no longer supports Internet Explorer.

To browse and the wider internet faster and more securely, please take a few seconds to  upgrade your browser .

Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link.

  • We're Hiring!
  • Help Center

The Psychology of Eating Animals

by Brock Bastian

  • Access 47 million research papers for free
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest research
  • Share your research and grow your audience
  •   We're Hiring!
  •   Help Center
  • Find new research papers in:
  • Health Sciences
  • Earth Sciences
  • Cognitive Science
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Academia ©2023

Free Related PDFs

Brock Bastian , Helena Radke

2012, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Many people like eating meat, but most are reluctant to harm things that have minds. The current three studies show that this dissonance motivates people to deny minds to animals. Study 1 demonstrates that animals considered appropriate for human consumption are ascribed diminished mental capacities. Study 2 shows that meat eaters are motivated to deny minds to food animals when they are reminded of the link between meat and animal suffering. Finally, Study 3 provides direct support for our dissonance ...

Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption

Dima Tsvetkov

Rationalizing meat consumption. The 4Ns

Shanmukh Kamble

2013, Appetite

Compassion and contamination. Cultural differences in vegetarianism

Irini Kadianaki , Elisavet Panagiotou

2019, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior

Cognitive Dissonance Theory seeks to understand inconsistency by situating it within individual cognition. By doing so, it overlooks the role of the social context in the experience and management of inconsistency and dissonance and fails to capture the processes through which it is negotiated when it appears. On the other side, the cognitive polyphasia hypothesis together with a dialogical approach on Social Representations provide a socioculturally situated, process-oriented understanding of inconsistency. In this paper, meat-paradox, the phenomenon of simultaneously declaring love and respect towards animals and also consuming animals, mainly studied through Cognitive Dissonance Theory, is used in order to highlight the merits of a sociocultural approach to inconsistency. Four relevant empirical examples from interviews and focus groups with meat-eaters and vegetarians in Cyprus are used to illustrate the approach. The examples illustrate how meat-eaters manage dissonance in ways that exhibit coexistence of contradictory representations and ways of thinking. Three different modalities of knowledge coexistence are identified, as proposed by cognitive polyphasia researchers: displacement, selective prevalence and hybridisation. We discuss the importance of a sociocultural approach to studying paradoxes, the epistemological and methodological implications of such a theorisation and we suggest other life contexts in which such an approach can be applied.

From cognitive dissonance to cognitive Polyphasia: A sociocultural approach to understanding meat‐paradox

Jonas Kunst

2019, Appetite

Meat eaters often have an ambivalent relationship with the common practice of killing animals for food. They enjoy the taste of meat but dislike the harming of animals that it entails. This moral conflict, often referred to as the ‘meat paradox,’ tends to result in cognitive dissonance that meat eaters need to resolve. One of the arguably most basic strategies to deal with this dissonance is to cognitively dissociate meat from its animal origins. Whereas philosophers for long time have theorized about the role of such dissociation for consumer behavior, researchers have only recently started to empirically investigate the phenomenon. Here, we present the first systematic literature review of research on consumers’ tendency to dissociate meat from its animal origins. Twenty-one publications comprising eight qualitative, one mixed-methods, four correlational, and twenty experimental/interventional studies were identified, which all provided support for the central psychological role of dissociation for meat consumption. However, the review also revealed the need for further research on moderating variables such as gender, age and generation, dietary styles, and people’s place of living, including cross-cultural differences. Strikingly, no study so far seems to have included behavioral outcomes, urging the need for future research on how dissociation might affect behavior.

Dissociating Meat from its Animal Origins: A Systematic Literature Review

Brock Bastian , Boyka Bratanova

2011, Appetite

Most people love animals and love eating meat. One way of reducing this conflict is to deny that animals suffer and have moral rights. We suggest that the act of categorizing an animal as 'food'may diminish their perceived capacity to suffer, which in turn dampens our moral concern. Participants were asked to read about an animal in a distant nation and we manipulated whether the animal was categorized as food, whether it was killed, and human responsibility for its death. The results demonstrate that categorization as food–but not ...

The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals

Many people enjoy eating meat but dislike causing pain to animals. Dissociating meat from its animal origins may be a powerful way to avoid cognitive dissonance resulting from this 'meat paradox'. Here, we provide the first comprehensive test of this hypothesis, highlighting underlying psychological mechanisms. Processed meat made participants less empathetic towards the slaughtered animal than unpro-cessed meat (Study 1). When beheaded, a whole roasted pork evoked less empathy (Study 2a) and disgust (Study 2b) than when the head was present. These affective responses, in turn, made participants more willing to eat the roast and less willing to consider an alternative vegetarian dish. Conversely, presenting a living animal in a meat advertisement increased empathy and reduced willingness to eat meat (Study 3). Next, describing industrial meat production as " harvesting " versus " killing " or " slaughtering " indirectly reduced empathy (Study 4). Last, replacing " beef/pork " with " cow/pig " in a restaurant menu increased empathy and disgust, which both equally reduced willingness to eat meat and increased willingness to choose an alternative vegetarian dish (Study 5). In all experiments, effects were strongly mediated by dissociation and interacted with participants' general dissociation tendencies in Study 3 and 5, so that effects were particularly pronounced among participants who generally spend efforts disassociating meat from animals in their daily lives. Together, this line of research demonstrates the large role various culturally-entrenched processes of dissociation play for meat consumption.

Meat eaters by dissociation: How we present, prepare and talk about meat increases willingness to eat meat by reducing empathy and disgust

Brock Bastian

2010, Appetite

People enjoy eating meat but disapprove of harming animals. One resolution to this conflict is to withdraw moral concern from animals and deny their capacity to suffer. To test this possibility, we asked participants to eat dried beef or dried nuts and then indicate their moral concern for animals and judge the moral status and mental states of a cow. Eating meat reduced the perceived obligation to show moral concern for animals in general and the perceived moral status of the cow. It also indirectly reduced the ascription of mental states ...

The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals

Maria Calheiros

2015, Appetite

A shift towards reduced meat consumption and a more plant-based diet is endorsed to promote sustainability, improve public health, and minimize animal suffering. However, large segments of consumers do not seem willing to make such transition. While it may take a profound societal change to achieve significant progresses on this regard, there have been limited attempts to understand the psychosocial processes that may hinder or facilitate this shift. This study provides an in-depth exploration of how consumer representations of meat, the impact of meat, and rationales for changing or not habits relate with willingness to adopt a more plant-based diet. Multiple Correspondence Analysis was employed to examine participant responses (N = 410) to a set of open-ended questions, free word association tasks and closed questions. Three clusters with two hallmarks each were identified: (1) a pattern of disgust towards meat coupled with moral internalization; (2) a pattern of low affective con...

Meat, beyond the plate. Data-driven hypotheses for understanding consumer willingness to adopt a more plant-based diet

Michał Bilewicz , Jakub Michalak , Olga Kamińska

Animals perceived as edible are often denied more complex mental capacities or emotions. The process of categorizing and perceiving edible species as distant from humans has been extensively studied on the level of deliberate judgments of animals and humans. In the present study we wanted to determine whether information about the edibility of an artificially created species can affect one of the most automatic processes in humanity ascription: face perception. We focused on early perceptual stages of face processing as manifested in EEG signals by N170 Event Related Potentials. In an experimental study participants were assigned into two conditions, in which they were presented a series of human-animal morphed images. In one of the conditions participants were informed that the images present an edible species. Additionally, we measured participant judgments of the animals' capacity to suffer. Animal faces, which were perceived as non-edible, elicited larger N170 amplitudes than edible animal faces, suggesting that people recognize faces of non-edible animals as a face to a greater extent than edible ones. Importantly, this effect was significant only for those participants who perceived animals' capacity to suffer as relatively low. We discuss the obtained effects as a primary evidence for the very basic and automatic character of the " meat paradox " , visible already in the initial stages of face perception.

Facing the edible. The effects of edibility information on the neural encoding of animal faces

Christian Palacios Haugestad

Dissociating meat from its animal origins helps consumers deal with the cognitive dissonance resulting from liking meat but disliking causing pain to animals. Extending previous research, we tested whether dissociation would play less of a role for meat consumption in a country where average consumers are more frequently exposed to unprocessed meat (i.e., Ecuador) than where such exposure is rare (i.e., the US). Specifically, we randomly showed Ecuadorians and US Americans a pork roast with the head present or removed. Showing the head led to less dissociation, and subsequently more disgust and empathy for the killed animal in both countries, but to significantly larger degrees in the US. Follow-up analyses with participants' self-reported exposure to unprocessed meat supported the notion that these cross-cultural variations indeed reflected differences in unprocessed meat exposure. In contrast, disgust and empathy, in turn, predicted a lower willingness to eat meat and a higher willingness to choose a vegetarian alternative dish equally in both countries. Because the dissociation part of our model was substantially stronger in the US, it explained about double as much variance in willingness to eat meat and vegetarian choice in the US (63e72%) as compared to Ecuador (30e32%). In sum, the potency of the dissociation mechanism seems to depend on how used consumers in a country are to seeing unprocessed meat, whereas the subsequent affective mechanisms universally influence meat consumption.

The effects of dissociation on willingness to eat meat are moderated by exposure to unprocessed meat: A cross-cultural demonstration

Frédéric Leroy

The act of animal killing affects the human psyche in manners that are culturally contingent. Throughout history, societal attitudes towards the taking of animal lives have mostly been based on deference and/or dominion. Postdomestic societies have evolved in fundamentally different ways. Meat production is abundant yet concealed, animals are categorized and stereotyped, and slaughter has become a highly disquieting activity. Increased awareness of postdomestic meat production systems raises a moral polemic and provokes disgust in some consumer segments. Overall, a heterogeneous set of solutions has emerged to deal with the societal upset and cognitive dissonance caused by animal slaughter. This includes the so-called carnism approach, a rise in animal welfare programs, a market demand for reassuring narratives (“story meat”), a rehabilitation of the metier of farmers and butchers, crowd butchering, neo-ritualism and home slaughter, the biotechnological exploration of “cultured meat” and “pain-free meat”, entomophagy, “meatless meat”, and the increasing proliferation of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

Animal Killing and Postdomestic Meat Production

Michał Bilewicz , Katarzyna Byrka

People who do not eat meat are not only devoid of situational pressures to disengage morally and deny humanlike mental states to animals but also they may be dispositionally inclined to ascribe humanity to non-human animals than omnivores. The aim of this research was to test whether individual differences in anthropomorphism are related to empathic connection with non-human animals and thus decreased meat consumption. In two studies (N = 588) we confirmed that decreased meat consumption was associated with both increased recognition of humane features in animals and increased empathy toward animals. Most importantly, our data support the model in which anthropomorphism of animals predicts empathy., empathy, in turn, leads to increased importance of animal harm in dietary choices regarding meat, which in the end affects decreased meat consumption.

Too  humanlike  to  increase  my  appetite:  Disposition  to  anthropomorphize animals  relates  to  decreased  meat  consumption  through  empathic  concern

Liselot Hudders

2014, Ecology of Food and Nutrition

From Meatless Mondays to Meatless Sundays: Motivations for Meat Reduction among Vegetarians and Semi-vegetarians Who Mildly or Significantly Reduce Their Meat Intake

Rodrigo Codermatz

Many people enjoy eating meat but few enjoy harming or killing other sentient creatures. These inconsistent beliefs create a "meat paradox", people simultaneously dislike hurting animals and like eating meat. One solution to this conflict is to stop eating meat. Another solution is to fail to recognize that animals are killed to produce meat. (Loughnan, Haslam e Bastian, 2010) Most people loves animals and love eating meat. (Loughnan, Haslam, Bastian e Radke, 2011). Loughnan, Haslam, Bastian e altri, in quattro articoli scritti tra il 2009 e il 2012, descrivono il meat paradox, come il fatto che la maggior parte della gente, pur disapprovando la sofferenza e la violenza sugli animali e investendo molto denaro e attenzione nelle loro cure, pur definendosi quindi amanti degli animali, continuano tuttavia a mangiarli. Connesso a questa considerazione è anche il problema di come sia possibile amare certi animali e mangiarne altri. Questa tensione, cioè l'amore per gli animali e il fatto di mangiarli, è l'essenza del meat paradox (Loughnan, Bratanova e Puvia, 2012): infatti oggi uccidiamo sempre più animali per mangiarli e nel contempo aumentano, dicono gli autori, le nostre cure per l'animale. Gli autori (Loughnan, Haslam e Bastian, 2010), riprendendo le teorie di Leon Festinger (1957), riconoscono nel meat paradox un caso specifico di dissonanza cognitiva: come ricordano Harmon-Jones e Mills (1999), la dissonanza cognitiva nasce quando una persona fa o pensa qualcosa che si op-pone o è totalmente contraria alle sue più profonde convinzioni e attitudini: pratica e convinzione entrano in conflitto creando uno stato emozionale spiacevole, che l'individuo deve e ha tutto l'inte-resse a risolvere. Gray e Wegner (2007) sottolineano la gravità di questo stato d'ambivalenza emotiva e psicologica tanto da riconoscerne una certa priorità d'interesse per la futura ricerca psicologica. Anche Paul Rozin, nel 2007, dirà "meat should be of special, because it is a quintessential exemple of the interesting and important state of ambivalence". Per risolvere la dissonanza cognitiva, dice Festinger, bisogna rimuovere i fattori e gli elementi contrastanti e questo può essere fatto in diverse maniere (...)

Meat paradox: lo stato dell'arte.

Michał Bilewicz

Studies on dehumanization demonstrated that denying certain human characteristics might serve as a strategy for moral disengagement. Meat consumption—especially in the times of cruel animal farming—is related to the exclusion of animals from the human scope of justice. In the present research, it was hypothesized that the conception of human uniqueness (denying animals certain psychological characteristics) might be a strategy of meat-eaters’ moral disengagement. Three studies compared the extent to which vegetarians and omnivores attribute psychological characteristics to humans versus animals. In Study 1, vegetarian participants ascribed more secondary (uniquely human) emotions to animals than did the omnivores; however, there were no differences in primary (animalistic) emotions. Study 2 showed that omnivores distinguish human characteristics from animalistic ones more sharply than vegetarians do, while both groups do not differ in distinguishing human characteristics from mechanistic ones. Study 3 confirmed the results by showing that omnivores ascribed less secondary emotions to traditionally edible animals than to the non-edible species, while vegetarians did not differentiate these animals. These results support the claim that the lay conceptions of ‘human uniqueness’ are strategies of moral disengagement.

