By, Adam K. Fetterman
Similar to my previous piece regarding atheism, vegetarians/vegans also get a strange reputation that does not always seem to match their experiences. For example, like the atheists, vegetarians/vegans are often accused of being arrogant and self-righteous. One would think that all vegetarians/vegans are running around telling people how to eat. Of course, there are these vegetarians/vegans (e.g. PETA), but they are a vocal minority. In actuality, it is my experience that vegetarians/vegans often try to keep quiet about their food choices for fear of ridicule. In conversations with fellow vegetarians/vegans, the same story emerges. Out to dinner with friends or family (even very open-minded friends) and a meat-eating friend or family member will bring up the vegetarian’s diet. Comments include, but are not limited to “I could never stop eating meat”, “are you sure you are getting enough protein”, “vegetarianism isn’t natural”, and my personal favorite “I didn’t climb my way to the top of the food chain to eat rabbit food”. So, it would appear, at least anecdotally, that most vegetarians and vegans are not arrogant jerks, and just want to eat their food in peace.
Similar to atheism, Terror Management Theory (TMT) would explain that vegetarians/vegans may come to be derogated by meat-eaters because they challenge a long held world-view that animals are to be eaten. This challenge may increase existential threat in which world views are defended (Greenberg & Kosloff, 2008), hence some of the comments recalled above and the links below. However, TMT can go even further to provide an idea of why vegetarians/vegans experience what they do. Another thing that can cause existential threat is thoughts of creatureliness (Cox, Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, & Weise, 2007). According to Cox and colleagues (2007), when reminded that humans are similar to other animals, people’s death thoughts increase. And, according to research on TMT, death thoughts lead to out-group derogation (Greenberg & Kosloff, 2008). Therefore, it is possible that when vegetarians/vegans are eating with meat-eaters, the meat-eaters are reminded of their creatureliness because vegetarians/vegans automatically remind them that they are eating other animals. If so, this may explain why so many vegetarians/vegans have the same experiences when dining with their meat-eating friends and family.
Greenberg, J. & Kosloff, S. (2008). Terror Management Theory: Implications for understanding prejudice, stereotyping, intergroup conflict, and political attitudes. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1881-1894