In mankind's evolutionary past, those who consumed meat were strong and powerful and thus man saw meat as indicative of social status. This symbolic connection between meat and status persists today. Thus, based upon psychological theories of compensation, individuals low on subjective socioeconomic status (SES) should have a greater preference for meat, as meat may be substitutable for the status that they lack. Three experiments tested this premise. Participants who felt low on subjective SES preferred meat-based foods compared to participants who felt high on it (Experiment 1). The effect is driven by a desire for status (Experiments 2–3) and not by felt hunger or power (Experiments 1–2) and not generalizable to plant foods (Experiment 3). The results suggest a symbolic link between meat and status, which has intriguingly not yet been empirically shown, and we also demonstrate a consequence of the link for food preference. The results may be of use for doctors who advise eating less meat to improve physical health and for environmental advocates who argue that meat consumption exacerbates global warming. We will also discuss the contributions of and further avenues based on our work.
- Food preference
- Public policy
- Subjective socioeconomic status