The humanity of what we eat. Conceptions of human uniqueness among vegetarians and omnivores

Corey L Wrenn

Social movements have traditionally viewed free-riders as a problem for effective mobilization , but under the influence of the nonprofit industrial complex, it is possible that movements actively facilitate their presence. Free-riders become an economic resource to professionalized movements seeking to increase wealth and visibility in the crowded social movement space by discouraging meaningful attitude or behavior change from their audiences and concentrating power among movement elites. Actively cultivated free-riding is exemplified by the professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights movement which promotes flexitarianism over ethical veganism despite its goal of nonhuman liberation. Major social-psychological theories of persuasion in addition to 44 studies on vegan and vegetarian motivation are examined to illustrate how free-rider flexitarianism is at odds with stated goals, thereby suggesting an alternative utility in flexitarianism as a means of facilitating a disengaged public.

Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism

2015, Psychological bulletin

Nonhuman animals are ubiquitous to human life, and permeate a diversity of social contexts by providing humans with food and clothing, serving as participants in research, improving healing, and offering entertainment, leisure, and companionship. Despite the impact that animals have on human lives and vice versa, the field of psychology has barely touched upon the topic of human-animal relations as an important domain of human activity. We review the current state of research on human-animal relations, showing how this body of work has implications for a diverse range of psychological themes including evolutionary processes, development, normative factors, gender and individual differences, health and therapy, and intergroup relations. Our aim is to highlight human-animal relations as a domain of human life that merits theoretical and empirical attention from psychology as a discipline. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).

Toward a psychology of human-animal relations

Charlotte De Backer

2015, Meat Science

Meat morals: relationship between meat consumption consumer attitudes towards human and animal welfare and moral behavior

Verónica Triguero

Nonhuman animals are typically excluded from the scope of social psychology. This article presents animals as social objects—targets of human social responses—overviewing the similarities and differences with human targets. The focus here is on perceiving animal species as social groups. Reflecting the two fundamental dimensions of humans’ social cognition—perceived warmth (benign or ill intent) and competence (high or low ability), proposed within the Stereotype Content Model (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002)—animal stereotypes are identified, together with associated prejudices and behavioral tendencies. In line with human intergroup threats, both realistic and symbolic threats associated with animals are reviewed. As a whole, animals appear to be social perception targets within the human sphere of influence and a valid topic for research.

Animals as Social Objects: Groups, Stereotypes, and Intergroup Threats

2014, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

Moral Disengagement in Harmful but Cherished Food Practices? An Exploration into the Case of Meat

Stephen Fiore

Environmental sustainability has grown as a topic of interest in the scientific community and has gained mainstream attention. This paper focuses on issues to consider when designing and assessing the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) as persuasive technology. We propose a set of research guidelines to inform future work on how to enhance VR's effectiveness as a persuasive tool. We present animal product consumption as an example to demonstrate how these guidelines can be applied to a real-world problem that relates to sustainability and health. We describe a set of guidelines for advancing research on VR as a persuasive tool and provide examples of how they can be applied in future research.

VR What We Eat: Guidelines for Designing and Assessing Virtual Environments as a Persuasive Technology to Promote Sustainability and Health

Lucy Zinkiewicz

Reduced consumption of meat, particularly red meat, is associated with numerous health benefits. While past research has examined demographic and cognitive correlates of meat-related diet identity and meat consumption behaviour, the predictive influence of personal values on meat-consumption attitudes and behaviour, as well as gender differences therein, has not been explicitly examined, nor has past research focusing on 'meat' generally addressed 'white meat' and 'fish/seafood' as distinct categories of interest. Two hundred and two Australians (59.9% female, 39.1% male, 1% unknown), aged 18 to 91 years (M = 31.42, SD = 16.18), completed an online questionnaire including the Schwartz Values Survey, and measures of diet identity, attitude towards reduced consumption of each of red meat, white meat, and fish/seafood, as well as self-reported estimates of frequency of consumption of each meat type. Results showed that higher valuing of Universalism predicted mo...

Values, attitudes, and frequency of meat consumption. Predicting meat-reduced diet in Australians

Tyler M John

2020, Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism

Consequentialism is thought to be in significant conflict with animal rights theory because it does not regard activities such as confinement, killing, and exploitation as in principle morally wrong. Proponents of the “Logic of the Larder” argue that consequentialism results in an implausibly pro-exploitation stance, permitting us to eat farmed animals with positive well-being to ensure future such animals exist. Proponents of the “Logic of the Logger” argue that consequentialism results in an implausibly anti-conservationist stance, permitting us to exterminate wild animals with negative well-being to ensure future such animals do not exist. We argue that this conflict is overstated. Once we have properly accounted for indirect effects, such as the role that our policies play in shaping moral attitudes and behavior and the importance of accepting policies that are robust against deviation, we can see that consequentialism may converge with animal rights theory significantly, even if not entirely.

Consequentialism and Nonhuman Animals

Shaili Parekh

How are perceptions of morality and disgust regarding meat consumption related to each other? Which factor is more salient in determining one's willingness to eat the meat of a specific animal? How do these answers vary across religious groups? This study investigates the ways that concepts like morality and disgust are related to food preferences and hopes to shed light on the mechanisms that enforce culturally sanctioned food taboos. The study compares 4 groups of people in the U.S.: Christians (n = 39), Hindus (n = 29), Jews (n = 23), and non-religious people (n = 63). A total of 154 participants were given surveys in which they rated their feelings about eating various animals. Data from Christian and non-religious groups exhibited similar patterns such as a high likelihood of eating a given animal when starving, while results from Jews and Hindus were consistent with their religion's respective food taboos. Despite these differences, morality and disgust are strongly correlated with one another in almost all instances. Moreover, morality and disgust are almost equally important considerations when determining willingness to eat when starving.


Minna Kanerva

Social practice theories help challenge the often hidden paradigms, worldviews and values at the basis of many unsustainable practices. However, practice theoretical research can struggle to provide effective results for policymaking. Connected to social practices, discourses and their boundaries define what is seen as possible, what the range of issues and their solutions are. By exploring the connections between practices and discourses - where paradigms, worldviews and values are represented through cognitive frames – this thesis develops, firstly, a conceptual approach to help enable purposive change in unsustainable social practices. This is done in an interdisciplinary manner integrating different literatures. Secondly, the thesis takes meat and the current meat system as a central theme. Radical transformation towards new meatways is arguably necessary, as explored in this thesis in detail, yet complex psychological, ideological and power related mechanisms currently slow down and inhibit change. Notable for the practice-discourse framework is that it allows a focus, on the one hand, on existing strategic ignorance of conflicting values, emotions and knowledges, and on the other hand, on the potential for discursive consciousness of practices, and their related (conflicting) values, emotions and knowledges. The wider, the more varied and in-depth discourses there are, the more difficult strategic ignorance is to maintain. Discursive consciousness can create discursively open practices which may be well established and discursively dominant in a society, but nonetheless, increasingly questioned, creating tensions and potential openings to different ways of going about the practices. Especially significant in such discursively open practices can be different and new meanings replacing, or co-occurring alongside old meanings. Discourses disseminate new meanings and potential new ways of doing things to a wider social group or society. Discursive consciousness can be seen as a key concept for purposive change. Further, it may better enable change in the context of distributed agentive power residing within the practice-discourse arrangement. A positive feedback loop may emerge between collective individual action creating political change, and political change changing both individual and societal values. Taking the widened, and interdisciplinary version of a social practice theory approach to meat eating related practices, the thesis examines discourses related to the new meatways, firstly flexitarianism, and secondly, eating cell-based or plant-based meats, or insects. Cognitive frames can work as a focus of practice theoretical analysis especially due to their connections to values, emotions and knowledge on the side of practices. Discourse data can be used to investigate some of the underlying issues to do with controversial practices, or practices that are established, but being questioned. Discourses can reveal much about the values, emotions, knowledge, paradigms, and worldviews linked to social practices, as well as potential coping mechanisms, such as strategic ignorance of related conflicts. The second research goal for the thesis is to answer a more specific question related to the new meatways and discourses around them potentially enabling a purposive transformation. This is done by analyzing recent online discourses from the UK-based Guardian newspaper. The analyzed data suggests that meat eating related practices can be seen as discursively open, especially due to the new meatways offering new solutions, as compared to vegetarianism and veganism. Discourses regarding cell-based or plant-based meat or insects push the boundaries of what meat is, and seeing strong flexitarianism as a realistic meatway helps imagine a solution to finding sufficient future protein for the world. Further, discourses around the new meatways can reveal somewhat hidden frames that have supported existing practices in the last decades. Two conceptual metaphors present in the data nail down well two issues regarding transforming the meat system towards radically less, or no intensive production, with the goal of radically lower negative impacts. The first metaphor, the hungry beast, addresses the still very present meat demand paradigm or frame in need of critical reassessment. The new meats (cell- based, plant-based meat and insects) are partially functioning in this frame with the underlining assumption that they are necessary to satisfy the starkly increasing demand for meat. The second metaphor of a journey illustrates how sustainable ways of eating protein, including some more conventional meat, can be realized. When framing meat eating and its transformation using this metaphor, different meatways are seen as points on a continuum, where many possible journeys along that continuum can be made. In this way even more radical changes can be facilitated. Finally, compared to the old meatways, the new meatways can better align values related to sustainability with values often being prioritized in daily food related practices, such as providing for family, convenience, tradition, freedom, politeness, and pleasure. The new meatways therefore offer a way to expand the discourse, away from the conventional animal-based meat vs. no meat dichotomy.

The role of discourses in a transformation of social practices towards sustainability: The case of meat eating related practices

Elise Holland , Nick Haslam

The Psychology of Humanness

Elizabeth Goodrick , Giuseppe Delmestri

While there has been increased attention to emotions and institutions, the role of denial and repression of emotions has been overlooked. We argue that not only the expression and the feeling of emotions, but also their control through denial contribute to stabilize institutional orders. The role denial plays is that of avoiding the emergence of disruptive emotions that might motivate a challenge to the status quo. Reflecting on the example of the livestock industry, we propose a theoretical model that identifies seeds for change in denied emotional contradictions in an integration of the cultural-relational and issue-based conceptions of organizational fields.


Clyde Ancarno

2019, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environmental Studies (ISLE).

Patterns of food production and consumption have immense environmental impact. While much public discussion of meat eating centers on economic, environmental, and ethical issues and is based on reasoned arguments and facts, the contention of this article is that justifications of meat eating also have a more physical and less rational element which is more fully captured in the discourses of literature, marketing, and reflection on personal experience. Many people do not confront the ethical and environmental implications of their meat eating. The impact of industrial farming, or even the fact that meat is dead animal flesh, are often either not considered in justifications of meat eating, or treated as less significant than meat eating as a physical, personal, and social experience. Meat eating for many remains solely a matter of taste, in both the biological and social senses of the word. By combining ecological themes with a focus on an embodied and emotional engagement with food of the kind found in literature, this article’s critique of the contradictions inherent in justifications of meat eating fits well with the ethical and philosophical aims of ecocriticism, as it furthers exploration of “the meanings of the natural environment and the complexities of human relationships with each other, and with the more-than-human world” (ASLE). On the one hand, human food choices have an obvious impact upon the environment, especially when accompanied by exponential population growth, climate change and diminishing resources. On the other, literature has much to tell us about the emotive and social power of food, as now widely recognized in literary studies: Literary critics who write about food understand the use of food in … works of literature can help explain the complex relationship between the body, subjectivity and social structures regulating consumption. (Fitzpatrick 122) Although this article is not centrally concerned with literary analysis, our contention is that the insights of literature into food choice and its meaning may serve as a starting point, when considering food choice in the real world, to look beyond the merely economic and recognize the strength of other, less rational and tangible factors. To do this, and in illustration, we begin with some—albeit somewhat selective and arbitrary—literary references to the taste of food. We then embark, in the main part of the article, on a more systematic and rigorous examination of references to taste and to meat in data from our own research. In our analysis we hope to show that non-literary discussion of food—in marketing, personal reminiscences, and conversation—share with literature an emphasis on food as a sense experience.

2019 - ‘I still do love the taste': the language of beliefs about eating animals.

Although daily meat consumption is a widespread habit, many individuals at the same time put a high value on the welfare of animals. While different psychological mechanisms have been identified to resolve this cognitive tension, such as dissociating the animal from the consumed meat or denying the animal's moral status, few studies have investigated the effects of the animal's appearance on the willingness to consume its meat. The present article explored how the perception of cuteness influences hypothetical meat consumption. We hypothesized that cuter animals would reduce the willingness to consume meat, and that this relationship would be mediated by empathy felt towards the animal. Across four pre-registered studies sampling 1074 US and Norwegian participants, we obtained some support for this prediction in the US but to a lesser degree in Norway. However, in all studies an indirect mediation effect of cuteness on meat consumption going through empathy towards the animal was observed. We also explored possible moderating and additional mediating mechanisms of trait pro-social orientation, caretaking intentions and sex effects for which we found mixed evidence. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

Too sweet to eat: Exploring the effects of cuteness on meat consumption

2019, Chapter 2 of PhD thesis

This chapter gives background to the meat crisis, explores how humans have been eating non-human animals over time, including in the last half a century, and considers potential reasons for changes in these practices. Subsequently, the chapter will explore the different discourses related to eating animals - with the underlining notion that discourses are deeply tied in with practices. Finally, the chapter will look at some future visions for a transformation of the meat system.

From old to new meatways?

