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A Blog Series: How Can We Love And Eat Animals?

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

Rooted in our biology is a natural tendency to love animals. Scientists have called this Biophillia, meaning the love of life and living systems. If you have a pet; a dog or a cat, this won’t come as a surprise to you. We adore our companion animals. We share our homes, our beds and our food with them. Paying for their medical bills, their grooming and spoiling them with treats and toys. So lavish is our pet culture, that we spend approximately £10b a year on our dogs, and £8b on our cats - and that's just in the UK!

But, while we value the lives of some animals, we exercise dominion over others, using them as commodities for entertainment, clothing and food. In fact, 92% of the world’s population engage in a diet, which causes more than 70 billion animals to be slaughtered every year. Researchers in the field of Psychology have been asking how can we love and eat animals?

This incongruity between our natural love for animals and our appetite for meat has been coined the “meat paradox”. While defined only recently, evidence of this paradox can be seen in research up to three decades ago. As early as 1982, researchers John and Valerie Braithwaite found that while 90% of people disapprove of inhumanely killing animals, only 41% disapprove of eating the meat that is produced.

Psychologists argue that the paradoxical nature of our meat eating arouses an internal discomfort known as cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is an unpleasant state, likened to that of hunger, thirst or pain. Carol Adams, author of The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook, says that dissonance can cause us to feel shame, anxiety and guilt about our eating habits. And so, just like hunger, thirst or pain, dissonance is a state that we want to resolve.

To resolve dissonance, our morals must be brought into line with our behaviour and there are two ways that we can do this - we can either change the way that we eat, or change the way that we think. Today, with an abundance of plant-based food options on our menus and in our local supermarkets, changing the way that we eat has never been easier. Yet, veganism remains the least popular solution to this dilemma. In fact, according to recent statistics, less than 1% of the world’s population is vegan. It seems that the simpler solution is to change the way that we think. This is where Psychology comes into it.

To avoid having to give up meat, which can be effortful, time consuming and costly, we use emotionally biased reasoning to justify our actions. Academic Ha nk Rothgerber has identified a number of these biases, which include: avoidance, dissociation, denial of animal pain, denial of animal mind, dichotomization, perceived behavioural change, pro-meat justifications and reduced perceived choice.

In this blog post series, I will explore (and, ultimately, de-bunk) each of these biases in turn. Understanding these biases is the first step in recognising them in ourselves, in others and in the society that we live. In recognising our biases, we are able to make a more informed choice about what we authentically think and feel.

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