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Being vegan says so much more about you than just your ethics

Consumers are rarely actively pursuing social goals when going vegan. But at a sociological level, it does present opportunities to communicate personal attributes that are considered useful in contemporary society.

T. ROBINSON & O. LUNDAHL: ‘Revered French gastronome Jean Brillat-Savarin coined the phrase: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are”. He wasn’t wrong. If you’re someone who thinks about your food choices, its probably in terms of health or ethics. But they are also intimately connected with identity, class, and ideology… Vegans, for instance, are more likely to be young and female than old and male. The lifestyle also challenges traditional norms of masculinity. And instead of the hedonistic consumption associated with the upper classes, veganism is associated with restraint and discipline.

Yet, this restraint comes with its own social implications. As our new research shows, plant-based diets come with burdens – and successfully navigating them can help vegans to promote an image of upward mobility in contemporary consumer society. We first studied how veganism was represented in more than 2,000 articles in the UK media. Then we conducted 20 in-depth interviews with middle-class consumers who were either vegans or closely acquainted with vegans. We mapped how they perceived veganism, including its relationship to class and character.

Analysing data from the interviews and the media together, we identified five key burdens associated with the vegan lifestyle, and the social signals that successfully navigating them sends… Consumers are rarely actively pursuing social goals when going vegan. But at a sociological level, it does present opportunities to communicate personal attributes that are considered useful in contemporary society: knowledgeable, disciplined, able to support oneself, but also able to form social connections… Of course, the ethical and environmental aspects are still – for many people – the major motivation to be vegan.

But as other recent research of ours shows, thanks to recent celebrity uptake of the diet, veganism is no longer a purely moral movement at the periphery of society, but also a desirable lifestyle choice considered trendy in mainstream culture… The ethos of veganism itself is an admirable and strongly held altruistic conviction among many of its practitioners – but it also plays an important role in curating your personal image. Perhaps Brillat-Savarin’s dictum should now read: “Tell me who you want to be and I will tell you what to eat!”.’  SOURCE…

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