Minna-Maarit Jaskari , Henna Syrjälä (Jyrinki)

This study aims to analyse the different cultural meanings attached to horsemeat consumption in the context of the Finnish market. We take the “meat paradox” as a theoretical starting point and investigate the underlying cultural structures that guide consumers’ meaning-making and consumption decisions in regard to horsemeat. The data were generated after the horsemeat scandal, drawing on a wide variety of media texts about horsemeat consumption. The data were analysed through qualitative content analysis and the findings reveal five horsemeat paradoxes. Each paradox contains meanings that reflect both the justifications for and avoidance of eating horsemeat. The findings show how horsemeat consumption holds various and even contradictory meanings, elucidating how it may be difficult for consumers to take a stand towards eating horsemeat. Thereby, the study provides novel ideas for marketing that are grounded in our deep-rooted and ingrained cultural understandings.

Revealing the paradoxes of horsemeat – The challenges of marketing horsemeat in Finland

Kate Cairns , Josee Johnston

Agriculture and Human Values

Knowledge is a presumed motivator for changed consumption practices in ethical eating discourse: the consumer learns more about where their food comes from and makes different consumption choices. Despite intuitive appeal, scholars are beginning to illuminate the limits of knowledge-focused praxis for ethical eating. In this paper, we draw from qualitative interviews and focus groups with Toronto mothers to explore the role of knowledge in conceptions of ethical foodwork. While the goal of educating children about their food has become central to Canadian and American discourses of " good " mothering, we identify a paradoxical maternal expectation surrounding meat consumption: 1) to raise informed child consumers who know where their food comes from, and 2) to protect children from the harsh realities of animal slaughter. Rather than revealing the story behind the meat on a child's plate, mothers seek to shield children from knowledge of meat production. Our analysis of the child consumer contributes to ethical eating scholarship and illuminates a larger paradox surrounding knowledge of meat in an industrialized food system. In the practice of feeding children, mothers confront the visceral discomforts of meat consumption; their reactions speak to discordant feelings involved with eating meat in a setting far-removed from the lives and deaths of animals. Ultimately, the paper illustrates the limits of consumer-focused strategies for food-system change that call on individual mothers to educate young consumers and protect childhood innocence, all while getting ethically-sourced meals on the table.

On (not) knowing where your food comes from: Meat, mothering and ethical eating

Daniel Fessler

2003, Appetite

Disgust sensitivity and meat consumption: a test of an emotivist account of moral vegetarianism

Kathryn Asher

Despite decades of promotion, rates of vegetarianism have changed minimally in the U.S. In part due to this slow growth rate, farmed animal advocates are divided about whether encouraging meat elimination or meat reduction (and which type) is best. Following Voltaire’s assertion that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, this research explores whether vegetarianism (the perfect) may be the enemy of the good for realizing advocates’ desired social movement outcomes in American society around meat and farmed animals. This dissertation, drawing on applied sociology and positioned at the intersection of effective altruism, social movement outcomes, the sociology of food, and dietary behaviour change, examines this research question and speaks to whether social movements should ask for intermediate steps or focus on their desired end goal. This dissertation engages with an effective animal advocacy lens—a subset of effective altruism—to study the current and future potential impact of three diets promoted to varying degrees by U.S. advocates: a vegetarian diet, a reduced-meat diet, and a chicken-free diet (per the problem of smaller-bodied animals). Quantitative methods were used to consider how these diets can help this social movement “do the most good,” a key tenet of effective altruism. Data was collected from an online census- balanced cross-sectional sample of 30,000+ U.S. adults provided by Nielsen in 2016. Results showed a reduced-meat diet had the highest prevalence rate among American adults and the largest number of food opinion leaders based on current as well as future potential eating patterns. A reduced-meat diet was the driver for the greatest number of meat-free meals eaten each week and the largest number of adults this is spread amongst, both taking in current and future potential trends. A reduced-meat diet also had the best external perceptions among those who are not restricting their meat consumption. Lived experiences was the one exception, where a vegetarian diet had the best internal experiences among individuals currently eating one of the diets. These findings suggest that there are reasons to infer that a reduced-meat diet may best support an effective animal advocacy approach to U.S. dietary outreach.

Is the Perfect the Enemy of the Good? The Role of Dietary Choices, Perceptions, and Experiences in Meat Consumption Patterns in the U.S.

This thesis is an attempt to investigate in the discourse of meat as it is given online. In particular, this study explores the discursive traces reflected in the commentary produced around the online-posted Earthlings documentary in the attempt to understand the kinds of objects, discourses, actions, subject positions, practices, and subjectivities, produced, evoked, and enabled in the commentary. Hereby, the aim is to map the discursive terrain around meat which revolves about the highly controversial medium. Keywords: Ethical vegetarianism, meat industry, Earthlings documentary

Wake up Omnivores! A Discourse Analysis of the Online Commentary around the Earthlings Documentary

Sara Vincentzen Kondrup

2019, PLoS ONE

We present a questionnaire-based measure of four animal ethics orientations. The orientations, which were developed in light of existing empirical studies of attitudes to animal use and ethical theory, are: animal rights, anthropocentrism, lay utilitarianism, and animal protection. The two latter orientations can be viewed as variants of animal welfarism. Three studies were conducted in Denmark in order to identify the hypothesised orientations, evaluate their concurrent validity, and report their prevalence and relevance in animal-related opinion formation and behaviour. Explorative factor analysis (Study 1) and confirmative factor analysis (Study 2) successfully identified the four orientations. Study 2 revealed good measurement invariance, as there was none or very modest differential item functioning across age, gender, living area, and contrasting population segments. Evaluation of concurrent validity in Study 2 found that the orientations are associated with different kinds of behaviour and opinion when the human use of animals is involved in the hypothesised directions. In Study 3, a representative population study, the animal protection orientation proved to be most prevalent in the Danish population, and as in study 2 the four orientations were associated with different behaviours and opinions. Remarkably, the animal protection orientation does not lead to increased animal welfare-friendly meat consumption, the main reason for this being non-concern about the current welfare status of farm animals. We argue that the developed measure covers a wide range of diversity in animal ethics orientations that is likely to exist in a modern society such as Denmark and can be used in future studies to track changes in the orientations and to understand and test hypotheses about the sources and justifications of people’s animal-related opinions and behaviours.

A multidimensional measure of animal ethics orientation – Developed and applied to a representative sample of the Danish public

Amanpreet Sokhi


2012, Social Psychological and Personality Science

Humans and animals share many similarities. Across three studies, the authors demonstrate that the framing of these similarities has significant consequences for people's moral concern for others. Comparing animals to humans expands moral concern and reduces speciesism; however, comparing humans to animals does not appear to produce these same effects. The authors find these differences when focusing on natural tendencies to frame human–animal similarities (Study 1) and following experimental induction of ...

When Closing the Human–Animal Divide Expands Moral Concern The Importance of Framing

Corrina Tucker

The significance of sensory appeal for reduced meat consumption

2008, Social Science & Medicine

You are what you eat? Vegetarianism, health and identity

In principle, all of us have moral worth and deserve moral treatment simply by virtue of being human. Philosophers ground moral status in our shared humanity or personhood, declarations of human rights are explicitly universal in their coverage, and laypeople believe that moral rules hold universally. In addition to her sword, scales, and flowing gowns, Lady Justice wears a blindfold to assure us that moral and legal rules apply impartially to everyone. In practice, of course, some people are considered to be more human than ...

Humanness, dehumanization, and moral psychology

Brian Wansink

Metaphors are increasingly recognized as influencing cognition and consumption. While these linkages have typically been qualitatively generated, this paper presents a framework of convergent quantitative methodologies that can further document the validity of a metaphor. To illustrate this muli-method framework, we explore whether there is a metaphoric link between meat and maleness in Western cultures. We address this in six quantifiable studies which involve 1) implicit associations, 2) free associations, 3? indirect scenario-based inferences, 4) direct measurement profiling, 5) preference and choice, and 6) linguistic analysis. We conclude that there is a metaphoric relationship between mammal muscle meat and maleness.

Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multi-Method Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships

Carly W Butler

2004, Journal of health …

A Rhetorical Approach to Discussions About Health and Vegetarianism

Annie Potts

2010, Feminism & Psychology

Vegan Sexuality: Challenging Heteronormative Masculinity through Meat-free Sex

Gonzalo Palomo Vélez

Excessive meat consumption is associated with a range of environmental problems. In this investigation, we examined the effectiveness of three types of persuasive messages posited to affect attitudes toward meat consumption. The first two messages contained health and environment-related appeals (e.g., the moral consequences of environmental degradation and animal welfare), which are commonly used in campaigns aimed at meat reduction. A third kind of message – one that is less frequently applied in meat-consumption campaigns – follows from research suggesting that meat aversions are acquired via the emotion disgust. Results across three studies – and a meta-analysis of these studies – suggest that disgust-oriented persuasive messages are more effective than health-oriented messages, and they are at least as effective as moral (i.e., animal welfare) messages in influencing meat attitudes. The practical implications for campaigns to reduce meat consumption are being discussed.

Unsustainable, unhealthy, or disgusting? Comparing different persuasive messages against meat consumption

Alfons Hamm

2009, Appetite

Vegetarianism and food perception. Selective visual attention to meat pictures

Elizabeth Cherry , Kathryn Asher

Which factors in the domestic sphere serve as barriers to the successful promotion and maintenance of vegetarian and vegan diets? In this paper, we seek to explore the domestic roadblocks to vegetarian and vegan diet conversion in order to complement existing sociological research on vegetarianism, veganism, and animal advocacy. To accomplish this, we engaged in a review of sociological literature on food and domestic life, including literature from sociology of the family, sociology of gender, the sociology of food, and other areas. The barriers we found include family reactions to dietary change, mothers’ roles in providing food for young children, the subordination of women’s food preferences, women’s food provisioning as a form of power, the dynamics of food choice between spouses and significant others, the role of meat in the domestic hierarchy of meals, and race and social class.

Home Is Where the Food Is: Barriers to Vegetarianism and Veganism in the Domestic Sphere

Kathryn A Johnson

2011, Journal of Cross- …

Religio-cultural groups endorse an astounding diversity of beliefs and rituals regarding food. We theorize that such practices in part originate and persist because they: (1) mark in-group membership through the consumption of unique foods and the establishment of common food rituals, (2) signal status through fasting or ingesting certain foods or large quantities of food, and (3) help individuals avoid disease by promoting or prohibiting specific foods that were historically available. Moreover, we theorize that these socio-functional motives are grounded in essentialist beliefs about the discreteness of biological kinds and/or beliefs about unseen spiritual essences, transmitted through food or food preparation. We consider how psychological explanations of religio-cultural food prescriptions and prohibitions may or may not map onto religious explanations. We also offer testable hypotheses about where and why certain food practices may originate and persist, and we hope that this analysis is the kind that provides insight into factors that may have shaped a wider range of religio-cultural beliefs and practices.

Matzah, Meat, Milk, and Mana: Psychological Influences on Religio-Cultural Food Practices

The psychology of eating animals and veg*nism


  • 1 La Trobe University, Department of Psychology, Counselling and Therapy, Wodonga, Australia. Electronic address: [email protected].
  • 2 Bellarmine University, Department of Psychology, Louisville, United States.
  • 3 University of Zürich, Department of Psychology, Zürich, Switzerland.
  • PMID: 37121487
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2023.106582

Vegetarian and vegan (Veg*n) diets are increasingly popular in Western societies and an increasingly common topic of psychological research. Animal-free diets hold considerable potential for helping curb the climate crisis and improving interspecies justice. This special issue presents recent contributions from research on the psychology of meat eating and veg*nism. To situate these articles in a broader context, we first establish the importance of studying veg*nism. We then review papers in this special issue, organized into themes of motivations and characteristics of veg*ns, attitudes towards veg*ns, attitudes toward meat and alternative proteins, intentions to eat meat or plant-based foods, consumption of meat or plant-based foods, and meat reduction interventions. We conclude with future directions for this blossoming field of study.

Copyright © 2023. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Publication types

  • Diet* / psychology
  • Diet, Vegan / psychology
  • Diet, Vegetarian* / psychology
  • Vegetarians / psychology

University of Edinburgh Research Explorer Logo

  • Help & FAQ

The Psychology of Eating Animals

  • School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences

Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Most people both eat animals and care about animals. Research has begun to examine the psychological processes that allow people to negotiate this "meat paradox." To understand the psychology of eating animals, we examine characteristics of the eaters (people), the eaten (animals), and the eating (the behavior). People who value masculinity, enjoy meat and do not see it as a moral issue, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to consume animals. Perceiving animals as highly dissimilar to humans and as lacking mental attributes, such as the capacity for pain, also supports meat-eating. In addition to these beliefs, values, and perceptions, the act of eating meat triggers psychological processes that regulate negative emotions associated with eating animals. We conclude by discussing the implications of this research for understanding the psychology of morality.

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)


Access to Document

  • 10.1177/0963721414525781


  • Psychology Psychology 100%
  • Eating Psychology 100%
  • Research Psychology 66%
  • Morality Psychology 33%
  • Behavior Psychology 33%
  • Dominance Psychology 33%
  • Negative Emotion Psychology 33%
  • Humans Psychology 33%

No photo of Steve Loughnan

Steve Loughnan

  • School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences - Reader
  • Edinburgh Neuroscience

Person: Academic: Research Active

T1 - The Psychology of Eating Animals

AU - Loughnan, Steve

AU - Bastian, Brock

AU - Haslam, Nick

PY - 2014/4

Y1 - 2014/4

N2 - Most people both eat animals and care about animals. Research has begun to examine the psychological processes that allow people to negotiate this "meat paradox." To understand the psychology of eating animals, we examine characteristics of the eaters (people), the eaten (animals), and the eating (the behavior). People who value masculinity, enjoy meat and do not see it as a moral issue, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to consume animals. Perceiving animals as highly dissimilar to humans and as lacking mental attributes, such as the capacity for pain, also supports meat-eating. In addition to these beliefs, values, and perceptions, the act of eating meat triggers psychological processes that regulate negative emotions associated with eating animals. We conclude by discussing the implications of this research for understanding the psychology of morality.

