Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 749–765 | Cite as

Moral Disengagement in Harmful but Cherished Food Practices? An Exploration into the Case of Meat

  • João Graça
  • Maria Manuela Calheiros
  • Abílio Oliveira
Research Paper

Abstract

Harmful but culturally cherished practices often endure in spite of the damages they cause. Meat consumption is increasingly becoming one of such cases and may provide an opportunity from which to observe these phenomena. Growing evidence indicates that current and projected production and consumption patterns are important contributors to significant environmental problems, public health degradation, and animal suffering. Our aim is to contribute to a further understanding of the psychological factors that may hinder or promote personal disposition to change food habits to benefit each of these domains. Drawing from previous evidence, this study explores the proposition that some consumers are motivated to resort to moral disengagement strategies when called upon to consider the impacts of their food habits. Data were collected from six semi-structured focus groups with a sample of 40 participants. Although affirming personal duties towards preserving the environment, promoting public health, and safeguarding animal welfare, participants did not show personal disposition to change their meat consumption habits. Several patterns of response that resonate with the principles of moral disengagement theory (i.e. reconstrual of the harmful conduct; obscuring personal responsibility; disregard for the negative consequences; active avoidance and dissociation) were observed while discussing impacts and the possibility of change. Results seem to support the proposition that the process of moral disengagement may play a role in hindering openness to change food habits for the benefit of the environment, public health, and animals, and point towards the relevance of further exploring this approach.

Keywords

Meat Animals Environment Public health Moral disengagement 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Reference SFRH/BD/79487/2011), awarded to the first author. The authors express their gratitude to Joana Nunes Patrício for her assistance in data collection.

