How we justify meat consumption

Erasmus School of Economics

People are masters in turning a blind eye to animal abuse in the meat industry. We justify our meat consumption much more often than, for example, our alcohol consumption. Jan Stoop, Associate Professor at Erasmus School of Economics, explains the reasons why. 

Cognitive dissonance

Consuming meat is harmful to the environment and unpleasant for animals to say the least. In the end, anyone can conclude that consuming animal products isn't exactly justifiable. According to Jan Stoop, we still continue our consumption because we are fooling ourselves. Cognitive dissonance is the phenomenon which occurs when there' s friction between two thoughts. You have two options to get rid of that unpleasant friction, says Stoop. You can change your behaviour, for example by becoming vegan. Or you can change how you think about the subject, by arguing that ‘we have incisors, we've been eating meat since prehistoric times, or that we're made to eat meat’. His research shows that cognitive dissonance is 13 percent when it comes to meat, and only 1 or 3 percent when it comes to the subjects like alcohol or immigration, respectively.

How can we stop overlooking the drawbacks of meat consumption?

By taxing meat and dairy more and using that money for subsidies on fruit and vegetables we can stop overlooking the drawbacks of meat, for example. You can be sure that the demand will go down if a steak would cost 20 or 30 euros, which is more in line with the environmental costs for producing it, says Stoop.


Stoop did an experiment at Erasmus School of Economics, by standardising the lunch service at meetings to vegan ones. If you would still like animal products, that's possible, but you must request it at the secretariat. Often, people end up saying ‘oh, never mind’. The reason these nudges work is because people tend to be lazy: it takes more effort to request a meat product than to accept the vegan alternative in front of you. 


Jan Stoop

More information

Read the entire de Volkskrant article here, 12 January 2020 (in Dutch).

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