For the Food Values Research Group’s first seminar of 2018, we present a joint talk featuring the work of two advanced postgraduate students in Cultural Studies at the University of South Australia.
Vegan Food and Eating Vegan in Adelaide
Ms Julie Cartlidge and Ms Ellen Scott, PhD Candidates, School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia
While veganism extends beyond diet alone, food is the primary way the philosophy of veganism is enacted. The choice to be vegan is reinforced multiple times a day as each meal or snack is consumed. As such, it is a significant aspect of the vegan experience worthy of closer inspection. Often treated as mundane and unremarkable, food is in fact highly complex with a rich symbolic life, a powerful signifier embedded with a litany of social and cultural meanings (Fischler, 1988:285; Lupton, 1996:9). This project aims to map the symbolic system that underpins a vegan diet through a qualitative multimethod approach, combining digital ethnography with semi-structured interviews. The social media activity of forty-four vegan participants has been monitored over a six-week period and all posts related to food collected for analysis. The posts range in medium from text based to videos, photographs, links to websites and online articles, location check-ins, interest in or attendance at events, gifs and memes. Some preliminary findings from the digital data set will be offered. Key themes arising from the data include issues connected to health, hedonism, ethics, environment, family, community, inclusion and exclusion, and identity. While most food related posts by participants concern vegan food a significant portion, around one third, are about non-vegan food. This finding is significant and will be unpacked in the context of living in a non-vegan world where food remains a key avenue for participation in society, familial relations, and identity construction (Fischler, 1988:275; Germov, 1997:35; Spencer, 2014:250).
I want to unpack the largely unspoken rituals and routines of everyday vegan life that work to infuse food with meaning and get down into the ideas, values and culturally transmitted beliefs that influence eating patterns, not just of vegans but of society more broadly and explore how mainstream Australian food culture shapes or interacts with vegan practice.
How do vegans symbolically construct their diet in practice and representation? To answer this my core research aims are to analyse:
- Vegan representations of food on social media,
- The lived realities of everyday vegan food practice through a food diary and,
- Vegan participants’ own perspectives and insights into veganism through semi-structured interviews.
The digital ethnography of social media use is the first stage of my research and will inform the rest of the research process as guiding themes and interview questions will be based on this content, material from the digital ethnography will also be used as an interview tool to prompt discussion. It’s a key stage of my research that is reflective of the importance of the online realm within the vegan community, which is highly diffuse with low levels of official affiliation. The internet is a primary site of vegan cultural transmission, interaction, organising and solidarity. Vegan presence online is also used to normalise veganism and vegan food and challenge the cultural dominance of meat. Digital vegan spaces are particularly valuable for vegans in a country like Australia which remains the largest consumer of meat per capita in the world and where meat retains strong symbolic power and associations of strength, masculinity, civilisation, and a quintessential ‘Australianness’ (Cairns et al, 2010:593; Flail, 2006:99; Lupton, 1996:28). Interviews, yet to be conducted, will be informed by key themes that arise from this digital data and participant input on digital data will be elicited in order to contextualise posts and allow a more in-depth understanding of the symbolic meanings participants create through their daily food practice
Julie Cartlidge is a PhD Candidate in the School of Creative Industries at the University of South Australia. Her working PhD title is ‘”You’re not a vegan are you?” constructing a narrative of living vegan in a non-vegan society’.
Ellen Scott is a PhD Candidate in the School of Creative Industries at the University of South Australia. Her working PhD title is ‘The symbolic construction of diet by Adelaide vegans’. She can be found on twitter: https://twitter.com/elnepie
When: Wednesday, 7th of February, 12-1 PM
Where: Ira Raymond Room, Barr Smith Library, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide (click here for campus map)