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LUKEWARM FRIENDS: How vegans and vegetarians view each other

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Vegetarians reported more negative interactions with vegans, particularly vegans motivated by animal welfare, than with other vegetarians, anticipating feelings of self-consciousness, irritation, impatience, or defensiveness.

MATTHEW O’SHAUGHNESSY: Vegetarians and vegans (“veg*ns”) often face prejudice for violating the near-universal social norm of eating meat. But the veg*n movement is far from homogenous, and members frequently experience negativity even from within the veg*n community. In recent survey research, researchers examined how different veg*n subgroups viewed each other. These subgroups were defined along two dimensions: whether an individual is vegetarian or vegan, and whether the individual is primarily motivated by animal welfare, the environment, health, or religious/spiritual reasons. The results suggest that while veg*ns are largely supportive of each other, there are distinctions between how members of the veg*n community view these subgroups.

Researchers recruited 556 survey participants from online veg*n Facebook groups, subreddits, and forums. The resulting participants were predominantly female, and largely from the United States and Canada. After categorizing themselves into a veg*n subgroup, each respondent was asked a series of questions that measured different facets of their attitudes towards other veg*n subgroups. For example, participants were asked how they would feel to have a member of a particular subgroup as a neighbor or family member; whether they would feel heightened anxiety around a member of that subgroup; and whether they felt that members of that subgroup understood and contributed to the goals of the broader veg*n community…

Overall, the researchers found that veg*ns viewed other members of the veg*n community quite positively. Despite this general warmth, however, there were important differences in how subgroups perceived each other, suggesting a degree of fragmentation. Both vegetarians and vegans surveyed viewed their own group more positively than the other group: vegetarians reported feeling more comfortable with other vegetarians, and vegans reported feeling more positively towards other vegans than about vegetarians…

Vegetarians reported or anticipated more negative interactions with vegans – particularly vegans motivated by animal welfare – than with other vegetarians, anticipating feelings of self-consciousness, irritation, impatience, or defensiveness rather than happiness and acceptance to a greater degree than they did around other vegetarians. Among other vegetarians, they generally viewed those with animal welfare and environmental motivations more positively, and those with health or religious motivations somewhat less positively.

Vegans exhibited more bias towards other subgroups than vegetarians did. In questions evaluating desire for social proximity, heightened vigilance, and intergroup anxiety, a clear hierarchy of preference emerged: vegans generally viewed animal-welfare-motivated vegans most positively, followed by environmentally-motivated and health-motivated vegans, then religiously-motivated vegans, animal-welfare- or environmentally-motivated vegetarians, and finally health- or religiously-motivated vegetarians…

Overall, the study suggests that there are small but definite differences in how veg*ns view other veg*n subgroups. Understanding and remedying negative views between subgroups is important for animal advocates because it may limit the health and effectiveness of the veg*n community. Indeed, the survey found that participants who viewed other veg*ns more negatively reported lower desire to remain veg*n and participate in a range of collective actions, showing that perceptions of veg*ns is important both within and outside of the community. The results of this study should remind animal advocates of the importance of providing acceptance and support to anyone who chooses to reduce their meat consumption. SOURCE…

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