“The other side of words”: Veganism


Based on respect for animal life and its rights, as well as ethical, environmental and health considerations, veganism is distinguished from vegetarianism by excluding from the diet not only meat but also products derived from animals, such as dairy products, eggs, honey or leather…

Even if the promotion of a non-meat diet is not new (as shown by the vegetarian movement of the 19th century ), the emergence and media coverage of the term vegan have considerably increased its visibility in society.

The term appeared in Britain in 1944, created by Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley who wanted to expose the mistreatment of animals in the production of eggs and dairy products, hoping that society would eventually reject these practices. With the media, vegan practices have become more familiar to the general public, thus contributing to a better understanding of the phenomenon and the issues that arise from it. In France, according to a 2020 study , around 0.3% of the population declares themselves vegan.

The theory of social representations of social psychologist Serge Moscovici offers a relevant analytical framework for understanding its development. As this specialist in social psychology points out, social groups create common representations which facilitate communication and the circulation of information. As a result, veganism , once uncommon, is now a common topic of discussion, reflecting current ethical concerns about the treatment of animals, the environment and health.

In addition, the appearance of new information technologies may have contributed to the establishment and expansion of vegan communities. Several studies have thus been able to demonstrate the impact of publicized vegan celebrities on the intention to share information about veganism or to become vegan.

If veganism appears to be an emerging practice, the consumption of meat remains a predominant practice in Western countries , and has a strong symbolic charge often associated with strength and power. As a result, veganism, by calling into question dominant food standards, is part of a context of polarized debates and takes on an eminently political nature. Proponents emphasize its benefits for animals, health and the environment, while critics address economic, cultural or nutritional concerns.

Veganism, like meat eating, is not only a question of food choice, but also an identity marker where individuals identify with this lifestyle and consider it an expression of their values ​​and identity. social. As a result, social representations of veganism reflect not only opinions on food, but also issues linked to social belonging and the construction of individual and collective identity.

By questioning traditional meat consumption, veganism shakes up pre-established social representations. This movement illustrates a paradigm shift, marked by awareness and an evolution of mentalities towards more ethical and sustainable food practices. This development is in agreement with the analyzes of sociologist Claude Fischler , who underlined the key role of changes in our diets as a reflection and driver of change in society (in this case through greater awareness of animal suffering, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, etc.).

Finally, due to the persistence in their actions and their discourse in favor of veganism, the vegan community embodies an active minority. Although numerically small and facing obstacles, it uses means such as awareness campaigns , social networks, as well as public events like protests and festivals, to share information, raise public awareness about animal rights and promote sustainable lifestyles. These implications can exert an influence and modify deeply rooted representations, thus contributing to a progressive transformation of society.

Author Bio: Mathilde Lavilloux is an Associate Researcher in Social Psychology at the LP3C laboratory (EA 1285) at Rennes 2 University