A Cultural Analysis of Veganism Abstract

ACultural Analysis of Veganism


Theconcept of veganism varies across different cultural groups, wheredifferent people are motivated by various factors, such astraditional beliefs, ethics of fairness, ethics of ethics of harm.Veganism started in 1806 when the first case of veganism that meetsthe present definition was documented. Veganism is an unstableculture because members of different vegan groups keep on changingtheir views. Most of the western vegans uphold the idea as a means ofavoiding moral impoverishment. The American vegans have a perceptionthat veganism can reduce human dominance in the society. Most of thenon-Western cultural groups (such as Indians and Africans) aremotivated to join veganism by their religious traditions. The westernvegans are more likely to be motivated by social and environmentaljustice than the Asian and African vegans. Other motivating factorsinclude a concern the equal consideration of interests and parentalauthority.

Keywords: Veganism, cultural analysis, unstable culture, worldview,moral impoverishment, human dominance.

ACultural Analysis of Veganism

Veganismis one of the key philosophies with a long history and still has someimpact in the modern society. Veganism refers to a philosophy that isoriented towards human living without indirectly or directlyexploiting or harming animals as well as taking measures to end suchexploitation where it exists (Puskar, 2010). Although differentcultures uphold the concept of veganism for different reasons, it isevident that nearly all communities that believe in veganism respectthe life of animals and acknowledge their capacity to feel pain.However, the concept of veganism, in some cultural groups, goesbeyond the issue of subjecting animals to pain, suffering, orkilling, to include the use of their products, such as eggs and milk.This happens in cultures that consider other factors, in addition toanimal rights. This paper will address a cultural analysis of thephilosophy of veganism. In essence, veganism is a distinctive type ofdietary lifestyle that has a cultural relevance, which is based oncultural discourses of moral values, desire for a society thatupholds equity, spiritual traditions, environmental ethics, anddesire to advocate for the rights of all species.


Thefact that veganism is upheld in different parts of the word and bydifferent cultural groups increases the difficulty of determining theexact time and place of its origin. However, the first cases ofveganism were recorded in 1806 when individuals (including WilliamLambe) whose dietary practices satisfied the modern definition ofveganism were identified (Davis, 2012). The concept of veganism isdifferentiated from the medieval concept of vegetarianism, whenpeople avoided animal products either because they were scarce orthey were fasting. During the medieval period, some of the animalproducts (such as meat) were highly valued and avoiding them were asign of self denial, especially among the communities that combinedcultural and religious practices (Davis, 2012). The concept ofveganism should be understood as a purposeful and voluntary way oflife, which is distinct from involuntary reliance on plants for foodfor the reasons of unavailability or poverty. The idea of veganismhas evolved over the years up to its current position where itencompasses both food and non-food related exploitation of thenon-human species.

Veganismas an unstable culture

Veganismis among the most unstable practices, where people join, leave, orchange their views regarding the practice quite often. According toRuby, Heine, Kamble, Cheng, &amp Waddar (2013) many western veganschange the rational they have for veganism over time, modify theirviews, add, or drop some motives. It is also likely to findindividual from a different cultural group adopting the views held byanother cultural group. For example, Indians whose veganism is basedon traditional and religious reasoning choose to either add theanimal concern into their view or drop their religious andtraditional views to adopt the western perspectives. There is a highprobability that individuals who were motivated by a limited numberof factors to join veganism will be motivated by many other factorsas they grow up. However, people who were motivated by are motivatedto join veganism by concern for the welfare of animals are morelikely to adopt other motivations to defend their diet than those whowere initially motivated by their personal health (Ruby et al.,2013). This means that it is more likely of the American vegans toadopt the motivations of other cultural groups than it is for theEuropean vegans to adopt the motivations of other groups. In essence,veganism is relatively unstable since its subscribers leave or shifttheir views as they deem appropriate.

