What are the N-Words meat-eaters use when defending their diet? A team of researchers produced the first empirical study of meat-consumption rationalizations and justifications. Nothing brings out the nasty side of human nature like dietary debate.
When it comes to dietary-centered discussions between non-vegans and vegans, things can easily become heated. From academic one-upmanship of the most recent research to the far more informal frenzied exchange of sardonic memes and crafty YouTube comments, it’s safe to say: “words are had.”
Well one team of international scientists decided to analyze the arguments from meat-eating camp by bringing out the big guns: the N-Words. [tweet this]
Hi it’s Emily from Bite Size Vegan and welcome to another vegan nugget. Humans have a wide array of reasons for eating animals. From taste to tradition to nutrition, to the absurd assertion that animals want to be eaten—yes that’s a thing [just see this post] —and it’s far more common than you may think.
But what’s behind this need to justify, explain and rationalize the consumption of animals? Why do omnivores often offer up unbidden impassioned defenses of their dietary practices upon learning someone is vegan—whether they be passive apologies for consuming meat in their presence or outright attacks and challenges? [and yes, vegans flip out too!]
Well, nothing provokes our knee-jerk defenses or highlight our human capacity for award-worthy rationalizations, and impassioned justifications, quite like the perceived judgment of behaviors we’re already insecure about.
In 2015, an international team of researchers produced the first empirical systematic study of meat-consumption rationalizations, more or less corralling the multitudes of justifications into four main categories, denoted by what they call the 4N’s: that it’s Natural, Normal, Necessary, and Nice.[tweet this]
Building off of the 3N’s presented in Dr. Melanie Joy’s landmark text Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, the team added the 4th N of “Nice” to capture “the enjoyment people derive from eating meat,” which they said “is a major barrier to reducing meat consumption and/or adopting a vegetarian diet,” as they found that, “meat-eaters…often appeal to the tastiness of meat, or the hedonic pleasure that they derive from it, as a justification for its continued consumption,” a rationale not encompassed within Joy’s original 3 strata.
In this video, I’ll be presenting an overview of this particular study, the drive behind the human need for rationalization, as well as touch upon the broader implications of the 4Ns—which reach far beyond the realm of dietary dissonance into “Many historical practices, from slavery to sexism.”
Let’s start with a quick look at the 4N’s as defined within the study’s parameters, again with the first 3 taking inspiration from Dr. Joy’s Three N’s of Justification.”
Our first N “Appeals to biology, biological hierarchy, natural selection, human evolution, or the naturalness of eating meat.”
It is natural for humans to eat meat;
Humans are carnivores;
We’ve always eaten meat and/or have evolved to do so;
We have canine teeth;
Animals eat other animals;
Animals are here for us to eat;
The 2nd N “Appeals to the necessity of meat for survival, strength, development, health, animal population control, or economic stability.”
Humans need meat to survive;
Meat provides good nutrients;
Our bodies need the protein;
Protein is a necessary part of our diet;
and, one of my personal favorites:
Because if we didn’t, there would be an overabundance of certain animals.
[I made a video about that. A while ago….I dance in it.]
The 3rd N “Appeals to dominant societal norms, normative behavior, historical human behavior, or socially constructed food pyramids.”
Society says it’s okay;
I was raised eating meat;
Meat is culturally accepted or an important part of tradition;
A lot of other people eat meat;
It’s abnormal NOT to eat meat;
This new N was introduced to capture “Appeals to the tastiness of meat, or that it is fulfilling or satisfying.”
It tastes good;
Tastes great (I mean bacon…come on) [yes that’s actually in the official study. Table 1];
Meat adds so much flavor to a meal it does not make sense to leave it out,
The best tasting food is normally a meat-based dish;
Meals without meat would just be bland and boring;
It’s important to note that a number of objections and diversion tactics fall a bit outside the realm of the 4Ns. In the first two studies, wherein respondents offered spontaneous justifications, categories of Humane Slaughter, Religion, Sustainability, Various Miscellany and the outright rejection of the study’s premise were recorded.
While they subsequently included concepts of religion, hierarchy and fate within the “Natural” category and health arguments within the “Necessary,” at the study’s outset, the team clarified that while “there are numerous strategies available to omnivores to bring their beliefs and behavior in line, including denying that animals used as food suffer or that such animals are worthy of moral concern,” their goal was to focus on the “common, yet under-studied mechanism [of] rationalization.”
Unlike straight up denials of animal sentience, willful ignoring or passive avoidance of what we do to animals—essentially the “I don’t see it so it doesn’t happen” mentality—“ rationalization involves providing reasonable justifications for one’s behavior when it comes under scrutiny or criticism, or when one’s behavior is perceived as discrepant with an integral aspect of one’s character.”
So what were the results?
Overall, as expected, “omnivores had the highest 4N scores, followed by semi-vegetarians.” (meaning people who only eat some animals…apparently). “Vegetarians and dietary and lifestyle vegans had the lowest 4N scores.”
Men endorsed the 4Ns more strongly than did women.
In regards to whether “individuals…who consume higher quantities of meat…tend to be more supportive of inequality in group relationships” and “endorse anti-egalitarian values,” they found, as did previous research, that “meat justification appears to be related to inequality justification.”
The researchers invoked Dr. Joy’s examples of the 3Ns employment across others issues, from slavery to women’s suffrage. “Opponents of women’s suffrage… appealed to the necessity of denying women the vote to prevent ‘irreparable damage’ to the nation, to the natural superiority of male intelligence, and to the historical normalness of male-only voting as “designed by our forefathers.”
In the end, it’s the reasons behind the rationalizations, the very need for them at all that are the most profound aspect of this entire issue. It’s something I’ve gone into in depth in many of my videos, including this revealing speech, along with others I’ve listed below.
Living in a state of cognitive dissonance wherein our actions directly conflict with our own professed morals and values, causes extreme disease within us. Eating animals is, in essence, living a double life. Attempting to be animal lovers and animal killers. To see ourselves as good people while we pay others to carry out barbaric acts of cruelty we would never directly inflict upon another being.
This is what the study’s creators termed the “meat paradox.” Thus, omnivores are left with the choice of either changing their behaviors to align with their values by ceasing to eat animals and their byproducts, or manipulating their perception of reality in such a way that it at least appears that their behaviors align with their values.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the world chooses the latter. Because changing our behavior when it comes to eating animals means confronting head-on our complicity in their enslavement, torture, and murder. It means facing the horrors we’ve supported and vehemently defended. It means looking ourselves in the mirror with outright honesty.
There is bliss in ignorance. For the ignorant.[tweet this]
I hope that this video was helpful, and perhaps even prompts the slightest moment of self-reflection at the aspects of our behavior we strive so ardently to justify.
Please share it around to spark discussion and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Do give the video a like if you liked it and subscribe for more vegan content every Monday, Wednesday and some Fridays.
Now go live vegan, own up to your actions, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick