Kristof Dhont and Joachim Stoeber, in The Psychologist, on ideological pushback against the rise of veganism. January 2021.
What drives people to lash out at others who choose to eschew eating animals out of compassion? And what does it say about those who get upset and angry when someone else decides to give up meat?
In January 2019, the largest bakery chain in the UK, Greggs, launched a vegan version of its best-selling product: a vegan sausage roll. The launch did not go unnoticed. Within hours of Greggs announcing the new addition to their menu, British television broadcaster Piers Morgan fulminated on Twitter: ‘Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns’. A few days later Morgan continued his tantrum during his television programme by declaring the start of ‘the vegan resistance’ while posing next to a stall full of raw meat.
While it was evident that Morgan was not waiting for a vegan sausage role, numerous customers clearly appreciated its addition to the menu. Indeed, six months after the launch, Greggs reported an exceptional profit gain of 58 per cent for the first half of the year, pointing to the vegan sausage roll as the key driver of the boost in sales. It’s now planning to provide vegan versions of all its top-selling products.
But what is it about a vegan sausage roll that unsettled Piers Morgan so much that he resorted to name-calling? How can the introduction of a new product – a sausage roll of all things – provoke so much anger and cause controversy on national television?
Consider also the reaction from journalist Janet Street-Porter after seeing Tesco’s advert for vegan ‘pork’ sausages. The advert led to an opinion piece in which Street-Porter compared vegans to Stalinists and reported feeling nauseous after viewing the advert. Note that the advert does not show footage of pigs’ living conditions inside factory farms, which in most viewers would cause nauseating reactions (Gellatley, 2016). It merely shows a family at dinner time expressing care, love and compassion when a little girl says ‘I don’t want to eat animals anymore’ and the father – in response his daughter’s wish – decides to replace the pork sausages in their favourite dish with Tesco’s plant-based sausages.
These examples of backlash against vegan products are not isolated incidents. They exemplify the broader, widespread phenomenon of hostility and discrimination against vegans and vegetarians (hereafter veg*ns) and a general pushback against veganism and vegetarianism (hereafter veg*nism). Where does this anti-veg*n resentment come from? A relatively nascent but fast-growing body of psychological research throws light on this, and how prejudice against veg*ns is connected to other types of prejudice.