AB - Most people both eat animals and care about animals. Research has begun to examine the psychological processes that allow people to negotiate this "meat paradox." To understand the psychology of eating animals, we examine characteristics of the eaters (people), the eaten (animals), and the eating (the behavior). People who value masculinity, enjoy meat and do not see it as a moral issue, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to consume animals. Perceiving animals as highly dissimilar to humans and as lacking mental attributes, such as the capacity for pain, also supports meat-eating. In addition to these beliefs, values, and perceptions, the act of eating meat triggers psychological processes that regulate negative emotions associated with eating animals. We conclude by discussing the implications of this research for understanding the psychology of morality.

KW - identity

KW - animals

KW - morality

KW - emotion






U2 - 10.1177/0963721414525781

DO - 10.1177/0963721414525781

M3 - Article

SN - 0963-7214

JO - Current Directions in Psychological Science

JF - Current Directions in Psychological Science

  • Deis Impact History
  • Mission and Guiding Principles
  • International Advisory Board
  • Campus Advisory Committee
  • Center Associates
  • Remembering Abraham Feinberg
  • Remembering Ted Sorensen
  • ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Engagement
  • Peacebuilding and the Arts
  • Programs in International Justice and Society
  • 'Deis Impact Day's History at the Ethics Center
  • Recent News
  • Major Past Events
  • Events Home
  • Recent Events
  • Co-sponsorship Guidelines
  • Co-sponsorship Request Form
  • Post-event Feedback Form
  • Searchable Library
  • ENACT Anthologies
  • 2021 to Present
  • 2016 to 2021
  • 2011 to 2016
  • Ethical Inquiry
  • Human Rights and Social Activism
  • International Justice Publications
  • Sorensen Fellowship Publications
  • Request an Ethics Center Publication
  • Other Ethics Centers
  • Other Research Centers at Brandeis
  • Degree Programs
  • Majors and Minors
  • Graduate Programs
  • The Brandeis Core
  • School of Arts and Sciences
  • Brandeis Online
  • Brandeis International Business School
  • Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Heller School for Social Policy and Management
  • Rabb School of Continuing Studies
  • Precollege Programs
  • Faculty and Researcher Directory
  • Brandeis Library
  • Academic Calendar
  • Undergraduate Admissions
  • Summer School
  • Financial Aid
  • Research that Matters
  • Resources for Researchers
  • Brandeis Researchers in the News
  • Provost Research Grants
  • Recent Awards
  • Faculty Research
  • Student Research
  • Centers and Institutes
  • Office of the Vice Provost for Research
  • Office of the Provost
  • Housing/Community Living
  • Campus Calendar
  • Student Engagement
  • Clubs and Organizations
  • Community Service
  • Dean of Students Office
  • Orientation
  • Hiatt Career Center
  • Spiritual Life
  • Graduate Student Affairs
  • Directory of Campus Contacts
  • Division of Creative Arts
  • Brandeis Arts Engagement
  • Rose Art Museum
  • Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts
  • Theater Arts Productions
  • Brandeis Concert Series
  • Public Sculpture at Brandeis
  • Women's Studies Research Center
  • Creative Arts Award
  • Brandeis Tickets
  • Our Jewish Roots
  • The Framework for the Future
  • Mission and Diversity Statements
  • Distinguished Faculty
  • Nobel Prize 2017
  • Notable Alumni
  • Administration
  • Working at Brandeis
  • Commencement
  • Offices Directory
  • Faculty & Staff
  • Alumni & Friends
  • Parents & Families
  • 75th Anniversary
  • COVID-19 Response
  • New Students
  • Shuttle Schedules
  • Support at Brandeis

International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life

Is it ethical to eat animals.

Ethical Inquiry is a monthly series that examines ethical questions, highlighting a broad array of opinion from journalism, academia and advocacy organizations. Our intent is to illuminate and explore the complexity of some of the most vexing ethical questions of our time.

January 2010

three pigs resting heads on a fourth pig

Do animals have rights and feelings? From a philosophical perspective, is it moral to eat these beings?

What is the impact of animal agriculture on the environment?

What are the public health and nutrition implications of a diet that includes meat and other animal products?

What do the economics of raising animals for consumption tell us?

Do Animals Have Rights?

One of the more frequently debated issues related to eating animals is that of animal rights and animal consciousness. Do animals have rights or feelings comparable to those of humans?

In “All Animals Are Equal,” philosopher Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author of The Ethics of What We Eat, argues that the interests of all beings capable of suffering are worthy of equal consideration and that giving lesser pigsconsideration based on species is no more justified than discrimination based on skin color. He argues that animals should have rights based on their ability to suffer or feel pain more than their intelligence.

Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," examines Singer’s arguments in “An Animal’s Place” (The New York Times Magazine, 2002). He doesn't argue outright for the permissibility of all meat eating; in fact he is opposed to factory farming. But he does think that the talk of 'rights' is misplaced with respect to animals.

In his book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer argues that it is unethical to eat meat if you do not have to. For his family, and others with readily available and affordable nutritious alternatives to meat, he says, the only reason to eat it is the taste. That is not a good enough reason, he contends. ( Excerpt in the New York Times Magazine, 10/11/09.)

The documentary "Earthlings" comes down strongly on the side of suggesting it is unethical for humans to use animals for food, entertainment, experimentation, and clothing.

In her 2008 Washington Post article “For Meat-Eating Authors, A More Tender Approach” Jane Black surveys a “a publishing industry trendlet” — books about “[t]he path to becoming a more conscious carnivore. …” including "Meat: A Love Story," by Susan Bourette; "The Compassionate Carnivore: Or How to Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald's Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint and Still Eat Meat," by Catherine Friend; "The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers," by Scott Gold; and a quarterly magazine launched in 2007, Meatpaper , which describes itself as a “journal of meat culture.” Black writes:

"Each book has its own tack and tone, but the essential message is the same: Carnivores should not feel guilty. Nor should they cede the moral high ground to vegetarians and vegans, whose answer to the complex questions raised by eating animals is to abstain entirely. Instead, the authors argue, carnivores should celebrate their decision to eat meat by being conscientious about what they choose."

In an Oct. 12, 2009 episode, of CNN’s “Larry King Live” on the topic “Should You Eat Meat?” (transcript) chef, author, and host of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain defends meat eating as natural for humans, contending:

"If you look at our basic design, we are designed — our design features are we have eyes in the front of our head. We have fingernails. We have eye, teeth and long legs. We were designed from the get-go, we have evolved, so that we could chase down smaller, stupider creatures, kill them and eat them."

In a Boston Globe Q&A, Novella Carpenter, author of the 2009 book "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer," explains her philosophy of meat eating :

"It’s important to realize that something dies when we eat it, and to cop to it. If you’re not OK with it, you shouldn’t eat it. If you see an animal die, then you know the price of meat and you know it shouldn’t be cheap. You shouldn’t waste it. You shouldn’t just eat meat all the time. It’s not sustainable, it’s not healthy, it’s bad for animals. It’s good to have meat as more of a ceremonial meal."

Environmental Concerns

Another critique of eating animals is concerned with the impact of meat production on the environment.

Rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman contends that well managed beef production can minimize greenhouse gas emissions and even benefit the environment in the New York Times op-ed “The Carnivore’s Dilemma.”

In a letter responding to that piece , Peter Singer; Geoff Russell, author of “CSIRO Perfidy”; and Barry Brook, a professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide, Australia, counter that pastured cattle may produce even more greenhouse gasses than feed lot cattle, and contend that “the call to cut down or eliminate meat-eating, especially beef, should be supported by everyone concerned about the future of our planet.”

“Livestock’s Long Shadow” (pdf) , a 2006 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that aimed to “assess the full impact of the livestock sector on environmental problems, along with potential technical and policy approaches to mitigation” does not advocate eliminating production or consumption of meat; rather, it declares that “[m]ajor reductions in [environmental] impact [of livestock] could be achieved at reasonable cost.”

A study described in “Ecosystems, Sustainability and Animal Agriculture” (Journal of Animal Science, Vol 74, Issue 6, 1996) revealed “... the high level of dependency of the U.S. beef cattle industry on fossil fuels. These findings in turn bring into question the ecological and economic risks associated with the current technology driving North American animal agriculture.”

Similarly, in “Sustainability of Meat-based and Plant-based Diets and the Environment,” in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (subscription may be required for access to full article), David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel conclude that “The meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than the lactoovovegetarian [plant-based, with eggs and dairy] diet,” and therefore “…the lactoovovegetarian diet is more sustainable than the average American meat-based diet.”

Public Health and Nutrition

The debate from a public health perspective emphasizes the health impact of typical methods of meat production and of diets that include meat, with some maintaining there are benefits globally and individually to eating meat, and others finding evidence to the contrary.

The large-scale Cornell China Study by a Cornell University nutrition professor compares rates of multiple diseases in rural villages in China, where subjects ate little animal protein to Western-style meat heavy diets, finding the Chinese diet to be healthier, and determining that “[t]here was no evidence of a threshold beyond which further benefits did not accrue with increasing proportions of plant-based foods in the diet.”

Arguing that red meat consumption has negative public health consequences on a par with cigarette smoking, as well as fruits and veggiesnegative environmental consequences from its production, Peter Singer proposes a tax on red meat similar to one on cigarettes in his New York Daily News op-ed “Make Meat Eaters Pay.”

“Pressure Rises to Stop Antibiotics in Agriculture” (Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza, Associated Press, 12/09) details the large-scale use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to treat illness and to promote growth, and the resultant rise in antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, and notes some attempts to legislate restrictions on antibiotic use for livestock.

Looking at the impact of antibiotic use in animal agriculture from a pediatrics perspective, Dr. Katherine M. Shea examines the impact on human health of the creation of drug-resistant microorganisms in “Nontherapeutic Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Animal Agriculture: Implications for Pediatrics” (Pediatrics, 2004).

“Contributions of Animal Agriculture to Meeting Global Human Food Demand” (Livestock Production Science Volume 59, Issues 2-3, 1999 — subscription may be required for access to full article) examines animal agriculture’s contributions to human well-being, including nutritional and non-food benefits of animal agriculture, and prospects for meeting increasing world demand of animal products.

Nina Planck, author of "Real Food: What to Eat and Why," is critical of vegan diets for health reasons, focusing specifically on the needs of infants in her New York Times op-ed “Death By Veganism.”

Economics and Farming Methods

Are certain methods of raising animals for food more beneficial to humans? To animals? Is ethical farming that which produces the lowest-cost food? Or the best conditions for animals? Should consumers of meat (or potential consumers) take these questions into consideration?

Joel Salatin, a farmer and author who raises pastured meats on his Virginia farm, is a figurehead of the local and sustainable food movement and a critic of industrial agriculture. He explains his critique of the industrial agricultural system in detail in “Industry vs. Biology” (Acres magazine, 1999). A 2005 New York Times profile of Salatin, “High Priest of the Farm,” also discusses his nonindustrial methods and their rationale.

The documentary "Food Inc." examines large scale agriculture and concludes that there are many hidden costs associated with the products of this system.

“Factory Farming in the Developing World” from World Watch magazine examines the growth of factory farming in the developing world and its implications. The article examines the historical background, current situation, and future prospects of factory farming in the Philippines, outlining some of the drawbacks of factory farming, and the prospects for a resurgence of traditional methods of livestock production.

Dr. Simon Shane makes the case that total egg production drops in countries that switch from battery cage egg production to cage free production in the brief article “How to Destroy an Industry?”

Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, and an agricultural analyst for the U.S. Department of State from 1980-88, contends that meat production actually benefits the environment, and consumption of meat has health benefits for humans. He extends his argument that meat consumption is better for human development than a vegetarian diet in “Tofu Turkey Won’t Fly.”

Final Thoughts

In the Journal of Animal Science article “The ‘New Perception’ of Animal Agriculture: Legless Cows, Featherless Chickens and a Need for Genuine Analysis,” Fraser examines the polarized positions of critics and defenders of animal agriculture and the themes that emerge from their arguments. He writes:

"[M]odern disagreement about the ethics of animal agriculture has often taken the form of highly simplistic and emotionally charged pronouncements, either condemning animal agriculture as thoroughly bad or defending it staunchly. These simplistic portrayals misrepresent the complex realities of animal agriculture, but they do raise genuinely important issues. The author argues that “research and analysis by scientists and ethicists are badly needed to move the discussion beyond simplistic and misleading portrayals and to arrive at a genuine understanding of the issues.”

  • About the Center
  • Core Programs
  • Ethics Central Newsletter
  • Other Ethics and Research Centers

This installment of "Ethical Inquiry" was produced with research and writing support by Seth Grande ’12. Thanks also to Philosophy Professor Kate Moran.

  • Search Menu
  • Themed Issues
  • High-Impact Collection
  • Infographics
  • Author Guidelines
  • Open Access Options
  • Self-Archiving Policy
  • Why Publish with Us?
  • About Animal Frontiers
  • About the American Society of Animal Science
  • Editorial Board
  • Advertising & Corporate Services
  • Journals Career Network
  • Journals on Oxford Academic
  • Books on Oxford Academic

Animal Frontiers

Article Contents

Introduction, moral deliberation about meat consumption: the value of ethical assessment, arguments against meat consumption, arguments in defense of meat, is cultured meat a viable alternative, conclusions, literature cited.

  • < Previous

Is meat eating morally defensible? Contemporary ethical considerations

  • Article contents
  • Figures & tables
  • Supplementary Data

Candace Croney, Janice Swanson, Is meat eating morally defensible? Contemporary ethical considerations, Animal Frontiers , Volume 13, Issue 2, April 2023, Pages 61–67,

  • Permissions Icon Permissions

Despite growing global demand for protein, the ethical justification for meat consumption is increasingly questioned.

Ensuring human rights to food requires moral deliberation.

The role of meat in addressing growing global needs for food must be considered in the context of food safety, security, quality, access, and affordability. Animal rights, welfare, climate change, and natural resource conservation must also be addressed.

