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Veganism in a Post Modern Society



Drawing on ideas about information society, this critical reflection explores the rise in the knowledge of veganism and the outcomes it can produce through ICTs; for some, having either positive or negative impacts on modern production and consumption practices. Whilst it is debatable that the practice of veganism is becoming more prevalent in the post modern society than ever before, individuals are increasingly abstaining from animal products and meat consumption and are following a plant-based diet and lifestyle. This globalising process of information and knowledge on veganism has also created a greater awareness of the risk society that we live in, such as agriculture’s contributing to climate change. Thus, we are interpellated into reflexively creating individual consumption identities and choices through both their impact on the present but also the future.
Veganism in a Post Modern Society
Marieke Thun
Veganism is a lifestyle that entails abstaining from
the consumption of animal products. Some vegans
limit this to their diet. Many, however, expand
their practice of veganism to include the
abstinence of all non-vegan products. This includes
but is not limited to clothing made out of fur, wool
and leather as well as toiletries and beauty
products that
contain animal
substances and
are tested on
animals. In this
critical reflection I
explore the
prevalence of
veganism in
today’s society,
some of the
reasons why
people may
choose this
lifestyle and whether or not it is effective in all the
ways that people think it is.
It is already apparent that a vegan lifestyle is based
on consuming certain products and not consuming
others. In modern society, people’s lives revolved
around their profession. This type of society
engaged its members in their role as producers. In
the post-modern, post-industrial society that we
now purportedly live in, the focus, according to
Bauman (2005), shifts from production to
consumption, the latter of which has come to play
a significant role in the shaping of our identities. In
fact, Bauman (2005: 26) states that “the roads to
self-identity, to a place in society, to life lived in a
form recognizable as that of meaningful living, all
require daily visits to the market place”. As such,
veganism as a consumption practice is an option
chosen within a society which portrays itself as
offering a freedom of choice, but which after all
forces all
citizens to
consume in one
way or another.
Considering the
positive effects
of veganism, a
lifestyle may
therefore be
seen as an
effective way to
navigate the
shift from
producer to consumer society.
Why be vegan though? There are various reasons
attached to the desire of following a plant-based
lifestyle and information on this is now widely
available in books, magazines and especially
online. Talking about the information society,
Webster (2006) argues that quantitative changes
in information as well as the significance of
information itself, lead to qualitative changes in
social structures. One may argue that there is an
ever-growing sea of information all around us. This
information, or knowledge, is projected onto us
through all types of media. Although perhaps
increasingly difficult to navigate because of the
large amount, it can be used by consumers to
inform their choices (Ibid, 2006). Applying this to
veganism, there is now a growing amount of
information available, e.g. on how animals are
being treated in order to be consumed by humans.
This knowledge is there, ready to be accessed by
people who do not want to be complicit in animal
cruelty and for that reason decide to go vegan.
Thus, one may argue that the rise of the
information society, due to its nature of making
more and more knowledge available, makes it
more likely for people to choose to practice a
vegan lifestyle. However, information simply being
available is not enough to change entire
populations’ practices. This is demonstrated by the
overwhelming number of people worldwide who
are not vegan (yet) and it shows that, as opposed
to what Webster (2006) argues, changes in
quantity and significance of information do not
necessarily lead to changes in societal structures.
However, knowledge may change the way we
communicate. Since the advent of information and
communication technologies (ICTs) and especially
the development of social media sites such as
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it has become
progressively easier
to connect with
people all over the
world. This is a key
feature of the
network society that
we now live in, as
maintained by
Castells (2010). He
claims that a network
society is a step
further from a
knowledge society because it entails the rise of
global communication which is facilitated by
technological development. The results of this
globalising process are plenty fold, but one of
them is what Harvey (1989) calls time/space
compression. It allows vegans to share their
experiences with and reasonings for following a
plant-based lifestyle, e.g. their outrage over
animal cruelty, on one side of the world and it
being received instantly by people in vastly
different countries. What that leads to is a growing
global interconnectedness and, in our case,
consequently the growth of a global vegan
As there is supposedly much pressure from
immediate surroundings (e.g. family) to consume
non-vegan products, the social networks that are
created during the globalising process described
above, are claimed to be essential to maintaining
a vegan diet (Cherry, 2006). Although, there is a
downside to being vegan in the online world as the
internet is not such a welcoming and accepting
place after all. Similar to pressure from family and
friends, since the internet is a social environment,
resistance to veganism is also very much present
online (possibly because being omnivorous is so
normalised in most societies). This complicates
Castells’ theory of the network society in
application to veganism. Global networks and
communities may be created and may even lead to
an increase in vegans worldwide but there is also
always resistance to them which may put people
off veganism altogether.
While on the subject of the globe, there is now a
lot of information available to the consumer on the
environmental impacts of
buying and consuming
non-vegan goods. Food
production and
consumption contribute
hugely to climate change.
In the 2016 documentary
Before the Flood,
examples of the
devastating impacts of
animal agriculture are
given. For instance, it is
stated that “of all the reasons for tropical
deforestation, the foremost is beef and beef is one
of the most inefficient uses of resources on the
planet” (Before the Flood, 2016: 00:51:25). As
humans are responsible for the mass production
and consumption of beef as well as all other animal
products, this indicates that climate change, partly
as a result of mass animal farming, is a global risk
created by humans. Furlong and Cartmel (2007)
claim that we live in a risk society, meaning that
people have to navigate an increasing amount of
risks in their everyday lives. The authors, drawing
on Beck (1992), link this with the individualisation
of lifestyles which forces people to reflexively
construct their own biographies - it puts the
burden of dealing with risks on the individual.
Veganism, as a practice to combat global warming,
then is an attempt to navigate on an individual
level the socially created risk of climate change.
