April 13, 2024, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Vegans and vegetarians, concerns in thoughts

The Nepal Weekly
March 26, 2024

It is believed that veganism has been influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the world’s oldest religions. Both of these traditions emphasize the importance of nonviolence and compassion towards all living beings, and this commitment to ethical conduct has led many followers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.

In Hinduism, the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, is a part of the first ethical or moral guideline in the path of Raja, which has 8 steps. The path of Raja is one of willpower, a step-wise process to come into contact with enlightenment or God. Ahimsa is part of the first step or guideline called Yama, which calls for purity in societal observances such as nonviolence, to not steal, not to be possessive, to practice celibacy or not be lustful, etc. The ahimsa principle is rooted in the belief that all living beings are interconnected and that harming one being harms all beings. As a result, many Hindus adopt a vegetarian diet as a means of upholding the principle of ahimsa and avoiding harm to other living beings. With modern farming practices, many have observed harm being done in dairy production and take it further to practice veganism.

Buddhism also places a strong emphasis on nonviolence and compassion towards all living beings. The first precept in Buddhism is to abstain from taking the lives of sentient beings, which has led many followers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. In addition to this, the concept of interdependence in Buddhism also emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and the impact of one’s actions on the environment and other living beings. Thus, veganism in Hinduism and Buddhism is not just about avoiding harm to animals, but also about ethical conduct and spiritual development. Many followers see the practice of vegetarianism or veganism as a means of purifying the body and mind, as well as cultivating compassion and nonviolence. These concepts are intertwined.

However, research focused on the motives for reducing or stopping meat consumption and have compared meat-eaters with vegetarians or meat-abstainers. In this approach, the group of meat-abstainers often includes both those who exclude meat and fish from their diet but continue to consume animal-sourced products such as dairy and egg products (vegetarians) and those who exclude all animal and animal-sourced products (vegans), who do not only exclude meat and fish but also products such as dairy and eggs from their diet. Few studies considered the psychological factors underpinning the consumption of animal-sourced foods other than meat (e.g., dairy and egg products) and the motives for choosing a fully plant-based diet. Therefore, little is known about the possible differences in dietary motives between vegetarians and vegans and about the moral psychological and social-contextual factors that may explain potential differences.

Investigating the motivational similarities and differences between vegetarians and vegans is important as it can provide a more comprehensive understanding of dietary behaviours and novel insights into the factors that prevent vegetarians from adopting a fully plant-based diet. Ethical concerns about animal and environmental exploitation are not limited to the consumption and production of meat but also apply to the consumption and production of other animal products including dairy and egg products. The environmental footprint (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use) of animal-sourced foods including dairy and egg products and of vegetarian diets tend to be considerably higher compared to plant-based foods and diets. Moreover, several researchers have argued that industrial dairy and egg production tend to be associated with considerably more animal suffering than meat production. Therefore, a greater understanding of the motivational similarities and differences between vegetarians and vegans could have practical implications for policy makers and advocacy.

While there is an extensive body of research on the factors that facilitate meat consumption, there is also increased research interest in people’s motivations to eat less or no meat and to adopt a plant-based diet. In one of the most systematic and comprehensive efforts to date, Hopwood and the team in 2021 developed and validated the Vegetarian Eating Motives Inventory to measure health, environment, and animal rights motives for reducing meat and animal product consumption in large samples of meat-eaters and vegetarians. The results consistently showed that meat-eaters tend to be more motivated by health compared to the environment and animal rights as reasons to eat less meat or animal products. In contrast, vegetarians tend to be more strongly motivated by the environment and animal rights compared to health and find these two motives more important than meat-eaters. These findings are consistent with other studies indicating that, although both vegetarians and vegans value potential health benefits of their diet, the majority cite ethical concerns, and especially animal rights, as the most important motive for their diet. Such findings suggest that vegetarians and vegans tend to overlap substantially in their dietary motives. Both groups are committed to the ethical principles underpinning their diet and thus oppose harm inflicted to animals and value environmental protection.

However, if vegetarians and vegans share the same concerns about animal rights and the environment, why are not more vegetarians turning vegan? Even though concerns about animal and environmental exploitation also apply to other animal products such as dairy and egg products, dairy and egg consumers may not immediately link dairy and egg consumption to the killing of animals and believe that there is less animal suffering in the dairy and egg industry than in the meat industry. This could mean that vegetarians consider their dietary motives and values as more important for meat reduction as compared to dairy and egg reduction. Vegans, on the other hand, seem to apply ethical motives and values more consistently across consumption domains and thus to all animal-sourced foods (and to other consumption or lifestyle domains such as clothing). Therefore, while vegetarians and vegans likely show considerable similarities in motives to reduce or quit meat consumption, they may show meaningful differences in motives to reduce or quit dairy and egg product consumption. Vegetarians may not only differ from vegans in moral and social psychological factors but may also differ in their perceptions and experiences of social and contextual factors that could pose a barrier to adopting a vegan diet. Findings from qualitative studies suggest vegetarians and vegans often mention the importance of being supported by their social environment for maintaining and adhering to their diet. While vegetarians may experience social rejection because of their diet, vegetarianism is more widely accepted than veganism. (Source: various write ups)