Cross-cultural investigation into meat consumption

New research has revealed people’s feelings towards animals and what they think happens on farms are important when it comes to food behaviour, but these factors can vary depending on where they live.

Researchers from La Trobe University’s School of Psychology and Public Health aimed to determine what extent speciesism (treating animals like second-class lifeforms) and perceptions of common farming practices (such as separating dairy calves from their mothers and killing unwanted male chicks), are related to meat consumption among people living in two distinct cultures.

The lack of research in non-Western cultures prompted the authors to investigate the differences between Australia and Hong Kong. The study has been accepted for publication in Psychology of Human-Animal Intergroup Relationships.

Dr Matthew Ruby, co-author of this study, notes that both caring about animals and perceptions of farming practices were strongly related to consumption of red meat, fish and poultry among Australians.

However, results in the Hong Kong sample were varied and showed that speciesism was mainly associated with poultry consumption, while perceptions of farming practices were linked to the consumption of fish.

“While we anticipated Australia’s results, we were surprised that speciesism wasn’t more strongly linked to people’s eating habits in the Hong Kong sample,” Dr Ruby said.

The authors acknowledged potential cultural differences, social influences, and limited exposure to local farming practices as factors that may contribute to the variations in participants from Hong Kong.

Across the two regions, omnivores (those who eat both plant and meat-based foods) cared for animals less and had more limited knowledge about farming practices compared to vegetarians and vegans, with suggestions these differences may not be culturally specific.

More than 500 Facebook users across Australia and Hong Kong participated in the questionnaire, which measured speciesism and described common practices in the farming industry based on information provided by RSPCA.

Dr Ruby predicted that this is the first study that simultaneously uses speciesism and animal farming perceptions to predict current and intended meat consumption in two very different cultures.

“Our research opens a window into the complex world of meat consumption and it’s crucial to consider these differences when encouraging more humane and sustainable food choices,” Dr Ruby said.

Co-author and PhD candidate Katherine Northrope said future research should continue to investigate correlates of meat consumption in diverse cultural contexts, particularly outside of Western countries where there has been limited research.

“More research may be needed to further understand details of cultural differences in speciesism,” Katherine said.

“This research may help uncover mechanisms that resonate with diverse cultures, promoting more mindful and sustainable food choices.”

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