Reasonsfor veganism in different cultures

Avoidingmoral impoverishment

Althoughthe term veganism is understood as a tendency to avoid the use ofanimals and their products, the actual definition of this conceptvaries in different cultures depending on the reason for itsadoption. This means that the different culture has varying reasonsand an understanding of veganism. The desire to establish a morehumane and reasonable society has been a major reason for most thewestern cultures to associate themselves with veganism. According toPuskar (2010) the western cultures that have already adopted veganismbelieve that depending on animals as well as their products resultsin a moral impoverishment of the human society. For example, vegansin the United Kingdom equate the moral impoverishment that resultsfrom the exploitation of animals and animal products to theimpoverishment that was caused by the slave trade. This implies thatthe U.K. vegans believe that the decision to exploit animals andtheir products for any reason goes beyond ethical considerations.Vegans in the western cultures, especially those in the U.K. holdthat human beings have a higher capacity for moral reasoning, whichshould be used to protect other species with a lesser capacity.

Avoidinghuman dominance in the society

Vegansin the western culture also hold that veganism is an idealrepresentation of compassionate opposition to the world viewperpetuating different forms of human dominance. The American veganswho hold this perception assert that the consumption of animal-basedfoods is associated with hierarchical relations of class, ethnicity,and gender (Craig, 2009). For example, meat consumption is a symbolof a male dominated culture, which resonates in the way that women,people of color, and the non-human species are objectified in thewestern culture. Vegans who hold this view believe that avoidingreliance on the animal-based foods is the most appropriate way ofensuring that the lives of all species are respected and equalconsideration of the interests of both nonhuman and human species isupheld in the society. In other words, avoiding the exploitation ofanimals and their products is a sure way of ensuring that no group,either human or non-human, in the society dominates above the others.

Religiousand spiritual traditions

Religious,as well as spiritual beliefs have been some of the key factorsdriving veganism in some cultures. Although most of the Africancultures believe in giving an animal sacrifices to their gods, thereare a few groups of Africans who separate themselves from suchpractices. These people believe in alternative methods of givingmaking sacrifices. For example, a section of the Zuru community inSouth Africa make rituals that require the use of plants and plantproducts, which demonstrates their believe that sacrifices withoutanimal products are more acceptable to the gods (Yisreal, 2014). Inaddition, some cultures believe that people should adopt a dynamicharmless faith when dealing with other creatures. For example,communities that follow Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhismuphold a traditional believe that there should be a properrelationship between animals and non-human species (Puskar, 2010).Therefore, animal ethics are compatible with all these traditionalbeliefs, which in turn explain the existence of more vegans in thesereligious groups in the contemporary world.

Socialand environmental justice

Theconcern for social and environmental justices is more common amongvegans in the western cultures (including American and European) thanamong vegans in Asian, Africa, and other parts of the world. This isbecause vegans in the western communities base their idea of veganismon the concepts of Plato, who promoted the notion of social justicein these communities (Cherry, 2006). Vegans who uphold this view inthe western cultures believe that veganism has made a significantcontribution towards the slowing down of emission of the greenhousegas. This has in turn resulted in efficient use of water and landresources, thus reducing ameliorating deforestation, pollution, andsoil erosion. These vegans assert that the benefits derived fromveganism improve food security. In addition, a shift from the use ofanimals-based diets to the use plant-based foods forces people toadopt a model of sustainable crop production, which is achieved byreducing carbon footprints, use of green manure, maintained soilfertility, and reduced reliance on the use of synthetic chemicalproducts (Puskar, 2010). This section of the western vegans aredriven by the concern they have for the environment and the need topursue social justice.

Aconcern for equal consideration of interests of all species

Theidea of associating the exploitation of animals with the violation oftheir rights is based on the secular notion of animal ethics, whichoriginated in the western culture. This idea animal ethics wasadvanced by renowned scholars, such as Peter Singer, who believedthat the interests of all species, both nonhuman and human should begiven an equal consideration (Pallotta, 2000). Consequently, most ofthe western communities are more inclined towards the need to protectthe rights and interests of animals by reducing their exploitationcompared to other communities, such as the Asians and Africans. Forexample, meat consumption in the western cultural context (includingCanada, Germany, and UK), is closely associated with killing,cruelty, and disgust (Ruby et al., 2013). These associations are alsopresent among the Irish and the Dutch communities, but on implicitlevels. The category of vegans who base their dietary practice onanimal ethics advances the utilitarian approach, which requires themto maximize the happiness and minimize the suffering of all species,including the nonhuman.

