat meat so there's a paradox here and we were interested in finding out how people resolve it," he says. "We think that the Four Ns are a way to alleviate feelings of guilt."
Other reasons for this paradox may be that for most of us meat production is out of sight and we're less likely to make friends with chicken, pigs or cattle, Seigerman points out.
"We also have a different vocabulary for meat – we eat pork and beef instead of pigs and cows," he says.
"Many people also don't see the connection between the meat wrapped in plastic at the supermarket and the animal that provides it, "says Professor Clive Phillips of the University of Queensland's Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics.
And although we're more aware of animal welfare issues in food production, we're also eating more pig meat and more chicken – animals that are usually farmed intensively, he adds.
Whether graphic images of animals abused in overseas abattoirs makes us question our meat eating is anyone's guess. But regardless of where animals are slaughtered, they're often deprived of their lives at a very young age, Phillips points out.
"Bobby calves are removed from their mother dairy cows soon after birth and slaughtered at around five days of age," he says.
"There are also practices in Australia that cause animals to suffer including transporting them long distances in trucks typically as far as 1000 kilometres and sometimes up to 2500 kilometres," he says.
"Truck transport is highly stressful for animals. They're also often then held in pens overnight before slaughter which is stressful too because they're mixed with unfamiliar animals. They're not fed because a full gut at the time of slaughter is likely to contaminate the carcass when it's split open – and often they're not fed before transport either."
But back to the Four Ns.
It might be hard to argue with "nice" – even some vegetarians say they like the taste of meat even though they choose to avoid it. But you can quibble with "necessary".
Meat is a great source of protein and essential nutrients – but it's not the only one. While it's true that vegans who avoid eggs and dairy as well as meat need a supplement of B-12 – a nutrient that's hard to get from plant foods – eating meat alternatives like nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu appears to be a healthy move for everyone.
"These foods increase dietary variety and can provide a valuable, affordable source of protein and other nutrients found in meat," the Australian Dietary Guidelines say.
You can also challenge "normal" and "natural", adds Seigerman, pointing out that eating plant-based meals is becoming increasingly normal, too.
And as for "natural", how natural is the way we produce most of our meat now?
- Sydney Morning Herald