Will the animal rights movement ever shift society’s view on eating meat in the US? 

A side of meat is an unmissable aspect of lunch or dinner for most Americans. From an early age, this has been part of their diet. Ever since the twentieth century, our meat has been mainly produced on so-called factory farms, in which efficiency and profit are key. But whereas efficiency grew, animal  welfare declined during this era of rapid development. Ever since, the animal rights movement  advocates for the improvement of animal lives, among others in terms of meat consumption, animal  cruelty and animal testing. Despite many efforts of the movement to reduce our general meat intake, demand for meat products in the United States is still high and is even expected to increase further in  the following years. Why is it that we don’t see a clear decline in meat consumption in the United States? Are the pleas of animal rights activists being taken seriously by the general public? 

But we have always done things this way 

Since Peter Singer’s confronting book ‘Animal Liberation’ came out in 1975, the general public became more concerned about animal welfare and started shifting their views on the issue. Years later, almost 75% of Americans seemed to agree with the main goals of the animal rights movement. With that in mind, it could be considered contradictory that so many people in the United States still eat meat. Yet, it isn’t that surprising that people have a hard time actually doing what they believe is  right, when they have always done things in a certain type of way. The argument that we should stop  eating meat is far from what we are used to as a society, which makes it difficult for most people to go along with animal activists’ wishes. Eating meat is even so normalized that a lot of people have  become too attached to it to let it go. For them, it is easier to continue to do what always has been done than to change for the greater good.  

Now, I can hear you wondering: but isn’t that an impossible battle to fight then? Well, you are not the only one. The trust in the animal rights movement is not that high, since only half of Americans believes that their actions have had an actual impact on society. Wrongly so, because there is enough proof that the animal rights movement has had an impact on politics and society. Why is it that the tactics of the animal rights movement generate so little trust from the larger public?

We don’t like being told what to do 

One could argue that the strategies of animal rights activists are too negative and straight forward for  the general public’s liking. When people who eat meat are called out for doing so and it is imposed upon them that they should change their diet, it does not have the desired effect.

However, telling people what they can and can’t do seems to be way less effective than showing people what happens in the animal industry to trigger their emotions and encourage intrinsic motivation to change. In this way, a seed is planted in people’s minds.

The thing that is important to point out, however, is that it  can take years for this seed to sprout and for people to make actual changes in their behavior. So, even when animal rights activists are able to convince others that eating meat is bad, there will  probably never be a direct transition towards a non-meat-eating society. This might be hard for  passionate activists to accept, but unfortunately it is the reality they must face when fighting for change.  

So, is there still hope for the animal rights movement?  

As I’ve said earlier, society’s mindset might not be changed overnight, but it is possible to bring about systematic changes step by step. There have been numerous examples of successful campaigns of the  animal rights movement in the past, so there is definitely a chance that activists will reach even more  

of their goals in the future. However, it is key that the message that we should stop consuming meat  is spread in a positive way, so it will convince a larger audience. Pointing fingers does not seem to be  the right strategy. All in all, I suggest that animal rights activists do not give up and continue their  efforts to improve animal welfare, even though the road ahead is rough sometimes. 

Reference list  

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Einwohner, R. L. (2002). Motivational framing and efficacy maintenance: Animal rights  activists’ use of four fortifying strategies. Sociological Quarterly, 43(4), 509-526. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.2002.tb00064.x 

Haile, M., Jalil, A., Tasoff, J., & Vargas Bustamante, A. (2021). Changing hearts and plates: the  effect of animal-advocacy pamphlets on meat consumption. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.668674 

McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2008). The nature and social bases of progressive social  movement ideology: Examining public opinion toward social movements. The Sociological  Quarterly, 49(4), 825-848. https://doi-org.tilburguniversity.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1533- 8525.2008.00137.x 

McDonald, B. (2000). “Once you know something, you can’t not know it”. An empirical look  at becoming vegan. Society & Animals, 8(1), 1-23. Doi: 10.1163/156853000X00011

OECD & FAO (2018). OECD-FAO Agricultural outlook 2018-2027. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/agr_outlook-2018-en 

Phua, J., Jin, S. V., & Kim, J. (2020). Pro-veganism on Instagram: Effects of user-generated  content (UGC) types and content generator types in Instagram-based health marketing  communication about veganism. Online Information Review, 44(3), 685-704.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1108/OIR-06-2019-0213 

Roozen, I., & Raedts, M. (2023). What determines omnivores’ meat consumption and their  willingness to reduce the amount of meat they eat? Nutrition and Health, 29(2), 347-355.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/02601060221080255 

Shani, A., & Pizam, A. (2008). Towards an ethical framework for animal-based attractions.  International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 20(6), 679-693.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09596110810892236 

Séré de Lanauze, G., & Siadou-Martin, B. (2019). Dissonant cognitions: from psychological  discomfort to motivation to change. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 36(5), 565-581.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JCM-07-2017-2279

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