Though natural resource scarcity may limit or eliminate production of meat in future, potential for technological innovation and agroecology approaches to offset animal, environmental, and socio-ethical harms offers a justification for retaining some degree of meat production and consumption 

Because of the enormous projected growth in the human population, the United Nations has called for significant increases in global food production to meet anticipated demand ( Croney et al., 2018 ; FAO, 2021 ). Consumers are increasingly interested in learning about the food they eat, including where and how it is produced. What form that food should take, however, is increasingly the subject of public debate.

Protein derived from animals has figured prominently in human diets unless constrained by religious or other beliefs. Moreover, demand for animal protein has been demonstrated to increase as people in developing nations begin to experience greater prosperity ( Delgado et al. 2003 ; Croney and Anthony, 2014 ). This dynamic is unsurprising given scientific findings identifying the consumption of meat as a defining factor in the evolutionary development of the human brain ( Burini and Leonard, 2018 and in this issue, Leroy et al., 2023 ) and the role that high quality, easily digestible protein plays in human growth and development ( Klurfeld, 2018 ). Despite these benefits, in developed areas of the world where food security and access are relatively high, the ethical justification for meat consumption is increasingly challenged, resulting in polarized, highly contentious discussions. Frequently cited ethical concerns relate to the rearing and killing of animals for food, animal quality of life in modern large-scale, intensive systems of production, and the related impacts on the environment and human health ( Verbeke and Viaene, 1999 ; Baltzer, 2004 ; Botonaki et al., 2006 ; Croney and Anthony, 2014 ; Croney et al., 2018 ; Godfray, 2018 ).

For those for whom food security and accessibility are assured, these and other ethical dimensions of food production have become more significant. Accordingly, some members of the public in food-secure nations have shifted to “ethical consumerism”, electing to purchase food products they perceive to be less socially and environmentally harmful ( Croney and Anthony, 2014 ), while avoiding those not aligned with their values ( Morgan et al., 2016 ). Evidence of such purchasing shifts was found by McKendree et al. (2014) who reported that 14% of U.S. consumers surveyed had reduced their consumption of pork by 56% on average because of animal welfare concerns. Siegrist and Hartmann (2019) reported that consumers who were more health conscious and those who perceived there to be high environmental impacts of meat were more likely to choose meat substitutes. Further, a 2020 U.S. Gallup poll reported that 23% of Americans had reduced their consumption of meat, with ethical concerns such as those related to environmental and animal welfare impacts influencing their choices ( McCarthy and DeKoster, 2020 ).

Several companies have taken note, resulting in significant investment and effort towards the development of plant-based alternatives to meat, such as Beyond Beef and Impossible Meat products. The proliferation and marketing of these protein sources bolstered the arguments against the necessity of eating meat. Simultaneously, public sentiment relating to meat consumption in western countries appears to be increasingly influenced by social pressure exerted through the high volume of media ( He J. et al., 2020 ), social media, scholars ( Godfray et al., 2018 ), NGOs, and others who advocate for reduced or no meat consumption ( de Boer et al., 2017 ). However, recent reports of the poor performance of alternative meat food offerings, and in some cases removal from menus or dis-investment, strongly hint at issues of consumer acceptance ( Olsen, 2022 ).

Although people in most countries continue to eat meat, the idea that vegetarianism is virtuous and morally responsible is being socially normed. The positioning of meat eating as less virtuous is reflected in studies reporting that those who eat meat appear to be less sensitive to animal and environmental concerns ( Piazza et al., 2015 ). Further, it has been suggested that some meat eaters may adopt thinking that relieves them of any associated cognitive dissonance (discomfort created by behaving in ways that are inconsistent with one’s stated beliefs or values). In other words, people may develop strategies to reconcile having strong social and emotional bonds with animals, and salient knowledge about their sentience and cognitive capacities, while also eating them ( Croney et al., 2004 ; Piazza et al., 2015 ). It is therefore not surprising that especially in the published literature, far fewer individuals and groups attempt to make, or succeed at making, compelling ethical arguments for eating meat. For those who try, their motivation and credibility may be called into question and the visibility of their work (and the related scientific basis for their arguments) may be relatively low. This hints at the current social and ethical challenges of defending meat consumption. Recent advances in biotechnology and cellular biology have added a new wrinkle to the discussion of using animals to produce food, perhaps further weakening the perceived case for continued meat production and consumption.

Given changing consumer preferences and ongoing concerns relating to climate change, environmental pollution, human health, and the eco-preservation of natural resources, including water, the moral case for meat must be revisited. A narrative outline of the scientific arguments for and against meat eating are insufficient to accomplish this goal. This paper therefore examines whether meat eating is ethically defensible using tenets of Campbell’s ethics assessment process ( Campbell and Hare, 1997 ; Croney and Anthony, 2010 ), while considering the need for viable, sustainable sources of protein in developed and developing nations.

Whether or not one should eat meat is inherently an ethical question. While science may help to inform the answers to such questions, science alone is insufficient to address them given their value-laden nature. Expanding the inquiry into whether meat eating, in general, should continue transforms the question into one that has far-reaching socio-ethical implications for a greater number of diverse stakeholders. Under such circumstances, it is essential to ensure that the broadest group of impacts, interests, and values are accounted for and duly considered. Ethical accounting processes, such as that offered by Campbell and Hare ( Campbell and Hare, 1997 ; Croney and Anthony, 2010 ), provide a means by which to incorporate relevant factual information into decision-making about ethical questions. This approach facilitates deliberation rather than debate about the potential courses of action, culminating in an examination of the moral justification for a wider range of options than might otherwise be considered ( Croney and Anthony, 2010 ). Moral deliberation is particularly important when the relevant scientific information available on the topic of interest is lacking to some degree or is ambiguous. In such instances, the values of the decision-makers may become the primary drivers of the solutions proposed. This creates the risk of unjustly disenfranchising many who might be impacted whose priorities and needs might be overlooked. Ethical accounting therefore facilitates both inclusiveness and transparency in decision-making that has significant social impact. Because the ethical justification for meat consumption holds both personal and societal implications, we examine the merits of the arguments using Campbell’s ethics assessment process as outlined by Croney and Anthony (2010) . The process includes: ethical fact finding (review of all relevant scientific or factual information); uncovering of embedded values that may be in conflict; moral imagination (ideation about possible solutions through evaluating the quality of arguments for them and the degree to which each option addresses the social, ethical, scientific, and economic concerns involved); and moral justification and testing of proposed solutions.

As previously stated, the ethical arguments against meat eating have been well detailed on the grounds of animal rights welfare ( Singer, 1975 ; Regan, 1983 ; Francione, 2022 ), environmental impact, and human health ( Gunderson, 2015 ). Given the extensive reviews that argue for plant-based diets based on these concerns, this paper will not offer a retread of the previously published ideas. Readers are encouraged to examine the original publications to fully appreciate their influence on contemporary moral philosophy and public discourse about animal use. However, to facilitate moral deliberation, each of these areas of concern must be included in ethical accounting, requiring at minimum, a brief synopsis of the moral considerations they highlight.

A fundamental question examined within the areas of animal rights, welfare, environmental impact, and justice is whether eating animals does harm. Regan’s (1983) foundational thesis unambiguously concluded that animals meet the conditions for having rights (i.e., they are subjects of lives, they have inherent value and preference autonomy) and therefore they cannot be used as mere means to an end (in this case, food). Depriving animals of their lives is the ultimate harm. Singer’s (1975) seminal work arguing that animals are sentient beings capable of suffering, and that human uses that cause them suffering cannot be justified clearly applies to the rearing and killing of animals for food. The sentience of animals and its relationship to animal welfare is scientifically supported and has been formally recognized by the World Animal Health Organization ( OIE, 2017 ). Further, while numerous studies on the welfare of farmed animals have attempted to evaluate and identify ways to minimize distress, pain, and suffering they may experience from rearing to death, it is currently impossible to entirely avoid such negative states ( Dawkins, 2016 ; CAST, 2018 ). As such, some harm (beyond death) is inevitable.

Likewise, scholars focused on environmental impact have linked meat production with degradation of ecosystem quality, including air, soil, and water quality, and depletion of resources, such as water and land ( De Vries and De Boer, 2010 ; Ernstoff et al., 2019 ). Relatedly, environmental justice, which aims to ensure that environmental hazards and their health effects do not disproportionately impact communities that are already disadvantaged (for instance as a result of minority or lower socio-economic status) have suggested that meat production and consumption indeed causes such harms ( Gunderson, 2015 ). Recently, Chamanara et al. (2021) reported that in a study of a major retailer’s supply chain in California, communities living near feedlots were predominantly lower income Latinx who experienced high levels of air pollution and significant health problems related to poor air quality, such as asthma and heart disease. Similar arguments are advanced by Hull et al., (2023) who suggested that because of the animal, environmental, and human-health impacts of meat eating, the medical profession may be morally obligated to promote plant-based diets.

Values that are embedded within each of these areas of ethical concern include protecting others from harm, benevolence (doing good), justice, and fairness. However, especially in the case of the animal rights and welfare arguments, a single-dimension problem focus emerges that prioritizes the interests of a rather limited set of stakeholders (animals). This is unsurprising given that the related philosophies were advanced specifically to center animals as subjects of moral concern. Nonetheless, in the context of contemporary global decision-making about food choices, the limited scope of primary stakeholder consideration inherent to such philosophies presents a problem for ethical decision-making. Significant ethical concerns are raised when public discussions about abandoning meat production and consumption do not adequately consider the broadest group of stakeholders, including people with lower income status and others who might be directly impacted. Such concerns are exacerbated when proposed alternatives fail to address valid socio-ethical, scientific, or economic concerns about moving to a solely plant-based diet, or when the solutions offered cannot yet be practically and equitably implemented. Moreover, in presenting the antimeat arguments, animal, environmental, and human interests are often framed competitively, though all of these must be balanced to achieve just, accessible, sustainable food systems.

Arguments in support of meat consumption are noticeably scant and are therefore more detailed in this paper. First, the historical and cultural significance of eating meat cannot be overlooked. Meat consumption is closely linked with human co-evolution with animals, and throughout history and across diverse cultures, social gathering has often incorporated the sharing of meat ( Monteiro et al., 2017 ). Some have even argued that the cooperation required to procure meat and the act of sharing it despite its scarcity in early human evolution contributed to the development of human morality ( Mameli, 2013 ; DeBacker and Hudders, 2015 ). However, arguments based on tradition are far less compelling when we consider how knowledge, values, and related beliefs have evolved over time, resulting in reduced social acceptability or abandonment of many other long-held traditions and practices.

Proponents of keeping meat in the diet often point to the historical or anthropological record of meat eating by humans, thus, implying its “naturalness,” and the nutritional benefits associated with meat consumption are often cited in support of it. Though these points are scientifically accurate, alone, they present inadequate moral arguments. First, given the degree to which today’s livestock and poultry have been altered through genetic selection and newer developments in genetic engineering ( Croney et al., 2018 ), “dietary naturalness” arguments for commercially produced meats may be questionable to some. The nutritional value of meat makes for a stronger case ( Klurfeld, 2018 ) as the current generation of plant-based meat alternatives still lack equal nutrient value with meat, such as vitamin B12, zinc, and protein ( Harnack et al., 2021 ). However, if new alternative protein sources derived from cell-based technologies can offer the same or equivalent benefits, this argument may be undermined.

Though the case against meat heavily emphasizes the negative environmental and ecological problems created by meat production, there are important and inadequately examined rationales to support meat consumption in these same domains. For example, proponents of regenerative agriculture ( Rowntree et al., 2020 ) have argued that there are significant global limits to arable land for growing crops for protein purposes. This presents very real challenges for those who reside in geographic regions with little to no arable land, which constrains adoption of a primarily or purely plant-based diet. Few philosophical arguments in favor of eliminating meat from human diets engage this concern or offer practical, affordable solutions for those impacted. Further, in many such regions (and in other parts of the world), there is an availability of grasslands that support grazing ruminants. Through the use of regenerative grazing practices, there are significant eco-benefits derived, including improvements to soil health, promoting greater CO 2 sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gases, restoration of biodiversity, and production of high-quality protein for human consumption (see Spratt et al., 2021 and elsewhere in this issue, Thompson et al., 2023 ).

Relatedly, an argument for meat eating that connects both to ecological and animal welfare considerations is that a diet that includes some consumption of grazing animals may cause less harm relative to total numbers of animals killed than one that is vegan ( Davis, 2003 ). Davis argued that the intensive cropping systems required to produce vegan diets potentially lead to the death of 1.8 billion field-dwelling animals. Because pasture-forage production systems that support grazing animals require less harvesting with equipment such as tractors that kill field animals, Davis speculated that less use of such equipment would cause fewer field animal deaths. Even after considering the number of ruminant animals that might be killed for human consumption in a hybrid plant per ruminant diet, Davis estimated that it would still be fewer (1.42 billion) than those lost due to vegan diets. Consequently, he concluded that based on Regan’s (1983) Least Harm Principle, people may be morally obligated to consume at least some meat to reduce the overall harm done to animals.

Given the vast amount of arable land that would be necessary to support vegan diets for all humans, it could be argued that such a diet is neither practical nor ecologically sustainable, further supporting a partially meat-based diet as ethically defensible. However, to date, few philosophers, and others in favor of vegetarian and vegan diets have seriously engaged this point or Davis’ (2003) arguments. Archer (2011) later attempted a similar argument as Davis based on estimated animal field deaths in Australian cropping systems. However, Archer’s claims were challenged by Fischer and Lamey (2018) , who questioned the basis for his (2011) calculations. They also rejected Davis’ (2003) arguments despite noting that he might have underestimated field animal deaths. They concluded that deriving robust estimates of field deaths is difficult due to the variety of animals affected and suggested this challenge as a plausible reason for the lack of engagement on this topic. Nonetheless, they raised the argument that technological innovation might be able to significantly reduce the deaths of field animals and that such pursuits are critical to ensuring humane food choices. Interestingly, an identical argument can be made for those seeking to support meat consumption while also being mindful of the need to mitigate harm caused to animals. Though one might argue that the morally salient difference is intention to kill, the effect on the animals themselves is ultimately what matters if indeed animal welfare, sentience, and protection from harm are high priorities in deliberations about the morality of meat consumption.

