From mostly vegetarian to fully vegetarian: Meat avoidance and the expression of social identity

Elsevier, Food Quality and Preference, Volume 85, October 2020, 103963
Daniel L. Rosenfeld, Hank Rothgerber, and Janet Tomiyama

The dichotomous divide between vegetarians and omnivores seems clear: Omnivores eat meat, whereas vegetarians do not. Yet classifying people dichotomously as vegetarian or omnivorous overlooks a distinct group of people who limit their meat intake but still include some meat in their diets: a group of “mostly vegetarian” dieters called flexitarians (a term combining the words, “flexible” and “vegetarian”). Despite the estimated prevalence of flexitarianism in the United States hovering at approximately 20% to 30% of the population, we have little knowledge about how flexitarians construe their food choices. Through a preregistered study (N = 718), we identified psychological differences between flexitarians and full vegetarians as well as predictors of flexitarians’ openness to going fully vegetarian. Across all tests, social identity aspects of meat avoidance emerged as significant factors, over and above what motivations participants reported for avoiding meat. Findings suggest that social identity phenomena offer insights into how meat-avoiders construe not only their current, but also their prospective, food choices.