Daniel Rosenfeld ’18, a published researcher and human development major, discussed the “psychology of vegetarianism” in relations to identities on Monday.
Rosenfeld, who took a class on racial and ethnic identity development at Cornell, saw connections between the psychology of race and vegetarianism.
“In the class, we learned about these theories of racial identity and how race is not just a product of our biology but rather a socially constructed aspect of the self,” he said. “The underlying concepts of stereotypes and intergroup relations are very similar for vegetarianism as they are for race.”
During this class Rosenfeld was inspired to begin research and use concepts commonly used in psychology, such as social constructs, self identity, social categorization and morality as a way of defining “the role of vegetarianism in an individual’s self context.”
Rosenfeld defined social categorization as the sorting of people into the “them” and the “us,” as well as something that underlies race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.
This concept of categorization can be applied to vegetarianism as well, according to Rosenfeld. For example, Rosenfeld stated a scenario many vegetarians and omnivores can relate to — a meal at a steakhouse where some friends might choose to order meat while others order tofu.
“This is a categorization process that we divide our world into,” Rosenfeld said. “Our minds automatically, in many contexts, sort people into those who eat meats and those who don’t. And when meat becomes a relative basis for defining these groups, it can shape how we see ourselves in a social situation.”
However, this idea of of vegetarian identity can also be put in the broader context of our cultural and general identities.
“A guy at a bar with his friends, all eating hamburgers and hotdogs, who orders a salad or tofu might be quite the deviant from the norm,” Rosenfeld explained.
But looking at the intersection of vegetarian and cultural identities, there are many places around the world where being vegetarian is not deviant from the norm, such as in India, where around 30 to 40 percent of people are vegetarian, according to Rosenfeld.
“There you might hear instead of ‘I’m a vegetarian,’ the reverse of ‘I’m an omnivore,’” Rosenfeld said. “It sounds crazy to us!”