Thompson (2021) states that there has been a failure by philosophers engaged in animal ethics to provide guidance to the animal agriculture community that could facilitate improvements to farm animal welfare. He refers to this failure as the “vanishing ethics of animal husbandry”, and claims that a “structural narcissism” has descended on the philosophers who have dominated discussions about livestock and poultry production. Instead of answering the more difficult questions posed by modern animal husbandry practices, they instead offer “oversimplified and rhetorical overstatements” of the practices used in livestock and poultry production. Thompson sees this abandonment by animal ethicists as a missed opportunity to contribute to practical solutions.

Building on Thompson’s (2021) observations, in philosophical debates about the merits of meat consumption, the effects of shifting primarily to plant-based protein sources on local communities and ecosystems, especially in developing countries, are often inadequately explored. In Bolivia, for instance, where quinoa (and llamas) are major agricultural commodities, Jacobsen (2011) reported that the rapid growth in demand for the plant resulted in intensive cultivation practices in parts of the country that led to land degradation in some areas, loss of grazing areas for llamas, and shifts in Andean farmers’ diets to less nutritious food sources. Here, prioritization of the demands, and values of the affluent may have resulted in unintended negative consequences requiring scientific, technological, and educational interventions even though there were economic benefits for Indigenous people. These outcomes underscore the need for deliberation that is inclusive of all stakeholders and facilitates an envisioning of the consequences of shifting to plant-based diets that meet human protein requirements before attempting to advance such transformational food agendas.

Finally, in contemporary discussions about meat eating, there is often insufficient focus on retaining the broadest array of dietary options given the diversity of needs and ability to access food that currently exists globally. It is important to remember that in many parts of the developed and developing world, undernutrition, and inability to access sufficient protein remain ongoing problems for numerous people, especially women and children. For example, the World Health Organization reported that 149 million children under the age of 5 are stunted due to malnourishment and have a 45% death rate attributed to the same cause ( WHO, 2021 ). Micronutrients including iodine, Vitamin A and iron were singled out as deficiencies of global concern. While there are good reasons for deliberating about our eating habits and those of others, it is easy to forget that in both developed and developing nations, many people do not have the luxury of choosing their diets (elsewhere in this issue, Ederer et al., 2023 ). Access to adequate food is a well-established human right ( United Nations, 1999 ) Therefore, any related moral reasoning exercise should consider whether it is just to deny others access to high quality and digestible protein foods, like meat, which could alleviate poor nutritional status, especially for those who subsist on foods of inadequate quality and low nutritional value. This is not to say that we should overlook or diminish the diverse concerns associated with meat consumption. Rather, we should be careful to avoid moral and cultural imperialism and the stigmatizing of others in discussions about what constitutes “good” food choices. The obligation to meet the needs of the growing global population for food suggests it may be ethically problematic to reduce rather than increase the number of options available to people who want and need high quality protein.

Given the ethical and social responsibility concerns related to traditionally produced meat products, it should come as no surprise that innovation in science and technology has been looked to for solutions. Scientific developments in stem cell harvesting and in vitro technology have resulted in the successful production of laboratory-grown meat ( Post, 2014 ; Post et al. 2020 ). Cultured meat shows promise to attain a biological and nutritional equivalency to traditionally harvested meat that plant-based substitutes have yet to achieve. The scientific advancements and benefits related to cultured meat are outlined elsewhere in this issue (see Wood et al., 2023 ).

However, cultured meat, while perhaps offering a means by which to assuage several ethical challenges, may not be the panacea that some envision. Lab-grown meat production still requires animals as a resource for the harvest of stem cells. The conditions under which animals might be maintained and the procedures to which they might be subjected for cell harvesting warrant as much scrutiny relative to their impacts on animal welfare as does traditional farming ( Croney et al., 2018 ). Thus, some concerns about the welfare of animals reared and killed for meat, may be addressed with cultured meat, but they are not entirely erased. In addition, key stakeholders, such as ranchers, who might be displaced or disenfranchised by a shift to cultured meat, should be thoughtfully considered in moral deliberation about this potential option. Far too often, philosophical arguments dismissively suggest that ranchers should “simply find new jobs”. This level of disregard de-prioritizes ranchers and others directly impacted by conclusions that meat consumption should be readily abandoned. This is inconsistent with the notion that moral deliberation should consider the interests of all stakeholders, while transparently prioritizing values and properly accounting for those who are adversely impacted by the resulting decisions.

In short, though cultured meat is very likely to address many of the ethical problems associated with farming animals for meat, new challenges may emerge that are unlikely to be easily addressed. Further consideration must also be given to consumer acceptability (which cannot be presumed) and the impacts of such technological innovation on developed and developing nations with diverse cultural backgrounds, preferences, values, and resources.

Whether and to what extent meat consumption should continue into the future is open to debate. Consumer perceptions studies conducted in developed nations suggest that moving forward, people will continue to eat meat, though it is likely that the frequency and amount of meat eaten may decline depending on individual demographics, knowledge, and values relating to animals, the environment, and human health. The debate about whether meat consumption is ethically defensible , though, remains. Though the available scientific information is equivocal in some areas, as previously outlined, meat production does entail harm to animals and has significant implications for environmental and human health. However, there is also harm in entirely abandoning meat consumption at this point in time, not just for human health, but for food equity, justice, and economic viability for diverse stakeholders, including many of the most vulnerable in society. A purely plant-based diet is not feasible for all given constraints on arable land, and the economic and environmental costs of importing foods into such regions would introduce or exacerbate food security and access issues. Furthermore, plant-based diets clearly contribute to harming vast numbers of field animals whose lives and interests matter as much as animals raised for agricultural purposes. Whether or not the average person has a personal connection to field animals and related investment in their protection is irrelevant if indeed animal rights and welfare are deemed important enough to be factored into ethical assessment of our dietary choices. To argue otherwise is logically and morally inconsistent.However, to deprioritize human rights to food today (especially considering the urgency of meeting global protein needs) in favor of animal rights and current and future environmental protection is neither defensible nor necessary. Instead, alternatives that better protect animals, people, and the environment from foreseeable, avoidable harms should be explored. We therefore support the ideas of Shannon et al. (2015) who suggest taking the approach of combining “the principles of human rights and the values of public health with an agroecological perspective”.

How might this occur? Meat industry members and stakeholders should deliberately and thoughtfully engage the arguments against meat eating. This must be done not just with rhetoric (although effective communication with the public should always be a priority). Instead,  what should occur is more concerted, collaborative effort and investment in the scientific advances needed to address the outstanding ethical problems associated with meat production and consumption, such as animal welfare. Innovation in alternative production, such as cultured meat and meat-alternatives are imperfect but important steps toward meeting changing societal expectations in more affluent countries. In addition, Shannon et al. (2015) propose several policy strategies covering production, marketing, processing, distribution, access, consumption, and overall food systems that could be evaluated in the context of more current science and practice. While some of their recommendations are likely to be contentious, reasonable requirements for greater oversight in areas such as antimicrobial stewardship, natural resource conservation, and protection of farm workers might be incorporated to reduce harms associated with meat eating. Our collective suggestions would permit retaining meat consumption with modifications (e.g., the amount of meat consumed, and the attributes and type of production). This option, while imperfect, and notably infringing on animal rights, benefits the broadest group of stakeholders. It duly considers their interests and the values of protecting others (including animals and the environment) from a more diverse set of harms, promoting more just, sustainable food systems, and reducing inequities in food access and security. Under these specified conditions, some meat consumption could be morally justified and even regarded as ethically preferable as it not only offers a practical option, it also potentially reduces some forms of harm. This is particularly the case if the harms considered include the inequity of allowing those who are affluent, empowered, and food secure to constrain the dietary options available to those who are socially, politically, and economically disempowered.

Moving forward, we must be open to discussing what food availability and security means in the global context, how climate change will impact our natural resources and the food dynamic, and where the ethical boundaries are drawn with respect to what we eat and the multitude of factors that affect our choices and those of others. “Food shaming” in any form must be avoided in discussions of what we eat given the constraints on food security, quality, access, and affordability faced by many who are often the subjects of and rarely the agents of public discussions and decision-making. To that end, we must also be open to discussing current and future natural resource limitations and pro-actively seek solutions that are scientifically sound and ethically supported. This includes actively engaging or discovering new methods to produce high quality food, including meat and not just foods perceived to hold the “moral high ground”. Finally, we must be pro-actively prepared to face the possibility that life-sustaining natural resource scarcity like water may force choices, both social and political, that may cause a reduction or phase-out of using animals to produce some foods, including meat and water intensive crops.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Candace Croney is director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science and professor of animal behavior and well-being in the departments of Comparative Pathobiology and Animal Sciences. Her animal-focused research, teaching, and outreach efforts include enhancing the welfare of companion and agricultural animals through developing and refining noninvasive metrics of welfare, including animal behavior, cognition, and health, and translating these into standards and guidelines. Her scholarship and outreach on the human dimensions of animal welfare examine public perceptions of animal agriculture and welfare, bioethical considerations relating to animal care and use, and their socio-political and practical implications.


Dr. Janice Swanson is a professor in the Departments of Animal Science and Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University. Her area of focus is social responsibility in the food system as it relates to farm animal welfare. Dr. Swanson is a member of the MSU Animal Behavior and Welfare Group which conducts research into problems and issues of farm animal behavior and welfare. Her leadership and outreach efforts include the development of evidence-based food industry and commodity level animal welfare policies, standards and guidelines, public policy, and educational programming for the public and other stakeholders in the food system.


Conflict of interest statement. None declared.

Archer ,  M . 2011 . Ordering the vegetarian meal? There is more blood on your hands. The Conversation . (accessed December 7, 2022 ).

Baltzer ,  K . 2004 . Consumers’ willingness to pay for food quality—the case of eggs . Acta Agric. Scand. C Food Econ . 1 : 78 – 90 . doi: 10.1080/16507540410024506

Google Scholar

Botonaki ,  A. , K.   Polymeros , E.   Tsakiridou , and K.   Mattas . 2006 . The role of food quality certification on consumers’ food choices . Br. Food J . 108 : 77 – 90 . doi: 10.1108/00070700610644906

Burini ,  R.C. and W.R.   Leonard . 2018 . The evolutionary roles of nutrition selection and dietary quality in the human brain size and encephalization . Nutrire . 43 : 19 . doi: 10.1186/s41110-018-0078-x

Campbell ,  C.S. , and J.M.   Hare . 1997 . Ethical literacy in gerontology programs . Gerontol. Geriatr. Educ . 17 ( 4 ): 3 – 16 . doi: 10.1300/j021v17n04_02

Chamanara ,  S. , B.   Goldstein , and J.P.   Newell . 2021 . Where’s the beef? Costco’s meat supply chain and environmental justice in California . J. Clean. Product . 278 : 123744 . doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.123744

Council for Agricultural, Science and Technology . 2018 . Scientific, ethical and economic aspects of farm animal welfare. In: C.C.   Croney , J.A.   Mench , and W.   Muir , editors. Task Force Report R-143. (accessed December 9, 2022 ).

Croney ,  C.C. , and R.   Anthony . 2010 . Engaging science in a climate of values: tools for animal scientists tasked with addressing ethical problems . J. Anim. Sci . 88 (suppl_13 ): E75 – E81 . doi: 10.2527/jas.2009-2353

Croney ,  C. , and R.   Anthony . 2014 . Food animal production, ethics, and quality assurance. In P.B.   Thompson , and D.   Kaplan editors. Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics . New York, NY : Springer ; p.  1 – 10 .

Google Preview

Croney ,  C.C. , B.   Gardener , and S.   Baggott . 2004 . Beyond animal husbandry: the study of farm animal cognition and ensuing ethical issues . Essays Philos . 5 ( 2 ): 391 – 403 . doi: 10.5840/eip20045213

Croney ,  C. , W.   Muir , J.Q.   Ni , N.O.   Widmar , and G.   Varner . 2018 . An overview of engineering approaches to improving agricultural animal welfare . J. Agric. Environ. Ethics . 31 ( 2 ): 143 – 159 . doi: 10.1007/s10806-018-9716-9

Davis ,  S.L . 2003 . The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet . J. Agric. Environ. Ethics . 16 : 387 – 394 . doi: 10.1023/a:1025638030686

Dawkins ,  M.S . 2016 . Animal welfare and efficient farming: is conflict inevitable? Anim. Prod. Sci . 57 ( 2 ): 201 – 208 . doi: 10.1071/AN15383

De Backer ,  C.J. , and L.   Hudders . 2015 . Meat morals: relationship between meat consumption consumer attitudes towards human and animal welfare and moral behavior . Meat Sci . 99 : 68 – 74 . doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2014.08.011

de Boer ,  J. , H.   Schösler , and H.   Aiking . 2017 . Towards a reduced meat diet: mindset and motivation of young vegetarians, low, medium and high meat-eaters . Appetite . 113 : 387 – 397 . doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.03.007

De Vries ,  M. , and I.J.M.   de Boer . 2010 . Comparing environmental impacts for livestock products: a review of life cycle assessments . Livest. Sci . 128 (1–3 ): 1 – 11 . doi: 10.1016/j.livsci.2009.11.007

Delgado ,  C.L. , N.   Wada , M.W.   Rosegrant , S.   Meijer , and M.   Ahmed . 2003 . Fish to 2020: supply and demand in changing global markets. International Food Policy Research Institute and WorldFish Center. WorldFish Center Technical Report 62.

Ederer ,  P. , S.   Tarawali , I.   Baltenweck , J.N.   Blignaut , and C.   Moretti . 2023 . Affordability of meat for global consumers and the need to sustain investment capacity for livestock farmers . Anim. Front . 13 ( 2 ).

