Why Do People Eat Meat? A Brand Strategy Perspective

by | Nov 8, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Meat used to be the default. Folks ate it, but never really chose it. But as it becomes easier to eat plant-based, meat increasingly becomes a deliberate choice. Here we’re looking at the reasons people choose meat.

Companies have brands. People have brands. And product groups like meat have a brand. It’s how people feel about them. A ‘brand’ could be described as an emotional connection that exists because a product satisfies a person’s need. That could be a subconscious desire for a certain identity, but it could really be anything. Let’s brainstorm some needs meat could fulfil.

Disclaimer: This isn’t judgement. We’re all human and we all have emotional and psyhchological needs and vulnerabilities, which we meet in different ways. The following are only some possible motivations for eating meat, it’s not to say all omnivores are motivated by all or even any of them. Although we will draw on some research to illustrate motivations, these are not comments on individuals.

Normality

In a general sense, being normal is a safe choice – inoffensive and easy. It’s easy to feel you are correct in your choices because no one challenges you. We are wired to belong, so choosing meat (or rather, not not choosing meat) may increase feelings of security and belonging on a deep level.

Biology

Some meat eaters are movitivated by the idea that eating meat is natural. They believe it’s a part of our biology, and that denying meat is to deny our own nature.

Hopwood et al found that people who justify eating meat by saying it is ‘natural,’ tended towards self-focussed values. In this sense it could be similar to the need to feel dominant and powerful.

Dominance & Power

In 2015 study published in Appetite, it was found that people who valued power were likely to eat more meat.

No one would say ‘I see myself as an unfeeling person.’ However, empathy is sometimes seen as a weakness in competitive contexts. Increased meat consumption has been linked to pragmatism and being business and action-oriented.

Social Dominance Orientation is a psychology term that relates to an individuals support for hierarchy, and their desire for top dog status. It is routinely linked to higher meat consumption, but this isn’t to say meat causes this, rather to suggest that some people use meat as a means to satisfy a need to feel dominant.

Thanks for the image Alvin Mahmudov

Anti-woke / self-determination

This is like normality/belonging but is a bit more specific to cultural trends today. Being within the ‘majority’ is a loaded concept these days. Minorities are seen as intrusive and demanding – pushing their preferences onto the majority. More than ever, normality is not just a safe place to be, but also the ‘right’ place to be from an ideological standpoint. This is a barrier to ditching meat for those caught up in the culture wars.

Eating meat reminds people they aren’t under the influence of a minority, and can’t be told what to do. It can even be tied up with nationalism: “I live in a free country.”

National Pride

In many countries the national identity is interwoven with livestock industry. National sentiments are strong motivators especially in times where national identity and sovereignty feels threatened. Like right now.

Image from Beef Central. Thanks!

Rationalism / Naturalism / Intelligence

Some reasons to avoid meat are emotional, or even religious/spiritual. In reactionary sense, meat may also bolster someone’s self-image as a rational person, grounded in a science-based materialistic world-view. It’s also thought by some that meat is beneficial for intelligence.

Family

Meat is likely strongly associated with family. Many families come together properly only once a day, or more occasionally, over a meal. Here in Australia, the vast majority of adults would have had this type of upbringing. The smells and sights of the family favourites are baked into us. Here meat is more than a cultural norm, it’s closely embedded into a pillar of our lives.

Tradition

More than being normal, and older than our own families, being traditional is homage to those that went before us, in the best way we know how. Our traditions maintain our cultures, giving our identities strong roots into something much larger than our small selves. If meat is a part of our cultural traditions, eating meat may be a way to feel connected to this something-larger. Reason, connection, having a role to play, these are all highly motivating factors.

Religion

Most religions are commonly interpreted today as permitting meat in some form. Meat is sometimes eaten in a religious context, and this means meat may bolster a persons’ religious or spiritual identity at a subconscious level.

Rural Connection

Eating meat feels like supporting rural communities, and perhaps gives us the feeling that we’re a part of the process, connected with the land and the people on it, in some way. People living busy city lives may feel disconnected with the rest of the country, especially for the many that have lived outside the city for any portion of their life. For them, eating meat may be a tangible connection to another life.

Meat is associated with life cycles, food chains and the order of things. It’s also associated with the country, the land and stewardship.

Meat industry bodies and governments of meat producing countries such as Australia have been trying hard to get meat associated with climate healing via carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture. While this claim is new, and long term reception is unclear, it could be a factor as efforts to mitigate climate change are stepped up.

Strength

It seems to be the most cited, but I doubt it’s the strongest motivator. But the meat = protein/iron = strength idea is still very much a part of meat’s brand.

Masculinity

For example, it has been found in 2015 that individuals whose masculinity has been questioned will attempt to manage their image with increased meat consumption.

Other factors

Gender

Some of these reasons for eating meat are active, and others more passive. A 2013 study had this to say about how gender factors into that:

…male undergraduates used direct strategies to justify eating meat, including endorsing pro-meat attitudes, denying animal suffering, believing that animals are lower in a hierarchy than humans and that it is human fate to eat animals, and providing religious and health justifications for eating animals. Female undergraduates used the more indirect strategies of dissociating animals from food and avoiding thinking about the treatment of animals.

Rothgerber, et al, 2013

What’s next?

As veganism and flexitarianism grow in public consciousness, omnivores increasing need to acknowledge and justify their choice. This will be challenging for their self-image and identity. How can we help them with those challenges through branding?

The motivations discussed above aren’t specific to eating meat. They represent needs could be met in new, perhaps even better ways. The next article will explore some ways plant-based products and vegan related industries could meet the underlying needs of omnivores.

Read part 2 here.