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Vegetarianism refers to abstinence from the consumption of meat products. In some instances, the lifestyle may also involve the avoidance of consumption of all animal products (Agrawal et al. 2014). People adopt this type of lifestyle for various reasons. This paper explores the reasons for the rise of vegetarianism among the Chinese.
An increase in vegetarianism among the Chinese could be explained by health concerns associated with meat consumption. For example, Roxburgh (2017) says that people living in major Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, are increasingly concerned about chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiac conditions, which are partly brought about by the consumption of unhealthy foods (Lee & Park 2017). Such concerns have shaped broader lifestyle choices, including the rise of vegetarianism among the population.
It is important to understand health concerns supporting vegetarianism within the wider socio-political context of the Chinese people because, in the past, meat products were considered a “luxurious” food because of past famines and food shortages (Roxburgh 2017). However, this perception has changed because people are now more concerned about the health effects of animal products (Lee & Park 2017).
This transition means that many Chinese consumers today are more concerned about their health than their social standing. This paradigm shift is partly explained by the Maslow hierarchy of needs theory, which presupposes that basic needs are often met first before higher-level needs. The theory also postulates that health needs are basic (Wilkinson & Johnstone 2016). Other needs include safety, love/belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization, in that order (Fallatah & Syed 2017). The increase in vegetarianism among the Chinese could be partly explained by their quest to address physiological needs as opposed to their esteem needs, which were often fulfilled when they ate meat as a “luxurious” food.
Awareness of Animal Rights
A cross-section of Chinese consumers is also motivated to abstain from meat products because of concerns about the infringement of animal rights (Lestel 2016). Particularly, increased awareness about animal cruelty has discouraged some consumers from buying meat products because they believe doing so would be abating the practice (Barstow 2017). Some animal rights organizations have encouraged customers to avoid buying meat products because of animal cruelty and such-like practices (Campbell & Campbell 2016).
Their efforts seem to be effective in some quarters of the Chinese population who are re-evaluating the need to buy meat products in the first place. An inclination towards vegetarianism, which is brought by this trend, is partly explained by the dissonance theory, which suggests that customers avoid buying products, which are misaligned with their core beliefs (Shuster & Campos-Castillo 2017; Yan & Jeyaraj 2014). Therefore, the motivation to embrace vegetarianism could emerge from the dissonance that consumers experience if they buy animal products and yet they do not support animal cruelty.
The evidence gathered in this paper suggests that the motivation for many Chinese to be vegetarians stems from a growing concern for the health implications of consuming animal products and increased awareness of animal rights. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and dissonance theories support these reasons by explaining this consumer behavior. Overall, they presuppose that the Chinese are likely to buy products that satisfy their primary needs and align with their core beliefs and values.
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