“Most people eat meat because most people eat meat.” – Leenaert (2016)
Growing up, I didn’t question my eating habits. Living in a Western, consumerist society, we buy what is advertised to us. It is ‘normal’ to have a burger from McDonalds, it is ‘normal’ to eat the same foods as your friends and family, it is ‘normal’ to eat meat. Walker-Smith (2006) claims we are exposed to up to 5000 adverts a day; these subconsciously influence our opinions and behaviour in regards to eating meat. In all aspects of our lives, we strive to comply to media standards in order to feel valued, whether that is pressure to join the gym, wear certain clothes, or choose better diets. The companies promoting these ideals are competing for our money, but we internalise their messages, and they can effect every aspect of our daily norms and values.
Despite the increased knowledge of veganism in today’s society, most people have not altered their general behaviour, lifestyle or purchasing decisions. This creates a problem called the ‘Attitude-Behaviour Gap;’ when a person’s beliefs, intentions or values are not put into practice. The majority of people disagree with animal abuse, but continue to eat meat. An explanation for this is the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Festinger (1957) explains that our brain produces a feeling of discomfort if we say we love animals, but eat chicken nuggets, for example. By changing our attitude or behaviour, we can reduce this feeling of discomfort. However, instead of not eating the chicken nuggets, most people change their attitude instead. We tell ourselves that the chickens lived a happy life, ran around outside in the sun, and ate organic food. By adhering to the labels of ‘free range’ and ‘organic’ when we consume animal products, it makes us feel less guilty about actually eating them.
McLoed (2014) concludes that only those people who are in a state of Cognitive Dissonance will take steps to reduce their dissonance. Not enough people are stopping eating meat though, and we don’t act on our moral inclinations or feelings of guilt because the adverts we see tell us what we are doing is ‘normal.’ It is hard to break from our ‘normal’ routines; shopping, eating, consuming; but when we do, we can see the truth that these corporations are hiding from us. And the truth is that animal exploitation is not ‘normal.’