Parentalauthority and the decision to adopt the idea of veganism

Themethod of entry into veganism is one of the significant differencesbetween the western and the Asian communities. Many the people fromAsia, who associate themselves with veganism, acquired the practicefrom the parents or guardians (Ruby et al., 2013). This implies thatmost of the Asian vegans (including the Indians) were brought bytheir parents in a veganism environment, which subjected them to thepractice without giving them an opportunity to make rationaldecisions whether to adopt it or not. Therefore, it is clear thatmost of the Asian vegans were motivated to join the practice bytraditions and the authority of their parents. Consequently, vegansin the Asian communities are more likely to express their concern forthe ethics of authority than their counterpart western and othercultural groups. The western vegans, on the other hand, join veganismout of voluntary and rational decision. Consequently, vegans from thewestern communities are more concerned with ethics of fairness andharm and a less focus on the ethics of authority (Ruby et al., 2013).

Differencesin worldviews

Apartfrom the different attitudes that vegans have about the exploitationof animals and their products, they tend in differ in a few otherworldviews. According to Ruby (et al., 2013) liberal values that areheld in the western culture, especially in the United States areclosely associated with vegans, while the conservative values areassociated with their counterpart omnivores. In Britain, adult veganshave a higher chance of being employed in the non-profitorganizations, educational institutions, and the local governmenttheir omnivores (Ruby et al., 2013). Similarly, vegans in New Zealandwere more opposed to the authoritarian leadership than their omnivorecounterparts. Moreover, vegans in the United Kingdom are opposed tocapital punishment and uphold anti-violence stance, which isconsistent with their ethics of fairness and harm. This implies theupholding the concept if veganism goes beyond the mere cultural andreligious beliefs. In addition, it indicates that the concept ofveganism influences the personal as well as the professional life ofvegans. However, each cultural group of vegans is inclined to upholdthe political and professional worldviews that are consistent withits motivation towards veganism.


Veganismis a unique way of life with cultural relevance and those whosubscribe to it are motivated by moral values, desire for a societythat upholds equity, spiritual traditions, environmental ethics, anddesire to push for the rights of all species. Veganism began atdifferent times n various parts of the world, but its history,according to the current scholars started when the first case ofveganism that met the modern definition was documented. The culturalanalysis of veganism is quite a challenging topic of study given theinstability of veganism in the modern world. This instability ismainly caused by the fact that vegans from any cultural group arefree to shift from their present motivating factors to those that areheld by different cultural groups. One of the clear culturaldistinctions between veganism in the western and other culturalgroups is that the western vegans make rational decisions to joinveganism. In most cases, vegans from other cultures follow the ideasof their parents and forefathers. Therefore, the idea of veganismvaries greatly across different cultural groups.


Cherry,E. (2006). Veganism as a cultural movement: A relational approach.SocialMovement Studies,5 (2), 155-170.

Craig,J. (2009). Position of the American Dietary Association: Vegetariandiets. AmericanJournal of dietary association,109, 1266-1282.

Davis,J. (2012). World veganism: Past, present, and future. IVU.Retrieved December 25, 2014, fromhttp://www.worldvegfest.org/index.php/blogs/john-davis/55-world-veganism-free-e-book

Pallotta,N. (2000). Becomingan animal rights activist: An exploration of culture, social, andidentity transformation.Athens, GA University of Georgia Press.

Puskar,M. (2010). Culturalencyclopedia of vegetarianism.Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Ruby,B., Heine, J., Kamble, S., Cheng, K. &amp Waddar, M. (2013).Compassion and contamination: Cultural differences in veganism.Appetite,71 (2013), 340-348.

Yisreal,T. (2014). Ritual slaughter in Africa. SouthAfrican Vegan.Retrieved December 25, 2014, fromhttp://www.vegansa.com/veganism-african-ritual-slaughter.php