Eating meat and social status

Monday, 10 September, 2018

Eating meat and social status

Those who perceive themselves as having a lower socioeconomic status may eat more meat to make up for their status, according to new research.

This evolutionary connection between meat and social status has continued into the current day. Those low on subjective socioeconomic status should have a greater preference for meat, as it may be substitutable for the status they lack. Marketing psychology researchers Dr Natalina Zlatevska from University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School and and Dr Eugene Chan from Monash Business School looked at the psychological drivers of meat consumption.

“There is a symbolic association between eating meat and strength, power and masculinity. It is traditionally a high-status food, brought out for guests or as the centrepiece of festive occasions, so we wanted to better understand this link to status,” said Zlatevska.

From their three experiments, the researchers found that a preference for meat was driven by the desire for status as opposed to other variables such as hunger or perceived nutritional benefits.

In one experiment, a ‘beast burger’ was described as either meat-based or vegetarian, but with the same nutritional profile and packaging. Only those who rated themselves lower in socioeconomic status had an increased desire for the meat-based burger.

Understanding and influencing attitudes towards meat consumption may be important to consumer psychologists, the meat industry and those trying to reduce meat consumption.

Chan warned, “Our research reveals that while eating meat appears to confer feelings of power and status, this may have health implications for those who see themselves as lower on the socioeconomic ladder.”

Doctors and nutritionists generally advise individuals to try to limit their consumption of processed meats, such as sausage and salami, due to concerns they are linked to cancer.

OECD data states that Australians have a significantly higher consumption of meat than the global average, with each person eating around 92.5 kg a year. However, 11% of the population describe themselves as vegetarian and this number is increasing.

The researchers said encouraging people to feel either higher or lower in socioeconomic status, such as through social comparison or marketing messages, could influence levels of meat consumption.

The research was published in the journal Appetite.

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