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With over 600,000 people now estimated to be vegan in the UK, contemporary discourses in
the mainstream media and popular culture on the topic of veganism and plant-based
lifestyles have significantly increased in recent years (Twine, 2018; Vegan Society, 2020;
Jones, 2020). Similarly, the sociological literature exploring the topic of veganism has
expanded recognising veganism as more than a diet (Beardsworth and Keil, 1992), or a
social movement (Cherry, 2006), but as an ‘identity’ in its own right (Larsson et al, 2003;
Potts and Parry, 2010; Greenebaum, 2012; 2018), that serves to challenge and resist the
dominant discourses and structures in a neoliberal, patriarchal, capitalist society where
meat-eating is the norm (Adams, 1990, 2010; Potts and Parry, 2010; Cole and Morgan, 2011;
Greenebaum, 2018; Aavik, 2019). When explored through this framework, vegan
participants in these studies spoke of the compromises they often had to make in various
social encounters regarding their veganism and other aspects of their identities. These
‘identity dilemmas’ manifest from the social stigma (Goffman, 1963) attributed to the
deviant nature of veganism and often leaves the vegan social actor to weigh up the costs
associated with this identity and label (Beardsworth and Keil, 1992; Greenebaum, 2018).
Oftentimes, the consequences of these choices have damaging ramifications for vegans and,
in extreme cases, are socially excluded and shunned by friends and family members.
Such a focus on vegan identities is timely given that interest in the vegan lifestyle is
increasing in both popular culture and the academy in the UK, despite the counter-culture
of meat and dairy consumption continuing to be the dominant ideology (Cole and Morgan,
2011; Markoswki and Roxburgh, 2019). This contention provides an ideal social and political
context for identity dilemmas; as Dunn and Creek (2011) explain they emerge at “…times in
which social inequalities and power imbalances linger despite changing cultural narratives
and times in which people have gained “rights” but the overarching ideologies that privilege
some and oppress others continue to weigh heavily on those who want to “be themselves””
(Dunn and Creek, 2011: 275).
Furthermore, this notion of ‘being themselves’ is an emergent key feature of vegan identity
and practice, with the quest for authenticity and a pursuit of purity being a relatively new
and underexplored arena (see Greenebaum, 2017). Of particular interest is the notion of
‘privilege’ – which social actors experience vegan privilege more than others, and how do
their intersecting identities influence this?
Drawing together these themes, this paper discusses my current doctoral research project,
which is in its second year, exploring vegan identities and practices, and seeking to answer
the following research questions: How does the prevalence of meat-eating discourses
impact on vegan identities? What influences the framing and reframing of veganism as
discourse and as practice? How will understandings of vegan identities be affected by
‘identity work’ strategies used by vegans? To what extent do vegans face ‘identity
dilemmas’, and under what circumstances can this manifest?
(School of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University)