Health, Ethics and Environment

Topics: Vegetarianism, Veganism, Ethics of eating meat Pages: 20 (6235 words) Published: April 19, 2012
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Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York This is an author produced version of a paper published in Appetite.

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Published paper Fox, N. and Ward, K. (2008) Health, ethics and environment: A qualitative study of vegetarian motivations, Appetite, Volume 50 (2-3), 422 - 429.

White Rose Research Online

Health, Ethics and Environment: a Qualitative Study of Vegetarian Motivations

Nick Fox and Katie Ward
School of Health and Related Research University of Sheffield, Regent Court Regent Street Sheffield S1 4DA, UK

Corresponding Author: E-mail address: (Nick Fox)



This qualitative study explored the motivations of vegetarians by means of online ethnographic research with participants in an international message board. The researcher participated in discussions on the board, gathered responses to questions from 33 participants, and conducted follow-up e-mail interviews with eighteen of these participants. Respondents were predominantly from the US, Canada and the UK. Seventy per cent were female, and ages ranged from 14 to 53, with a median of 26 years. Data were analysed using a thematic approach. While this research found that health and the ethical treatment of animals were the main motivators for participants’ vegetarianism, participants reported a range of commitments to environmental concerns, although in only one case was environmentalism a primary motivator for becoming a vegetarian. The data indicates that vegetarians may follow a trajectory, in which initial motivations are augmented over time by other reasons for sustaining or further restricting their diet.

Key Words: environmentalism, ethics, food choices, health, vegetarianism



Abstinence from the consumption of meat and animal products is an element of some religious practices including Buddhism and Seventh Day Adventism (Fraser 2003). Others choose a secular vegetarianism, grounded in non-religious motivations (Whorton 1994). The Vegetarian Society coined the term ‘vegetarian’ in the mid nineteenth century, and this is used to cover a range of dietary choices that avoid some or all foods with animal origins (Barr and Chapman 2002, Hoek et al. 2004). Vegans avoid all animal products for food, clothing or other purposes, while lacto-ovo vegetarians consume dairy produce and eggs, and semi- and pesco- vegetarians eat poultry and fish respectively (Phillips 2005, Willets 1997).

Studies of vegetarians have identified a variety of non-religious motivations for adopting a meat-free diet (Beardsmore and Keil 1992, Povey et al. 2001). Personal health and animal cruelty figure high on this list (Hoek et al. 2004, 266, Lea and Worsley 2001, 127), while disgust or repugnance with eating flesh (Kenyon and Barker 1998, Rozin et al. 1997, Santos and Booth 1996), association with patriarchy (Adams 1990), food beliefs and peer or family influences (Lea and Worsley 2001, 128) are also noted. Health vegetarians choose to avoid meat in order to derive certain health benefits or lose weight (Key et al. 2006, Kim and Houser 1999, Wilson et al. 2004), while ethical vegetarians consider meat avoidance as a moral imperative not to harm animals for food or other reasons (Fessler et al. 2003, 31, Whorton 1994). Health concerns are also the major reason motivating individuals who are ‘partial vegetarians’, who choose not to eat red meat, limit their consumption of flesh to fish, or select only organic products (American Dietetic Association 2003, Bedford and Barr 2005, Hoek et al. 2004, 266).

In addition to these commitments, vegetarianism has been linked to concerns with the environmental and ecological impact of meat (Gaard 2002, Hoek et al. 2004, 265, Lindeman and Sirelius 2001, 182). In Kalof et al.’s (1999) study...
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