What Makes People Go Vegetarian?

Deciding to stop eating meat is a personal choice that can come in many forms and for several different reasons. Newly published research suggests that those reasons might differ greatly depending on where you reside… namely, which country you live in. The study found that while vegetarians in India and the West might both have made the choice due to ethical considerations, the moral codes that lead them there are vastly different.

“The psychological associations of vegetarianism are more nuanced than has been previously theorized,” a research team led by Matthew Ruby of the University of British Columbia writes in the journal Appetite. “Although Western and Indian vegetarians arrived at the same moralized behavior, their motivations are based on very different moral principles.”

The team conducted two studies to examine the reasons and thoughts behind becoming a vegetarian and wrote that in the West, vegetarianism has been linked with “broadly liberal worldviews.” The first featured 272 people recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: 159 from Europe or North America, and 113 from India. They wondered if in India, where a larger population has chosen a veggie lifestyle (According to estimates, 20 to 42 percent of Indians are vegetarians, compared to three percent of Americans and eight percent of Canadians), the reasons might be different.

For the study, participants filled out a series of surveys measuring their attitudes regarding environmental preservation; animal welfare (including whether animals belong in zoos or circuses); and right-wing authoritarianism (such as the importance they place on obedience and respect). They also answered questions designed to indicate what values they hold most highly.

They discovered that with Westerners, vegetarians (compared to meat-eaters) were “more concerned about the impact of their daily food choices on the environment and on animal welfare, more concerned with general animal welfare, more strongly endorsed values of universalism, and less strongly endorsed right-wing authoritarianism.”

This was not true of Indians, where non-vegetarians and vegetarians gave answers that didn’t seem to relate to their diet choices.

A second study featured 828 participants: 266 Americans; 106 Canadians; and two large groups of Indians, 256 recruited from Mechanical Turk, and 200 recruited from a small university. All responded to a series of statements measuring “the belief that eating meat pollutes one’s personality and spirit,” such as “Eating meat makes me behave like an animal.”

“Vegetarians more strongly endorsed the belief that eating meat pollutes one’s personality and spirit than did omnivores, and this difference was especially pronounced among Indians,” the researchers report. They note that in Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, “the aim of vegetarianism is to keep the body free of the pollution associated with meat.”

The second group also took a survey based on the Moral Foundations theory of psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt, who conducted research in India, argues that people are driven by a set of basic moral principles, including care/harm, fairness, in-group loyalty, and purity/sanctity. He argues that our fundamental differences arise largely from which of these we emphasize, and which we de-emphasize.

This is where the researchers discovered the most striking differences. Reporting on the evidence, Pacific Standard noted that “Indian vegetarians were more likely than their meat-eating counterparts to endorse not only values related to purity, but also those supporting traditional authority and in-group loyalty. Conservative values, in other words. This was not true among meat-avoiding Westerners. Indeed, American vegetarians actually placed less value in traditional authority than meat-eating Americans. Ruby and his colleagues suspect these differences reflect the cultures involved, and the place of vegetarianism within those cultures. Most vegetarians in the West were not raised as such, but made a decision at some point to convert from the meat-eating diet followed by the majority of people in their culture.”

In contrast, “vegetarianism has been firmly established in India for centuries, and is associated with tradition, power and status,” the researchers write. “Most Indian vegetarians are raised as such by their families.”

“Given the historical association of Indian vegetarianism with dominant social groups,” they add, “it’s no surprise that vegetarianism in that country is strongly linked with respect for authority and in-group loyalty.”

While it may not be totally shocking to find that there is a vast difference in what being a vegetarian means to people in different parts of the world, like any study it’s interesting to have the information studied and presented in a digestible way. Knowing what makes someone decide to be vegetarian and how they came to those beliefs and decisions is an important part of understanding the life choice.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian? If so, why and how do you think where you live effects that choice?

Source: Pacific Standard


Christine Jones
Christine J3 years ago

An equally interesting article would be "What makes people eat meat?"
Everyone, regardless of their diet, started out eating whatever their parents thought was appropriate to eat, and this continues throughout our childhood.
Some people continue down this line all their lives, voting for the same party, living in the same area, following the same sports teams, etc. Others think about it as soon as they are old enough, and make a conscious choice as to what's right for them.

Carrie-Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Marija Mohoric
Marija Mohoric5 years ago

thank you

Syd H.
Syd H5 years ago

I stopped eating meat, then milk/eggs because I didn't want another damn dollar of mine supporting George Bush and the system which is all about control and the race to the absolute bottom (Soylent Green anyone?).

Now it's reinforced by environmental, health and finally compassionate reasons. All of these, or even just one of these is reason enough to continue down a path (which I am still going down) that has brought me so much peace and other rewards.

Being part of the solution, rather than contributing to the problem.

Ellen Gaston
Ellen Gaston5 years ago

I am a conservative. And a vegetarian. I get tired of political activism being disguised as animal welfare. Just because I don't eat meat and care about animal welfare does not make me an Obama supporter, despite how hard the welfare industry tries. Sorry.

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants5 years ago

I wish we anteaters could go vegetarian...

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen5 years ago

Thank you :)

June Bostock
June Bostock5 years ago

I went vegetarian because I realised how wrong it is that an animal has to suffer and die just so I could eat it.

GGma Sheila D.
Sheila D5 years ago

Have to say there are a few reasons why I'm cutting down on meat:
1- Health - can't say I want meat full of antibiotocs or GMOs;
2- Money - Organic/free range meats cost way more than the other;
3- Ethical and Ecological - don't like the thought of factory farms, their treatment of animals or the pollution of land, water, and air.

No one in my family has asked why I'm cutting down on meat. Possibly because we never had much money and veggies were cheap back then - of course, we didn't know about organic or non either. We ate meat, but it wasn't the main part of any meal - unless it was ham, ribs, turkey, chicken. Poultry was also cheap back then.

When my boys left home I just didn't see the need to cook the large meals I used to. Now I might have meat once or twice a week, usually in the winter because of all the soups I eat - they only have very small amounts of meat in them, but it is meat and does count. I now am working on my soup making. Last winter potato, no meat. This winter am thinking squash or sweet potato soups - maybe both??

Jeanne Allie
Jeanne Allie5 years ago

Thanks for all your comments! Actually, my question was: do you receive more or fewer questions regarding WHY you're vegetarian than you would have thought?