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Compassion and convention : differential approaches to the omnivore's dilemma Ruby, Matthew Byron

Abstract

As omnivores, humans benefit from considerable nutritional flexibility. However, this blessing also comes with a curse, as humans also face a higher risk of consuming harmful substances or eating an improperly balanced diet, a phenomenon that Rozin (1976) calls “the omnivore's dilemma.” Previous research has shown that this dilemma is especially pronounced when dealing with meat, but has focused almost exclusively on Western participants, leaving several important questions unanswered. This dissertation extends the literature on the omnivore’s dilemma in three principal ways. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that providing people with visual reminders of the animal origins of meats reduces willingness to eat novel animals, but not willingness to eat commonly consumed animals, across Euro-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, Euro-American and Indian samples. Studies 3 and 4 examine what factors influence people’s decisions to eat animals, within Euro-Canadian, Hong Kong Chinese, Euro-American and Indian cultural contexts. Perceived animal intelligence and appearance were chief predictors of disgust, and reflecting on animals’ psychological attributes increased disgust, especially among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Concordant with past research, disgust was a major predictor of willingness to eat animals, but social influence (frequency of consumption by friends and family) also emerged as a strong predictor, especially among Hong Kong Chinese and Indians, providing evidence that friends and family have a stronger influence on one’s food choices in collectivistic cultural contexts. Studies 5 and 6 examine differences between vegetarians and omnivores in North American and Indian cultural contexts. In Study 5, we found that Euro-American vegetarians were more concerned with the impact of their food choices on the environment and animal welfare, more concerned with general animal welfare, endorsed universalism more, and Right-Wing Authoritarianism less than omnivores, yet among Indian participants, these differences were not significant. In Study 6, we showed that Indian vegetarians more strongly endorsed the belief that eating meat is spiritually polluting, were more religious, and were more concerned with the domains of Purity and Authority, whereas these differences were largely absent among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Taken together, this research provides greater insight into how people resolve the omnivore’s dilemma in different cultural contexts.

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