References

  1. Aldridge, S. (2011). Meats. In B. W. Lerner & K. L. Lerner (Eds.), Food: In context (pp. 553–555). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.Google Scholar
  2. Anil, L., Anil, S. S., & Deen, J. (2005). Pain detection and amelioration in animals on the farm: Issues and options. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 8(4), 261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appleby, P. N., Davey, G. K., & Key, T. J. (2002). Hypertension and blood pressure among meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in EPIC-Oxford. Public Health Nutrition, 5(5), 645–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1990). Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bandura, A. (1999). Moral disengagement in the perpetration of inhumanities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3(3), 193–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bandura, A. (2007). Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 2(1), 8–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(2), 364–374.Google Scholar
  8. Bastian, B., Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., & Radke, H. R. M. (2012). Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(2), 247–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berkow, S. E., & Barnard, N. D. (2008). Blood pressure regulation and vegetarian diets. Nutrition Reviews, 63(1), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bilewicz, M., Imhoff, R., & Drogosz, M. (2011). The humanity of what we eat: Conceptions of human uniqueness among vegetarians and omnivores. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(2), 201–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Braithwaite, J., & Braithwaite, V. (1982). Attitudes toward animal suffering: An exploratory study. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 3(1), 42–49.Google Scholar
  13. Bratanova, B., Loughnan, S., & Bastian, B. (2011). The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals. Appetite, 57(1), 193–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell, T. C., & Campbell, T. M. (2006). The China study: The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health. Dallas: BenBella Books.Google Scholar
  16. Carrington, M. J., Neville, B. A., & Whitwell, G. J. (2010). Why ethical consumers don’t walk their talk: Towards a framework for understanding the gap between the ethical purchase intentions and actual buying behaviour of ethically minded consumers. Journal of Business Ethics, 97(1), 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Craig, W. J., & Mangels, A. R. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(7), 1266–1282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dagevos, H., & Voordouw, J. (2013). Sustainability and meat consumption: is reduction realistic? Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, 9(2), 60–69.Google Scholar
  19. Demeyer, D., Honikel, K., & De Smet, S. (2008). The World Cancer Research Fund report 2007: A challenge for the meat processing industry. Meat Science, 80(4), 953–959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Duncan, I. J. H. (2006). The changing concept of animal sentience. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 100(1–2), 11–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Foer, J. S. (2010). Eating animals. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  22. Fraser, G. E. (1999). Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(3), 532S–538S.Google Scholar
  23. Fraser, G. E. (2009). Vegetarian diets: What do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 1607S–1612S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goodland, R., & Anhang, J. (2009). Livestock and Climate ChangeWhat if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows? Worldwatch November/December 2009, 1019. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute.Google Scholar
  25. Guatteo, R., Levionnois, O., Fournier, D., Guémené, D., Latouche, K., Leterrier, C., et al. (2012). Minimising pain in farm animals: the 3S approach—“Suppress, Substitute, Soothe”. Animal, 6(8), 1267–1274.Google Scholar
  26. Herzog, H. A. (2007). Gender differences in human animal interactions: A review. Anthrozoos, 20(1), 7–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoek, A. C., Luning, P. A., Weijzen, P., Engels, W., Kok, F. J., & De Graaf, C. (2011). Replacement of meat by meat substitutes. A survey on person- and product-related factors in consumer acceptance. Appetite, 56(3), 662–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Holm, L., & Mohl, M. (2000). The role of meat in everyday food culture: an analysis of an interview study in Copenhagen. Appetite, 34(3), 277–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jamieson, J., Reiss, M. J., Allen, D., Asher, L., Parker, M. O., Wathes, C. M., et al. (2013). Adolescents care but don’t feel responsible for farm animal welfare. Society & Animals. doi: 10.1163/15685306-12341283
  30. Jaspal, R., & Cinnirella, M. (2010). Coping with potentially incompatible identities: accounts of religious, ethnic, and sexual identities from British Pakistani men who identify as Muslim and gay. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49(4), 849–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Knight, S., & Barnett, L. (2008). Justifying attitudes toward animal use: A qualitative study of people’s views and beliefs. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, 21(1), 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Knight, S., Nunkoosing, K., Vrij, A., & Cherryman, J. (2003). Using grounded theory to examine people’s attitudes toward how animals are used. Society and Animals, 11(4), 307–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environmental Education Research, 8(3), 239–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lea, E., & Worsley, A. (2001). Influences on meat consumption in Australia. Appetite, 36(2), 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., & Bastian, B. (2010). The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals. Appetite, 55(1), 156–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mitchell, L. (2011). Moral disengagement and support for nonhuman animal farming. Society and Animals, 19(1), 38–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Norat, T., Bingham, S., Ferrari, P., Slimani, N., Jenab, M., Mazuir, M., et al. (2005). Meat, fish, and colorectal cancer risk: The European Prospective Investigation into cancer and nutrition. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 97(12), 906–916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pelletier, N., & Tyedmers, P. (2010). Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(43), 18371–18374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pimentel, D., & Pimentel, M. (2003). Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(3), 660S–663S.Google Scholar
  40. Prunier, A., Mounier, L., Le Neindre, P., Leterrier, C., Mormède, P., Paulmier, V., & Guatteo, R. (2013). Identifying and monitoring pain in farm animals: a review. Animal, 7(6), 998–1010.Google Scholar
  41. Ruby, M. B. (2012). Vegetarianism. A blossoming field of study. Appetite, 58(1), 141–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sabaté, J. (2003). The contribution of vegetarian diets to health and disease: A paradigm shift? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(3), 502S–507S.Google Scholar
  43. Sabaté, J., & Wien, M. (2010). Vegetarian diets and childhood obesity prevention. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(5), 1525S–1529S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Singer, P., & Mason, J. (2006). The way we eat: Why our food choices matter. Emmaus: Rodale.Google Scholar
  45. Stabler, B. J. (2011). Asian diet. In B. W. Lerner & K. L. Lerner (Eds.), Food: In context (pp. 53–56). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.Google Scholar
  46. Stehfest, E., Bouwman, L., Vuuren, D. P., Elzen, M. G. J., Eickhout, B., & Kabat, P. (2009). Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change, 95(1–2), 83–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M., & de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock’s long shadow—environmental issues and options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).Google Scholar
  48. Steinfeld, H., Mooney, H.A, Neville, L.E., Gerber, P., & Reid, R. (2008). Livestock in a changing landscapeUNESCO-SCOPE-UNEP Policy Briefs Series, Policy Brief No. 6. Paris: UNESCO-SCOPE-UNEP.Google Scholar
  49. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. (2013). FAOSTAT. Retrieved March 08, 2013, from http://faostat.fao.org/site/569/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=569#ancor.
  50. Verbeke, W., Pérez-Cueto, F. J., Barcellos, M. D., Krystallis, A., & Grunert, K. G. (2010). European citizen and consumer attitudes and preferences regarding beef and pork. Meat Science, 84(2), 284–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. WHO. (2011a). Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  52. WHO. (2011b). Action plan for implementation of the European Strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2012–2016. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • João Graça
    • 1
  • Maria Manuela Calheiros
    • 1
  • Abílio Oliveira
    • 2
  1. 1.Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-IULLisboaPortugal
  2. 2.Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Adetti-IULLisboaPortugal

Personalised recommendations