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The Guilt Of Not Being Vegan

People usually only make conscious, or deliberate, choices when they have the opportunity to do so, a positive attitude towards the outcome (for example, health or sustainability) and are motivated to put effort into acting in line with these attitudes.

A rapid evidence review of the Psychology of Food Choice

When I talk to people about being vegan the first response will be, "where do you get your protein from?", then it's "don't you miss meat?" After that the response can be anger, anger towards me for being vegan, anger about them thinking that I'm trying to take their favourite foods away, anger for the guilt that they feel.

Eating meat means killing animals for your food, there is no other way around it, unless you want to scavenge for dead animals too cook. Farmers, the government and even chefs will tell you that the meat that you buy has come from animals that have been treated well and slaughtered "humanely". Well, that's just not possible, none of these animals asked to have their lives ended, they weren't euthanized, or put to sleep, in the same way that a pet would be. The animals that are used for food are gassed, given electric shocks, they get a bolt gun to the head. Some animals are boiled after being made unconscious to remove hair or feathers, when these animals wake up in the process they are boiled to death. Meat is cruel, eating meat is cruel, but, also, eating meat means paying someone to do this to the animals.

In most Western countries more than 90% of their populations eat animals, consume dairy, eat eggs. Even though people know that it's bad for the environment, causing pollution, deforestation and uses huge amounts of fresh water, they will still eat beef, chicken and pork. People know that eating meat means locking animals away, feeding them food that they wouldn't naturally eat, breeding them to grow to unnatural weights and feeding them with antibiotics to stop the illnesses that all of this causes but they continue to eat these foods. Eating animals is bad for your health, skin diseases, cancers, heart disease, and more are directly connected to eating animal products. Our bodies are not made to process meat, this is one of the reason that humans have to cook meat. These leaves a lot of people feeling guilt over the food choices that they make. It may not be a lot of guilt, but they know what they're doing when they pick up that pack of chicken drumsticks in the supermarket. They know that they're not chicken drumsticks, they are chicken's legs, they belonged to someone.

Weighing It Up

So how do people that eat animals justify what they're doing? How do they create a disconnect powerful enough to make themselves believe that what they are doing is ok? If people had to kill the animal themselves would they feel differently? Is it because the animal is already dead, that one person not buying pork sausages makes no difference? Or is it that "humane Slaughter" is real to them, that the animals are gently and peacefully put to sleep before being cut up and wrapped in plastic? A paper published in 2021 in Social Psychological and Personality Science led by Bellarmine University’s Hank Rothgerber looked at using a behavioural trick to make animal-eaters feel less guilty about their eating choices.

They found that people used different ways of thinking to fool themselves into believing that there is nothing wrong with eating animals. People remove their guilt by deciding that animals don't really have a mind. Their pet cat or dog may have a mind but eating cats and dogs is cruel, wrong. That that pig though has no mind of it's own, it's just a pig. They tell themselves that he animal doesn't care whether or not it lives, that it's alive simply because it is. They cannot factor in that the pig is alive because it wants to be, that it takes care of itself, eats, drinks and cleans itself because it wants to remain alive and comfortable. There is certainly no thought that this pig has its own wants and needs, like and dislikes, it can't dislike things, it's just a pig. People will use this line of thinking to convince themselves that animals don't fell pain, or even fear. Because if no fear or pain is involved, especially if the animal has no likes, dislikes or preferences, you're not doing any harm by incarcerating, killing, cooking and eating the animal. But, not dogs, that's cruel.

Some people will avoid any information regarding how animals are treated in the meat, dairy and egg industries, the truth is too painful for them. Having to face up to their part in the system is unbearable, so they pretend that it doesn't exist. The meat in the supermarket is just a product, the meat on their plate is part of a meal and nothing more. There is also the idea that humans are superior to all other animals, it is our right to dominate, enslave and eat them. For some people this isn't just a right it's a must. This can tie into the idea that humans have to eat meat, that without it we get weak, frail and sick. It's actually quite the opposite, but anyway. Another group is the one that minimises their impact by stating that they only eat a little meat, they're nothing like the people that eat meat at every meal, they only eat a little bit, every now and again. This shields them from any responsibility.

What Do We Do?

The studies conducted for part of the paper found that, if people were able to blame the agriculture industry and those that worked in it, they felt less guilty for their part in the industry, that they pay for it to exist. This enables people to continue to eat what they want with no bad feelings associated with it. This could be why showing people "free range" chicken farming sheds, packed with birds, some with broken limbs, a few dead left among the living, does not change peoples' minds. It's not their fault, it's the chicken farmer, the butcher, the supermarket that are to blame, not them. What does change people's minds is making vegan food as available as animal products, this involves keeping prices reasonable. In the paper, A rapid evidence review of the Psychology of Food Choice from Bath University's Fiona Gillison, Bas Verplanken, Julie Barnett, Tania Griffin and Liam Beasley, data collected showing that when an alternative was available to people they would consider it, if not take it. The paper also found that, when a person has someone around them that makes good choices, they will start to do the same. Through a kind of peer pressure, the desire to be like those that you like, feeling empowered to make changes by seeing someone else do it successfully, people will change habits and consciously make better choices. This is something that we can all do, be that good example. Show people how cheap, easy and healthy being vegan is because you never know who is watching you, learning how to do it themselves.



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