Going vegan can thus create ontological security.
By figuring out what it is that gives a person’s life
meaning in this case, contributing to saving the
environment they can
create their own narrative
or biography and live
according to it (Giddens,
1991). The practice of
veganism is one way of
adhering to this narrative
which gives people a
sense of security in a
society that is full of risks.
This application of
Giddens’ theory to
veganism stands in opposition to Barnatt’s (2013)
view that most people feel a detachment from
personal responsibility to do something about
climate change because environmental changes
are not necessarily observable to the individual.
Drawing on The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al,
1972), his argument is that it is not enough to
consume differently. A consumer society, as
explained above, is built on the assumption that
people consume as much as possible. Therefore, in
order to subvert environmental changes, people
including vegans - need to consume less
altogether. Evans (2011) goes even further in
saying that making any individual changes at all is
not enough, rather the whole system of
consumption needs to be overhauled. Hence, one
may argue that the ontological security created by
following a vegan lifestyle is actually false because
simply consuming vegan products is not enough to
tackle climate change. What that means, assuming
that people would still like to stick to their chosen
narrative of ‘saving the planet’, is that they cannot
necessarily just do so by consuming plant-based
products. This may put their ontological security
and therefore their identity at threat because, as
we have already established, the way in which we
consume contributes largely to the establishment
of our identities.
To conclude this, veganism may be a tool for some
to navigate postmodern risks, but it is not available
to all. Furthermore, the ontological security
created by being vegan can be dangerous. It may
create the sense that by following a plant-based
lifestyle, people are already doing their bit to save
the planet which could result in them not adhering
to sustainable
practices in other
areas of life, e.g.
transport, travel and
waste production,
which can be almost
equally as detrimental
to the environment as
an omnivorous diet.
To summarise, in this
critical reflection I
have explored the
practice of veganism within contemporary society.
Although one may argue that the rise of
information in general and ICT’s specifically have
facilitated the growth of veganism worldwide, we
must be careful in considering what exactly the
consequences of this are. Namely, veganism, even
if more sustainable than omnivorism, is still a
consumption practice and thus perpetuates the
role of the citizen as a consumer and the
implications that this has in creating one’s identity.
Perhaps the individual navigation of the risk of
global warming does not have a sufficient impact
on environmental changes, but structural changes
of the consumerist society we live in would.
However, this is not to say that the practice of
veganism is useless. It does have an impact on the
emission of greenhouse gasses, for example, and it
also saves animals from being killed. What vegans
- me included - do need to carefully consider is that
we should not rest upon the fact that we do not
consume animal products. Rather, the careful
application of sustainable practices in all areas of
life must always be in the forefront of our minds
and we should also urge corporations and
institutions to adapt sustainable practices as they
arguably have way more power than any individual
to make a positive change when it comes to our
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Beck, Ulrich (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New
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Castells, Manuel (2010). The Rise of the Network
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Cherry, Elizabeth (2006). Veganism as A Cultural
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Harvey, David (1989). The Condition of
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Image Sources:
Full-text available
In the context of a string of economic crises that have affected major world economies between 2007 and 2009, there seems to be a certain amount of overlap between debates around these issues and debates around long term environmental problems such as climate change. One of the interesting points of overlap is a renewed interest in notions of austerity with optimistic commentators offering up hope that a (re)turn to frugality represents a unique opportunity for the pursuit of sustainable consumption. Against this backdrop the analysis sets out an approach to frugality as a social practice and drawing on a qualitative study of persons who identified themselves as attempting to reduce their environmental impacts, it considers the links between frugality and sustainable consumption. Crucially, a distinction is drawn between thrift and frugality in relation to: (1) the scale at which they exercise care and compassion; (2) their relationship to the normative expectations of consumer cultures, and; (3) their consequences in terms of environmental impacts. Taking these distinctions alongside historical analyses of changing consumption patterns, a note of caution is offered that the passage from the economic downturn to sustainable consumption may not be as clear as might be hoped.
Social movement scholars have long studied actors' mobilization into and continued involvement in social movement organizations. A more recent trend in social movement literature concerns cultural activism that takes place primarily outside of social movement organizations. Here I use the vegan movement to explore modes of participation in such diffuse cultural movements. As with many cultural movements, there are more practicing vegans than there are members of vegan movement organizations. Using data from ethnographic interviews with vegans, this article focuses on vegans who are unaffiliated with a vegan movement organization. The sample contains two distinctive groups of vegans – those in the punk subculture and those who were not – and investigates how they defined and practiced veganism differently. Taking a relational approach to the data, I analyze the social networks of these punk and non-punk vegans. Focusing on discourse, support, and network embeddedness, I argue that maintaining participation in the vegan movement depends more upon having supportive social networks than having willpower, motivation, or a collective vegan identity. This study demonstrates how culture and social networks function to provide support for cultural movement participation.
From the Work Ethic to the Aesthetic of Consumption in Work, Consumerism and the New Poor
  • Zygmunt Bauman
Bauman, Zygmunt (2005). From the Work Ethic to the Aesthetic of Consumption in Work, Consumerism and the New Poor [Online], 2 nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press. <> [Accessed: 14 November 2018].
Directed by Fisher Stevens. United States: Appian Way
  • Before The Flood
Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens. United States: Appian Way [video: online]. <> [Accessed: 11 November 2018].
  • Frank Webster
Webster, Frank (2006). What is an Information Society? In: Theories of the Information Society, 3 rd ed. Oxford: Routledge, pp. 8-31. Image Sources:
The Self: Ontological Security and Existential Anxiety
  • Anthony Giddens
Giddens, Anthony (1991). The Self: Ontological Security and Existential Anxiety. In: Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age [Online]. Cambridge: Polity Press. <> [Accessed: 12 November 2018], pp. 35-69.