Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why do people stop being a vegetarian?

That's the question professor Hal Herzog asked himself and devoted a blogpost on. You can read his post here.

His writings and research on vegetarianism/veganism peaked my interest, so this will be the first of several blogpost discussing Herzog's ideas. What attracted my attention immediately was this post in which he discribes a study on former vegetarians.

He had ex-vegetarians fill out an online survey to discover why they stopped being a vegetarian. Professor Hal Herzog and Morgan Childers set up a special website and looked for participants on several online internet boards and sites dealing with such subjects as nutrition, animal rights or health.

His respondents:

Over the next week or so, seventy-seven former vegetarians took our survey. As is true of vegetarians generally, the majority of the participants were women. Their average age was 28, and on average, they had been vegetarian for nine years before for reverting back to eating animals

This I do find a bit lacking. 77 respondents isn't exactly a big enough survey to draw conclusions from.

We asked the participants to indicate the primary reasons they quit eating meat in the first place and why they subsequently decided to give up their all-plant diet.

Vegetarians don't have an all-plant diet. Vegetarians can still eat certain animal products (such as eggs). Vegans have an all-plant diet.

He points out on his blog that the majority of vegetarians did so for ethical reasons (I couldn't agree more with this). I don't agree his conclusions about the why...why do vegetarians stop being vegetarians?

In fact, thirty-five percent of our participants indicated that declining health was the main reason they reverted back to eating flesh.

I've blogged about vegetarianism and health before, so I'm not going to go into that in this post. But it is my experience and observation that mostly social isolation, mockery and a hostile environment is the main reason that vegetarians turn into ex-vegetarians. The social issues are pointed out on his blog, but I believe they are underestimated:

A related reason for returning to meat consumption, one mentioned by 15% of our subjects, was that vegetarianism was taking a toll on their social life. The degree that vegetarianism and particularly moral veganism can screw up your day to day existence

Hassles and Social Stigmas. About a quarter of our ex-veggies described the hassles they said were associated with strict vegetarianism.

I think a hostile response from the environment (family, friends, spouse,...) is the main reasons. Be it directly or indirectly. To give an example from that very blogpost:

They complained that it was difficult to find high quality organic vegetables in their local supermarkets at a reasonable price.

It is quite easy to conclude from this that it isn't easy to find healthy affordable food, which is important to have a balanced diet. This could in turn lead to health problems (not vegetarianism/veganism itself). So it could be that the reasons are intertwined.

I also believe (also from personal experience) that far more people experience direct opposition and social stigma to their vegetarianism/veganism than the figures in this small study show us. This is something that becomes quite clear if you follow the media. The times vegetarianism, animal rights or environmental groups are brushed aside or vilified are incredible. From topics such as global warming to the treatment of fur animals or hunting. It isn't treated fairly in the media or by society. It might get some chance in a fair ethical debate, behind the walls of university classrooms (and even then...). But not in general society.

but it deserves to be talking seriously, something professor Hal Herzog seems to agree with:

In fact, I believe the case against eating other creatures is strong on moral, environmental, and health grounds.

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