Ernstoff ,  A. , Q.   Tu , M.   Faist , A.   Del Duce , S.   Mandlebaum , and J.   Dettling . 2019 . Comparing the environmental impacts of meatless and meat-containing meals in the United States . Sustainability . 11 ( 22 ): 6235 . doi: 103390/su11226235

FAO . 2021 . The state of food security and nutrition in the world . Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations . (accessed December 7, 2022 ).

Fischer ,  B. , and A.   Lamey . 2018 . Field deaths in plant agriculture . J. Agric. Environ. Ethics . 31 : 409 – 428 . doi: 10.1007/s10806-018-9733-8

Francione ,  G . 2022 . Letters to the Editor. Animal welfare and society - part 1. Viewpoints of a philosopher . Anim. Front . 12 ( 1 ): 43 – 47 . doi: 10.1093/af/vfac006

Godfray ,  H.C.J. , P.   Aveyard , T.   Garnett , J.W.   Hall , T.J.   Key , J.   Lorimer , R.T.   Pierrehumbert , P.   Scarborough , M.   Springmann , and S.   Jebb . 2018 . Meat consumption, health, and the environment . Science . 361 : 6399 . doi: 10.1126/science.aam5324

Gunderson ,  R . 2015 . Meat and inequality. In: J.   Emel , and H.   Neo , editors. Political Ecologies of Meat . London: Routledge, p.  101 – 109 . doi: 10.4324/9781315818283

Harnack ,  L. , Mork ,  S. , Valluri ,  S. , Weber   C. , Schmitz   K. , Stevenson ,  J. , and Pettit ,  J . 2021 . Nutrient composition of a selection of plant-based ground beef alternative products available in the United States . J. Acad. Nutr. Diet . 121 ( 12 ): 2401 – 2408.e12 . doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2021.05.002

He ,  J. , N.M.   Evans , H.   Liu , and S.   Shao . 2020 . A review of research on plant-based meat alternatives: driving forces, history, manufacturing, and consumer attitudes . Compr. Rev. Food Sci. Food Saf . 19 ( 5 ): 2639 – 2656 . doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12610

Hull ,  S.C. , J.   Charles , and A.L.   Caplan . 2023 . Are we what we eat? The moral imperative of the medical profession to promote plant-based nutrition . Am. J. Cardiol . 188 : 15 – 21 . doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2022.10.006

Klurfeld ,  D.M . 2018 . What is the role of meat in a healthy diet? Anim. Front . 8 ( 3 ): 5 – 10 . doi: 10.1093/af/vfy009

Jacobsen ,  S.E . 2011 . The situation for quinoa and its production in southern Bolivia: from economic success to environmental disaster . J. Agron. Crop Sci . 197 ( 5 ): 390 – 399 . doi: 10.1111/j.1439-037x.2011.00475.x

Leroy ,  F. , N.   Smith , A.T.   Adesogan , T.   Beal , L.   Iannotti , P.J.   Moughan , and N.   Mann . 2023 . The role of meat in the human diet: evolutionary aspects and nutritional value . Anim. Front . 13 ( 2 ).

Mameli ,  M . 2013 . Meat made us moral: a hypothesis on the nature and evolution of moral judgment . Biol. Philos . 28 ( 6 ): 903 – 931 . doi: 10.1007/s10539-013-9401-3

McCarthy ,  J. , and S.   DeKoster . 2020 . Nearly one in four have cut back on eating meat . Gallup News, Economy . (accessed December 9, 2022 ).

McKendree ,  M.G. , C.C.   Croney , and N.O.   Widmar . 2014 . Effects of demographic factors and information sources on United States consumer perceptions of animal welfare . J. Anim. Sci . 92 ( 7 ): 3161 – 3173 . doi: 10.2527/jas.2014-6874

Monteiro ,  C.A. , T.M.   Pfeiler , M.D.   Patterson , and M.A.   Milburn . 2017 . The carnism inventory: measuring the ideology of eating animals . Appetite . 113 : 51 – 62 . doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.02.011

Morgan ,  C.J. , C.C.   Croney , and Widmar ,  N.J . 2016 . Exploring relationships between ethical consumption, lifestyle choices, and social responsibility . Adv. Appl. Sociol . 6 : 199 – 216 . doi: 10.4236/aasoci.2016.65017

OIE Global Animal Welfare Strategy . 2017 . Paris, France : World Organisation for Animal Health . (accessed December 9, 2022 ).

Olen ,  H . 2022 . Opinion: falling sales suggest plant-based meat maybe all hat, and no cattle . Washington Post , November 7, 2022. (accessed December 7, 2022 ).

Piazza ,  J. , M.B.   Ruby , S.   Loughnan , M.   Luong , J.   Kulik , H.M.   Watkins , and M.   Seigerman . 2015 . Rationalizing meat consumption. The 4Ns . Appetite . 91 : 114 – 128 . doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.011

Post ,  M.J . 2014 . An alternative animal protein source: cultured beef . Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci . 1328 ( 1 ): 29 – 33 . doi: 10.1111/nyas.12569

Post ,  M.J. , S.   Levenberg , D.L.   Kaplan , N.   Genovese , J.   Fu , C.J.   Bryant , N.   Negowettii , K.   Verzijden , and P.   Moutsatsou . 2020 . Scientific, sustainability and regulatory challenges of cultured meat . Nat. Food . 1 : 403 – 415 . doi: 10.1038/s43016-020-0112-z

Regan ,  T . 1983 . The case for animal rights . Berkeley : University of California Press .

Rowntree ,  J.E. , P.L.   Stanley , I.C.F.   Maciel , M.   Thorbecke , S.G.   Rosenzweig , D.W.   Hancock , A.   Guzman , and M.R.   Raven . 2020 . Ecosystem impacts and productive capacity of multi-species pastured livestock system . Front. Sustain. Food Sys . 4 : 1 – 13 . doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984

Shannon ,  K.L. , B.F.   Kim , S.E.   McKenzie , and R.S.   Lawrence . 2015 . Food system policy, public health, and human rights in the United States . Ann. Rev. Public Health . 36 ( 1 ): 151 – 173 . doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122621

Siegrist ,  M. , and C.   Hartmann . 2019 . Impact of sustainability perception on consumption of organic meat and meat substitutes . Appetite . 132 : 196 – 202 . doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.09.016

Singer ,  P . 1975 . Animal liberation . New York : Random House .

Spratt ,  E. , J.   Jordan , J.   Winsten , P.   Huff , C.   van Schaik , J.   Grimsbo , M.F.   Jewett , J. , Luhman , E.   Meier , and L.   Paine . 2021 . Viewpoint: accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest . J. Soil Water Conserv . 76 ( 1 ): 15a – 23a . doi: 10.2489/jswc.2021.1209A

Thompson ,  P.B . 2021 . The vanishing ethics of husbandry. In: Animals in our midst: the challenges of co-existing with animals in the anthropocene . Cham : Springer ; p.  203 – 221 .

Thompson ,  L. , J.   Rowntree , W.   Windisch , S.M.   Waters , L.   Shalloo , and P.   Manzano . 2023 . Ecosystem management using livestock: embracing diversity and respecting ecological principles . Anim. Front . 13 ( 2 ).

United Nations Committee on Economics, Social, and Cultural Rights . 1999 . General Comment No. 12: The Right to Adequate Food (Art. 11 of the Covenant) . G eneva, Switzerland . (accessed December 9, 2022 ).

Verbeke ,  W. , and J.   Viaene . 1999 . Beliefs, attitude and behaviour towards fresh meat consumption in Belgium: empirical evidence from a consumer survey . Food Qual. Prefer . 10 ( 6 ): 437 – 445 . doi: 10.1016/S0950-3293(99)00031-2

Wood ,  P. , L.   Thorrez , J.F.   Hocquette , and D.   Troy . 2023 “Cellular Agriculture”: current gaps between facts and claims regarding “cell-based meat.” Anim. Front . 13 ( 2 ).

World Health Organization . 2021 . Malnutrition. Factsheet . (accessed November 8, 2022 ).

Email alerts

Citing articles via.

  • Recommend to Your Librarian
  • Advertising and Corporate Services


Animal Frontiers

  • Online ISSN 2160-6064
  • Print ISSN 2160-6056
  • Copyright © 2023 American Society of Animal Science
  • About Oxford Academic
  • Publish journals with us
  • University press partners
  • What we publish
  • New features  
  • Open access
  • Institutional account management
  • Rights and permissions
  • Get help with access
  • Accessibility
  • Advertising
  • Media enquiries
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Languages
  • University of Oxford

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide

  • Copyright © 2023 Oxford University Press
  • Cookie settings
  • Cookie policy
  • Privacy policy
  • Legal notice

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.

research paper on eating animals

Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty

Why you should eat meat

Not eating animals is wrong. if you care about animals, then the right thing to do is breed them, kill them and eat them.

by Nick Zangwill   + BIO

If you care about animals, you should eat them. It is not just that you may do so, but you should do so. In fact, you owe it to animals to eat them. It is your duty. Why? Because eating animals benefits them and has benefitted them for a long time. Breeding and eating animals is a very long-standing cultural institution that is a mutually beneficial relationship between human beings and animals. We bring animals into existence, care for them, rear them, and then kill and eat them. From this, we get food and other animal products, and they get life. Both sides benefit. I should say that by ‘animals’ here, I mean nonhuman animals. It is true that we are also animals, but we are also more than that, in a way that makes a difference.

It is true that the practice does not benefit an animal at the moment we eat it. The benefit to the animal on our dinner table lies in the past. Nevertheless, even at that point, it has benefitted by its destiny of being killed and eaten. The existence of that animal, and animals of its kind, depends on human beings killing and eating animals of that kind. Domesticated animals exist in the numbers they do only because there is a practice of eating them. For example, the many millions of sheep in New Zealand would not begin to survive in the wild. They exist only because human beings eat them. The meat-eating practice benefits them greatly and has benefitted them greatly. So, we should eat them. Not eating them is wrong, and it lets these animals down.

Of course, the animals we eat should have good lives, and so the worst kind of factory farming is not justified by this argument, since these animals have no quality of life. Life is not enough; it must be life with a certain quality. But some farmed animals do have good lives overall, and sheep farming in New Zealand is an example . Perhaps a minority of meat produced in the world today involves such happy animals. But it is a significant minority, one that justifies much eating of those happy animals. If demand shifted to these animals, there would be fewer animals in existence than there actually are. But that is OK, since the argument is not a maximising one, but an appeal to history.

Yes, there is the day of the abattoir, and the sad death of the animal, which is not usually as free from pain and suffering as it might be. And there is other pain and suffering in the lives of those animals, such as when mothers are separated from their young. However, the pleasure and happiness of animals also matters, and it may outweigh pain and suffering – something usually overlooked by most of those who affect to care for animals. The emphasis among the defenders of so-called ‘animal rights’ on animal pain and suffering while ignoring animal pleasure and happiness is bizarre and disturbing. Human beings suffer, and their deaths are often miserable. But few would deem their entire lives worthless because of that. Likewise, why should the gloomy and unpleasant end of many of the animals we eat cast a negative shadow over their entire lives up to that point?

I suspect that the pleasure and happiness of animals is overlooked because they are not of our species. This is a kind of speciesism that particularly afflicts devotees of ‘animals rights’. All lives have their ups and downs; and this is true for animals as well as human beings. Both ups and downs are important.

I t is this ongoing history of mutual benefit that generates a moral duty of human beings to eat animals. Were the practice beneficial only to one of the two parties, that would perhaps not justify persisting with it. But both benefit. In fact, animals benefit a lot more than human beings do. For human beings could survive as vegetarians or vegans, whereas very few domesticated animals could survive many human beings being vegetarians or vegans. Indeed, if many human beings became vegetarians or vegans, it would be the greatest disaster that there has ever been for animals since the time that an asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species.

Vegetarians and vegans are the natural enemies of domesticated animals that are bred to be eaten. Of course, not all vegetarians and vegans are alike. Quite a few vegetarians and vegans are not motivated by animal rights or welfare, but by a feeling of taboo or pollution – a revulsion at the idea of eating animal flesh. For such vegetarians and vegans, roadkill is off the menu. Unlike the appeal to animal rights or the welfare of animals, this is a reason I respect. But such vegetarians and vegans should admit that acting on these feelings is bad for animals.

Do the motives of carnivores and farmers matter? Typically, they are not high-mindedly concerned with the welfare of animals. But if there are beneficial effects on animals as a side-effect of impure motives, we might think that is all that matters. Or: we might follow Immanuel Kant in distinguishing between treating humans or animals as a means, which may be acceptable, and treating them merely as a means, which is not. So long as carnivores and farmers have the former motives, not the latter, there is no complaint against them.

Small-scale farming in which animals have good lives does not harm the environment much

It is because history matters that we should not eat dogs that were originally bred to be pets or for work. The dog-human institution licenses only the behaviour that is in accordance with its historical function . Eating dogs would violate that tradition. The reason that these domesticated animals exist makes a difference.

Carnivorous institutions do not exist in isolation. Whatever may be the benefit or harms to the animals and human beings that are its participants, there are also further effects of the practice that may be considered. First, consider some positive effects. There are the gustatory pleasures of human beings. There are some health benefits to human beings. There is employment for many who work in the meat industry. There are the aesthetic benefits of countryside with charming grazing animals in elegant, well-maintained fields.

However, the big negative, for many people is climate, and the effects, mostly, of cattle burping and farting. Does not climate give us reason to be vegetarian or vegan? Well, since the problem mostly comes from cows, one option would be to move to eating other kinds of animals in greater numbers. Moreover, the climate damage is mostly due to very intensive factory farming, which I do not defend because the animals do not have good lives. Indeed, the evidence is that small-scale farming in which animals have good lives does not harm the environment much, and it may even benefit it.

T he argument from historical benefit does not apply to wild animals, which are in an entirely different category. Human beings did not create these animals with a purpose, and so we do not owe them anything in virtue of that relationship, although, as sentient beings, their lives deserve respect. Can we hunt them for food if we are hungry, or kill them if they harm us? Probably yes, depending on the degree of need and the degree of harm. Can we hunt them purely for sport? Perhaps not. They have their conscious lives, and who are we to take it away from them without cause?

