A cross cultural meat paradox: A qualitative study of Australia and India.

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Journal Article
Appetite, 2021, 164, pp. 105227
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The 'meat paradox' is the psychological conflict between people's enjoyment of meat and their moral discomfort in relation to animal suffering. To date, most studies on the meat paradox have been in Western contexts where meat-eating is a cultural norm. In comparison, little is known about how the meat paradox is experienced in emerging economies such as India, where the longstanding cultural commitment to vegetarianism is under challenge. Further, most studies to date have been quantitative. This study bridges the knowledge gap by providing a qualitative comparison of the meat paradox in urban Australia and India, using cognitive dissonance theory as its main framework. We conducted in-depth interviews with twenty-two Sydney residents and thirty-three Mumbai residents, aged 23-45 years. The interviews were analysed using a grounded theory approach. In both countries, common strategies to reduce dissonance included distancing, belief in a human-animal hierarchy, carnism and criticisms of alternative dietary practices. Despite these commonalities, the manner in which these strategies manifested was different in each country, reflecting key socio-cultural and institutional differences. Australian participants became aware of the ethical challenges of meat consumption primarily via the media, whereas many Indian participants had direct experience of animal slaughter in wet markets. Thus, while Australian participants had reduced their meat consumption or turned to 'kinder' alternatives, Indian participants resorted to distancing and emotional numbing to reduce dissonance. Further, participants in both countries highlighted instances of moral hypocrisy in relation to vegetarian/vegan practices. While Australian participants discussed self-proclaimed vegetarians who might succumb to a dietary lapse, Indian participants discussed inconsistencies in relation to religious and caste-based norms.
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