The morality of meatlessness: Why children choose vegetarianism

2 min read

The study began a few years ago when Karen Hussar, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’07, then a doctoral student, became interested in children who chose to become vegetarians at a young age (6-10) despite being raised in meat-eating families. To what extent, she wondered, was this decision based on morals, not health?

In September, Professor Paul Harris, Hussar’s adviser and project collaborator, presented Hussar’s ongoing research at a discussion sponsored by the Ed School’s Civic and Moral Education Initiative. Harris explained that Hussar studied these “independent vegetarian” children, as she called them, as well as “family vegetarians” — children who grew up in vegetarian families — and a third group who, Harris said, “ate and enjoyed meat.”

The initial question they explored was how these children view meat eating and why they might not eat meat. The independent vegetarians overwhelmingly cited animal rights as a top reason for not eating meat, while family vegetarians split the reasons between animal rights, family influence, and religion. Meat eaters said health and taste were top reasons for not eating certain meats.

“This first study was simple yet provocative,” said Harris, “with the independent vegetarians giving genuine moral reasons: the suffering and death that meat eating entails. They empathize with the pain and distress.”

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