Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When Britain’s largest bakery, Greggs brought, a vegan sausage roll into the market, it was attacked by  a senior reporter as “Stalinist”, and the idea of having a vegan roll as “nauseating”. In India we never have this problem, because almost everyone at the top of society/media/government/sport/films is vegetarian. But all over the world hundreds of vegans/vegetarian can tell you horror stories about the reactions of  “conservatives”. One study found that more than half of vegetarians had experienced discrimination, and nearly 10% of vegetarians said that family had severed contact with them because they didn’t eat meat. About the same percentage say they were not hired for jobs because of their diet.

Why are carnivores threatened by the rise of veganism? I would have thought that being a gentler approach to society and all its beings, a movement towards better environment and better health would have appealed to all. But apparently not. Those that stuff dead bodies into their faces every day are genuinely resentful that this change has come.

In 2019 protestors against veganism turned up at a vegan market and started eating raw dead squirrels, in order to “shame” those that didn’t eat meat.

To eat or not to eat meat : this has become a vitriolic debate, a battleground between conservative meat eaters and those that venture into a brave new world of peace and good health for all. From robbing pigs from shelters and throwing deer legs into the houses of vegans, to vicious articles on “Is veganism good for you ?”. Veganophobes call vegans smug, hypocritical (plants have life too), psychopaths. As one vegan put it “Being vegan is like being the main character in a horror movie who keeps trying to warn the others that there is a monster in the room who will destroy them – but no one will listen and keeps calling you crazy”.

People love to moan that vegans are annoying: research has shown that only drug addicts inspire the same degree of loathing. Now, psychologists are starting to understand why – and it’s clear that the reasons aren’t rational.

According to psychologists the presence of vegetarians makes some carnivores feel that their meat consumption is unethical. They lash out against vegetarians in order to preserve their positive self-image. Many people, who are politically conservative, see this as  straying from the status quo – which is clearly eating and using animal products. In many nations, holiday meals and barbeques centre around family and friends cooking and eating meat like turkey, steak, or hamburgers. Vegetarians are seen as countering important social traditions and thus worthy of backlash.

But much more importantly, studies show that conservatives are more likely to have a “social dominance orientation,” meaning that they believe in economic and political superiority for certain groups. This includes the belief that human animals have supremacy over other animals, and that animals are only relevant in as much as they provide food, entertainment and  articles of usage. People who lean to the right are more likely to hunt and support testing on animals and circuses with animal acts. They are likely to have dogs (not rescued, but bought) that sit at their feet and complete their self image as masters of the household and realm.

Vegetarians are seen as rebels that  ideologically counter these beliefs and hold animals to be on par with humans and as worthy of consideration. Vegetarians, and now vegans, get the same treatment from conservatives that blacks and  women have been getting till now – after all they too are seen as a lower species. People who are bigoted toward other humans are likely to be bigoted toward animals as well. It is the same conservatives who are critical of environmentalists (climate change is a myth), NGOs (all are anti national and in it for the money), social welfare for the poor (they should work harder).

Social psychologists call this the  moral schizophrenia of meateaters. “If you bring your cod and chips home to eat in front of your beloved goldfish, or tuck into a rabbit stew mere moments after cooing over various #rabbitsofinstagram, you’re likely to encounter “cognitive dissonance”, which occurs when a person holds two incompatible views, and acts on one of them. In this case, your affection for animals clashes with the idea that it’s OK to eat them.”

In the Western world there is more and more evidence about how eating meat is bad. To continue to eat meat requires some serious mental gymnastics. Luckily, our brains are extremely good at protecting us from realities we don’t want to face – and there are a number of psychological tricks at our disposal. So, the first thing that meateaters do is not think of meat eating as an ideology. Then they pretend that meat has no link to animals, then they pretend they are eating less and less, or they are only eating animals that are “humanely farmed and happy farm animals”.

Unfortunately, most of these excuses and evasions are derailed by the presence of vegans. Suddenly meat eaters are confronted by an ideology which makes them have to choose sides as “meateaters” and stop making excuses. By their mere existence, vegans force people to confront their schizophrenia. And this makes people angry.

So, they look for rational sounding explanations for why eating animals is the correct decision. And one of these is that vegans are bad.

In a study done by psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University, meateating participants were surveyed about their attitudes towards vegans, and then asked to think of three words that they associated with them. Most came up with these words :  “weird”, “arrogant”, “preachy”, “militant”, “uptight”, “stupid”, and – mysteriously – “sadistic”.

How strange that these people would reject and attempt to demean groups that had made laudable choices. As the psychologists dug deeper into this group they found a common fear of their being judged by vegetarians, and that fear far outstripped any respect they might have had for any superior moral integrity. Those who had thought about being judged by vegetarians first, tended to associate vegetarians more strongly with negative words. The finding also explains why ethical vegetarians are more irritating to omnivores than those who choose the lifestyle for health reasons.

The end of an era and a way of life always frightens people. And the new age, where veganism is glamorous, will bring these reactions from those who feel inadequate.

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