As a plant-based whole foods naturopath who specialises in psychology, spirituality and empathy, I am intrigued by the unhealthy psychology associated with meat eating and how it might confuse a child’s capacity for empathy towards others. Ultimately, I feel this this confused wiring in the brain reflects and contributes towards a broader acceptance of violence, dehumanisation and objectification seen throughout history in social attitudes towards women and minority groups (e.g. sexism, racism, homophobia etc).
The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood.
I’m going to add to this page gradually as my research builds. To begin with, I have found some interesting articles based on a research paper called The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood. University of Bristol researchers Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole explore how society teaches children a separate morality for food animals that conflicts with a child’s natural tendency to protect and empathize with all animals. When children are confronted by the reality that the meat they are eating is a dead animal, they are, quite naturally, repulsed. Parents teach children that food animals are somehow different from other animals; you must not hurt our family dog, but its okay to eat a cow or a pig.
These messages are shaped by and reflected within the narratives of children’s film, literature and advertising (as quoted from this article):
*Farm animals are working animals, replaceable commodities or just absent all together, while carnivorous wild animals and pets have often highly-developed characters that “humanize” them and make us care about them.
*A child must lose empathy for animals to become a mature adult, as if it were a rite of passage (a theme in My Friend Flicka and Jungle Book).
*Animals are defined based on their relative utility to humans. “Animals are saved if they transcend their species-being, specifically if they attain human-like qualities” (such transcendence occurs to the protagonists in Babe, Chicken Run and Happy Feet, thus saving them from their natural fate as prey)
*Farm animals are objects or elements of production to which we should not attribute individual characteristics, as we do with our pets. Evidence of this objectification can be seen in how advertisers and filmmakers refer to various types of meat as pork or hamburger, rather than by the name of the animal.
*The mythical (non-scientific) notion that humans are at the top of the food chain, and therefore our eating of animals lower than us is part of the circle of life (a theme central to The Lion King). In the Lion King, herbivorous animals have no names, no voices, no signs of intelligence, and are void of individual traits, while the lions (being carnivores at the top of the food chain) have rich and complex characters. “The Lion King depicts a rigid and immutable hierarchical pattern of social relations, and meat-eating as not only natural, but a sacred duty to the ‘circle of life.’”
Using the “4 N’s” to Justify Meat Eating
Adult meat-eating attitudes have their roots in the conditioning we received from society around us as children, and they shape the way we parent and influence our own children.
According to a report published in the behaviour nutrition journal, Appetite, around 90% of meat-eaters use the “four Ns” to justify their diets:
It’s NATURAL i.e. “People have always eaten meat. Why stop now?”
It’s NECESSARY i.e. “Without meat, it’s impossible to get enough protein and other nutrients.”
It’s NORMAL i.e. “Everyone eats meat. I don’t want to be different. I want to fit in and be accepted.”
It’s NICE i.e. “It tastes good!”
‘Necessary’ and ‘Nice’ were the reasons given most often. The researchers conducted six separate studies to find out more about how meat-eaters use the 4 N’s to rationalise their diet, and how their beliefs shape their behaviours. Those who endorsed the four Ns the most strongly showed the following characteristics:
*They tended to objectify (dementalise) animals.
*They included fewer species of animals in their circle of concern or care.
*They were less likely to consider the moral implications of their food choices.
*They showed less concern for moral issues not related to diet, like social inequality.
*They experienced less guilt than people in the study who were felt ambivalent about meat-eating.
*They were less willing to contemplate cutting back on meat consumption in the future.