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Anti Vegan Arguments - Why Are Meat Eaters So Defensive?

Why are meat eaters so defensive when their choices are questioned? Is that they knowingly choose factory farming?

They're killed humanly. They were put here for us to eat. We have to eat meat. We have canines, we're carnivores. These are the arguments that you will hear from meat eaters. But, when you drill down on their statements, how are animals killed humanly, etc.? The whole tone of the conversation can change.

Talking to people about what they choose to eat, especially when it comes to eating meat, can make people suddenly become very defensive, even sending into attack mode. Understanding the reason behind these strong reactions can lead to more positive conversations around dietary and lifestyle choices and, it can give you an insight into why people feel the need to strongly defend their position.

court room, person into front of a judge
Talking to people about eating meat can make them feel judged

Why Do They Get Angry?

Eating meat is a significant part of many cultures and societies; it forms part of traditional meals, celebrations, and religious ceremonies. This widespread cultural integration has played a role in creating ingrained habits and conditioning in people. Growing up associating meat consumption with familial, communal, and even spiritual experiences reinforces these practices within social contexts, creating a sense of normality. This conditioning makes it challenging for individuals to deviate from well established dietary patterns and solidifies the connection between cultural practices and personal habits This cultural and social conditioning can create a strong attachment to meat as a symbol of identity, tradition, shared experience and family. Questioning or challenging this aspect of someone's lifestyle can trigger defensiveness as they feel that their culture, their heritage or that they, personally, are being attacked.

Then there is cognitive dissonance, this occurs when there is a conflict between what someone believes and their actions. For some meat eaters recognising the ethical and environmental implications of their dietary choices can create discomfort. Confronting the discrepancy between their values and behaviours can lead to defensiveness as a defence mechanism to protect their self-image, the way that they see themselves. This can be especially true when someone believes that they love animals, that they are kind to the planet, recycling, minimising their use of plastics. Acknowledging that their actions contribute to harm or environmental damage can be challenging, it can take time for people to reconcile these conflicting beliefs.

Food choices can also become intertwined with a person's sense of self and autonomy. When someone feels that their personal choices are being questioned or judged, they may feel that their freedom and autonomy is being attacked. Their defensive response can stem from a fear of being coerced or feeling that their individuality is being compromised. Recognising and respecting the autonomy of others when discussing what people eat is absolutely crucial to having open and non-defensive conversations.

Food also evokes strong emotions and nostalgic memories. For some meat eaters, certain dishes or family traditions associated with meat can hold sentimental value. When these cherished experiences are questioned, people can feel emotionally threatened or defensive. Thinking about these times and the meals that they enjoyed can lead to a sense of wrongdoing or guilt, tainting the memory with negativity. These conversations have to be approached with empathy. As tempting as it might be to show people videos of cows being beaten, pigs screaming in pain while being gassed, or geese having their feathers ripped out to make the filling for a pillow, it can be better to acknowledge the emotional significance of food. You can then highlight the plant-based alternatives and discuss the positives of choosing them, instead of focusing on the negatives of their current choices.

Something that isn't often mentioned is the misconceptions and stereotypes that people hold about vegans. Vegan diets are considered extreme, impractical, expensive, and lacking in essential nutrients. These false ideas can lead to a defensive response when the topic of dietary choices is brought up, especially as people advocate for eating animals.

When you enter into these conversations, you must be armed with the facts. Are vegans vitamin D deficient? Where do vegans get their iron? How do vegans get enough protein? Questions like, 'Why is it bad to drink cow's milk?' will come up time and time again, and you need to be ready. Cows don't just produce milk; they are forced to have a baby, and then the baby is taken away so that all of the milk can be collected. Dairy cows have very short lives, used up in the constant cycle of having a baby, making milk, having another baby, making more milk. When they are spent, they are killed and turned into burgers, as their meat is worth less than an animal that hasn't gone through these cycles. When this information is used in a conversation, and not as an attack, an open and honest discussion can be had.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the reasons behind defensive reactions from meat eaters when discussing dietary choices can help to create a more empathetic and constructive dialogue. Cultural and social conditioning, cognitive dissonance, personal identity, emotional attachments and misconceptions all play a part in shaping these defensive responses. By approaching conversations with patience, empathy and a focus on sharing information, rather than confrontation, we can create understanding and encourage meaningful discussions that lead to positive change. Remember that change is a gradual process and open-mindedness from all parties is essential in having respectful, successful conversations.


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