The lives of wild animals are an endless cycle of trauma, pain and death. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s phrase about nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ hardly begins to do justice to the extent of the hunger, fear and agony of the lives and deaths of animals in the wild. They kill and eat each other relentlessly, by the billion. This awful truth about wild animals is concealed from children in the vast majority of children’s books and films in which fictional animals of different kinds are represented as chummy friends, instead of ripping each other apart for food. Where they get their food is usually glossed over. Most of what adults tell children about animals is a spectacular lie.

In nurturing animals that we raise for food or other purposes, human beings seem to do better than God

The ‘problem of evil’ is a standard problem for belief in God’s existence, and the usual focus is on human suffering. But the suffering of wild animals should also be a major headache for God, and perhaps more of a headache than human suffering. Why would an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful god make animals suffer so much? The nature and extent of animal suffering makes an even more compelling argument against God’s existence because the usual replies in the human case, especially the appeal to the value of free will, are not available for animals. If there is a good god, we might well wonder why such bloody horror was unleashed on these creatures.

Human beings are in fact a rare light in the darkness of the animal kingdom when we nurture some animals in order to eat them. Many domesticated animals are bred and raised for food in conditions that should be the envy of wild animals. The daily life of some of the animals we eat is almost like a spa! If vegetarians and vegans are the natural enemies of domesticated animals, carnivorous human beings are their natural friends. Indeed, in nurturing and caring for animals that we raise for food or other purposes, human beings seem to do better than God.

D oes this pro-carnivorous argument apply to eating human beings? Does it imply that we should enslave, kill and eat some human beings if it is to their benefit? No. For one thing, the situations are entirely different. Domesticated animals, such as cows, sheep and chickens, owe their existence to the fact that we prey upon them, whereas human beings do not owe their existence to being preyed on. As far as I know, there are no human beings who owe their existence to a cannibalistic meat-eating practice. And even if there were, they could survive without it, if liberated, which is radically unlike domesticated animals. The situation of human beings and domesticated animals is entirely different.

More fundamentally, human beings have rights of a kind that animals lack. Having rights does not just mean that the lives of human beings and animals matter – of course they do. It means something more specific, which implies that it would be wrong to kill and eat human beings against their will, even if the practice were to benefit them. So, for example, when one human being innocently goes for a hospital checkup, a doctor should not cut them open for the purpose of harvesting their organs for transplants that will save the lives of five other human beings. But a veterinary surgeon may , I believe, cut open one innocent ownerless dog who wanders in off the street to save five other ownerless dogs. In that sense, animals do not have ‘rights’. These rights mark a moral line between human beings and animals. Suppose, though, that we are less particular about how we use the word ‘rights’, and animals having ‘rights’ just means that their conscious lives matter. In that case, we respect those ‘rights’ when we kill and eat domesticated animals. Indeed, if we did not do that, there would be no such animals to have rights.

What, then, is the source of these rights, which human beings have and that animals lack? Along with many others, I think that source is our ‘rationality’, where that is an ability to think things, do things or make decisions, for reasons. Of course, we do not always reason as we should. But all that rationality means here is that we often do or think things because we think it was the right thing to do or think. The philosopher Christine Korsgaard seems to have got this right with her idea that reasoning, or at least the kind of human reasoning that is self-conscious, involves what she calls ‘normative self-government’. This is more than the ability to think about our own thoughts (often called ‘metacognition’) but is also the ability to change one’s mind, for instance, in forming beliefs or intentions, because we think that our mindset demands it. In reasoning, of the more self-conscious kind, we apply normative concepts to ourselves and change our minds because of that.

We should kill and eat them, so long as their lives are good overall before we do that

It is true that human babies cannot yet use reason, and that there are adult human beings who cannot reason, due to a mental disability. Rationality theorists have stumbled over these cases. But they can easily be finessed if we say that human beings have reasoning as their nature or telos , as the ancient Greeks might have said. Being rational is a function of human beings, which they do not always fulfil, just as not all hearts pump blood and not all coffee machines make coffee. We may say that dogs have four legs even though there are a very few unfortunate dogs with only three legs who have had an accident or were born with a genetic deformity. Likewise, we may say that human beings are rational animals, despite human babies and adult human beings with mental disabilities that preclude reasoning, because mature human beings often have reasons for what they think, do and decide.

research paper on eating animals

In 1780, Jeremy Bentham said of animals: ‘The question is not, Can they reason ?, nor Can they talk ? but, Can they suffer ?’ I agree that the suffering of animals is important, but, as I have complained, so is their pleasure and happiness. And I would also like to complain that just because suffering is important does not make reasoning unimportant. Perhaps both are important, in different ways. If, unlike Bentham, we admit rights (he thought they were ‘nonsense upon stilts’), then the question is very much ‘Can they reason?’ Because they reason, human beings have rights, whereas animals lack rights because they cannot reason. Since they lack rights, we can paternalistically consider what is good for them. And this good dictates that we should kill and eat them, so long as their lives are good overall before we do that. They have no rights standing in the way of the mutually beneficial carnivorous practice.

Someone might wonder whether we should rest all of our special worth, and our right to protection from intraspecies predation, on our rationality. We have other impressive characteristics that might also generate rights. However, one of the advantages of the appeal to rationality is the way that it embraces many other aspects of human life that we think are important and valuable. Consider our impressive knowledge or creative imagination – these might also be intrinsically valuable in such a way as to generate distinctive rights, including the right not to be eaten against our will. These valuable characteristics also seem to be distinctive of human beings. However, many of these characteristics depend on rationality. Knowledge, of the extent, and acquired in the way that much human knowledge is acquired, is also possible only for reflective rational beings. The scientific project, for example, is predicated on a certain self-reflectiveness about methods and evidence – especially measurement.

So, these phenomena seem still to be within the orbit of rationality. What about the creative imagination? Many Surrealists thought that excessive rational thought was responsible for the horrors of the First World War, and as a response they valued creative imagination over rational deliberation, as in André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). However, what is human creative imagination? Do animals imagine in this way? Perhaps a pet dog can imagine being taken for a walk. But this is not like the creative imagination of human beings who invent interesting or beautiful works of art or literature, who revolutionise scientific theories or who envisage novel ways of living. Only the reflective rational mind can have creative imagination of this sort. Thus, it seems that many phenomena of human beings that seem special and distinctive, and that are of moral significance in the sense of having potential to generate rights, turn out to depend on rationality.

W ith this conception of rationality in hand, let us now turn the spotlight on the minds of animals. Let us begin with our close cousins – apes and monkeys. Do they share the rational capacities of human beings? The research on apes and monkeys is currently inconclusive. Researchers do not agree. There is some evidence suggesting that some such creatures can engage in a kind of reasoning, or at least that they have modes of thought continuous with human reasoning. In fact, the best evidence for primate reasoning is a kind of upside-down evidence, that some apes and monkeys appear to suffer from irrationalities similar to those besetting human beings. The psychologists Laurie Santos and Alexandra Rosati argued this in an article in 2015. And surely: if the animals are reasoning badly, then they are reasoning. The conclusion that they reason is controversial but, if it were right, it would mean that such animals should be protected by moral rights like those of human beings in virtue of their rationality. However, at present, we do not know enough to go one way or the other with full personhood rights for apes and monkeys.

By contrast with these cases, the research is less ambiguous concerning most of the domesticated animals that we eat: cows, sheep, chickens, and the rest. Hardly any researchers think these animals reason. They are conscious, they have pleasures and pains, and they show intelligence of a kind when they use tools, for example. They can pursue means to an end. However, many highly intelligent species, such as elephants and dogs , pursue means to an end, but only inflexibly, so that they carry on pursuing the means when the two are visibly disconnected. Such inflexibility suggests that the psychological mechanism in play is association, not reasoning. And if elephants and dogs are not reasoning, it is unlikely that cows, sheep and chickens do better on this score.

We do not have to wait to see what the research turns up; we may proceed directly to the dinner table

Even Lori Marino , who is an enthusiastic advocate for the sophistication of the minds of domesticated animals does not suggest that these animals have anything like the self-conscious reasoning that is characteristic of human beings. There just seems to be no evidence suggesting that cows , sheep and chickens can reason in Korsgaard’s self-reflective sense; and that means that they lack rights. Of course, lacking rights does not mean that their lives have no value, unless one deploys a uselessly obese notion of rights. Their consciousness matters. But that is exactly why we should kill and eat them. With these animals, we are doing them a favour if we kill and eat them. The exceptions among the animals that we breed to eat are pigs, whose surprisingly adept operation of computer joysticks demonstrates cognitive flexibility that may indicate reasoning.

In all, the state of play of the evidence in animal psychology suggests different degrees of certainty for different animals. There is uncertainty concerning our nearest relatives – apes and monkeys – while there is more clarity about most of the domesticated animals that we breed to eat. Apart from pigs , it is clear that farmed animals cannot reason reflectively, and therefore they lack the rights that would prevent us eating them for their benefit. With cows, sheep and chickens, we do not have to wait to see what the research turns up; we may proceed directly to the dinner table.

A chicken may cross a road, but it does not decide to do so for a reason. The chicken may even be caused to cross the road by some desire that it has; and the chicken may exhibit intelligence in whether or not it crosses the road. But the chicken makes no decision to follow its desires, and it makes no reasoned decision about whether or not it is a good idea to cross the road. We can ask: ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ but the chicken cannot ask itself: ‘Why should I cross the road?’ We can. That’s why we can eat it.

A graffitti sign in an underpass reads ‘Life is too short to be wasted on the pursuit of happiness’; it is reflected in pooling water underneath

History of ideas

Whither philosophy?

The discipline today finds itself precariously balanced between incomprehensible specialisation and cheap self-help

Siobhan Lyons

research paper on eating animals

Film and visual culture

The truth of photographs

It’s often said that a successful picture ‘captures the essence’ of a subject. But a great photograph does so much more

Daniel Star

A shirtless man in jeans lies sleeping beside his 1970s era car on the sandy beach

Modern life subjects us to all-consuming demands. That’s why we should reflect on what it means to step away from it all

David J Siegel

Two sphinx-like statues foreground an intricate formal garden of geometric hedges and a square pond. In the background are cherry trees in bloom

Nature and landscape

The mystic art of gardening

In an era of 20th-century suburban sprawl, the great designer Russell Page infused soulful philosophy into his gardens

Caleb Smith

research paper on eating animals

Cognition and intelligence

Are you an artistic genius?

Maybe not, but if that’s the threshold you use for creativity in your life, you are coming at the problem all wrong

James C Kaufman

Human figures beneath a glass dome watch the launch of a rocket from the surface of Mars

Space exploration

The final ethical frontier

Earthbound exploration was plagued with colonialism, exploitation and extraction. Can we hope to make space any different?

Philip Ball


  1. About For Books Eating Animals Complete

    research paper on eating animals

  2. Animal research sheet

    research paper on eating animals

  3. Dissertation 2330 Nutrition Essay Paper

    research paper on eating animals

  4. (PDF) When animals are not quite what they eat: diet digestibility

    research paper on eating animals

  5. Front Matter

    research paper on eating animals

  6. Critical essay: Animal testing research paper

    research paper on eating animals


  1. June 5, 2023 Pacman eating Animals

  2. Paper eating👄🍪🍡🍫🍒

  3. Nyom..Nyom.🤤||Asmr paper eating Food 😋🍓||#asmr #emojichallenge #eating #asmreating

  4. Paper eating asmr 🍉🍊🍫🍦🍭 #eating #asmrsounds #paper

  5. asmr paper eating food🍔🍕🍩🥤🍭#yfshorts#learn with maryam#trending shorts

  6. Same paper eating food 😋. What food should I do next


  1. What Are Some Good Position Paper Topics?

    Good position paper topics include debating the effectiveness of the death penalty, the fairness of the taxation system in the United States and whether or not using animals for research is humane.

  2. How Do You Make an Acknowledgment in a Research Paper?

    To make an acknowledgement in a research paper, a writer should express thanks by using the full or professional names of the people being thanked and should specify exactly how the people being acknowledged helped.

  3. What Is a Sample Methodology in a Research Paper?

    The sample methodology in a research paper provides the information to show that the research is valid. It must tell what was done to answer the research question and how the research was done.

  4. (PDF) The Psychology of Eating Animals

    PDF | Most people both eat animals and care about animals. Research has begun to examine the psychological processes that allow people to negotiate this.

  5. The Psychology of Eating Animals

    An experimental study of meat eating and emotion. Rozin, P. (1996). (See

  6. Why Eating Animals Is Not Good for Us

    weight loss and long-term health. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books. Cantor, M. ( ). Meat industry fumes over federal report touting vegan

  7. The Psychology of Eating Animals

    Research article. First published online April 1, 2014. The Psychology of Eating Animals. Steve Loughnan, Brock Bastian, and Nick HaslamView all authors and

  8. The Psychology of Eating Animals

    An experimental study of meat eating and Greene, J. (2007). Why are VMPFC

  9. The psychology of eating animals and veg*nism

    This special issue presents recent contributions from research on the psychology of meat eating and veg*nism. To situate these articles in a

  10. The Psychology of Eating Animals

    The Psychology of Eating Animals. Steve Loughnan*, Brock Bastian, Nick Haslam. *Corresponding author for this work.

  11. Is It Ethical to Eat Animals?

    A study described in “Ecosystems, Sustainability and Animal Agriculture

  12. When is it wrong to eat animals? The relevance of different animal

    Research has begun to document why some animals are deemed worthy of ... animals' traits and behaviours affected moral judgements related to meat

  13. Is meat eating morally defensible? Contemporary ethical

    A narrative outline of the scientific arguments for and against meat eating are insufficient to accomplish this goal. This paper therefore

  14. If you care about animals, it is your moral duty to eat them

    There is employment for many who work in the meat industry. There are the ... Hardly any researchers think these animals reason. They are